The Crown season two follows Prince Philip as he embarks on a five month tour of the Commonwealth on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.
At his side for the trip is Commander Mike Parker, his private secretary and a lifelong friend. However, trouble is brewing at home for Mike Parker, and it impacted on his position as the Duke of Edinburgh’s trusted advisor…
Were Mike and Eileen Parker real people – and did they get divorced?
Yes, and yes.
As Prince Philip’s Private Secretary, Mike Parker (played in The Crown by Daniel Ings) set off on a five-month world tour in 1956. He left behind his wife Eileen (Chloe Pirrie), whom he had married after a wartime romance. They had two young children.
The marriage does not appear to have been a happy one, although Parker seems to have been totally blindsided when – in his absence – Eileen sued him for divorce.
The scandal made lurid headlines as Eileen accused her husband of adultery. The messy divorce was finally granted in 1958 – a year after Parker had been obliged to resign from his position at the palace.
Who was the real Mike Parker, Private Secretary to Prince Philip?
An Australian by birth, Parker had moved to England to join the Royal Navy. He and Philip first crossed paths on the destroyer Wallace in 1942, where they both served as First Lieutenant and were fierce competitors.
However, these two young men – just a year apart in age – also became firm friends, and particularly enjoyed the delights of shore leave in North Africa and Australia.
According to his obituary in The Telegraph, Parker later recalled: “Of course we had fun in North Africa, but never anything outrageous. We’d drink together and then we’d go and have a bloody good meal. People are always asking, ‘Did you go to the local estaminets and screw everything in sight?’ And the answer is No. It never came into the picture. There was so much else to do.” He did concede one thing: “There was always armfuls of girls.”
When Prince Philip married the then Princess Elizabeth, he called on his old friend to join the royal household as equerry-in-waiting and then as his own Private Secretary.
Prince Philip seems to have appreciated his plain-speaking personality. Parker also found a fan in his boss’s new father-in-law, King George VI, who took him shooting and even asked his advice for the design of the Royal Yacht Britannia.
What happened to Mike Parker’s marriage?
Eileen divorced her husband on grounds of adultery in 1958, but the public coverage of their marriage breakdown had already affected Parker’s position in the royal household.
Parker and Prince Philip were both members of the Thursday Club, an elite dining club which met for lunch each Thursday in a private room upstairs at Wheeler’s restaurant in Old Compton Street, Soho. Other members included David Niven, Peter Ustinov and Patrick Campbell.
The Telegraph wrote in 2002: “The notion that Parker and the Duke got up to serious mischief was disseminated by Parker’s ex-wife Eileen, who in 1982 published a book claiming that the two men liked to slip out of Buckingham Palace using the pseudonyms ‘Murgatroyd and Winterbottom’. Parker called this ‘the biggest load of hogwash I’ve ever read in my life’.”
Did Prince Philip really fire Mike Parker for his divorce?
As The Crown season one depicted, the relationship between Group Captain Townsend and Princess Margaret had proven that “divorce” was still a dirty word for the royal family. When Parker arrived back in London, the Queen’s press secretary reportedly drove to the airport and greeted him with the words: “Hello, Parker. I’ve just come to let you know that from now on, you’re on your own.”
The story refused to disappear. Royal biographer Tim Heald wrote: “Poor Mike Parker’s divorce was grist to the press’s mill. In the context of the times it was inevitable that he should resign when his divorce became public.”
But while in The Crown we have Prince Philip demanding his resignation – and Mike reluctantly giving it – in real life it seems to have been the other way around.
News reports at the time said that Prince Philip was slow to accept the resignation, and Elizabeth II was more sympathetic than her own press secretary. When the news first hit the headlines, she is said to have phoned the Royal Yacht to tell Parker that she and her husband wished him to stay on. In fact, once back in London he continued to turn up to work at the palace.
However, a month later the royal couple accepted Parker’s resignation.
Parker became a businessman, moved to Australia and married twice more. He also reportedly remained in touch with the Duke of Edinburgh, meeting regularly and exchanging letters until his death at the end of 2001.