The Crown tackles the tricky topic of Prince Philip’s rumoured affairs in season two.
It’s a challenging subject to explore for the Netflix royal drama: the Queen and Prince Philip recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. In public, their relationship is one of strength, a foundation stone for the royal family.
In season two, The Crown looks back on a period in history where their marriage may have been on less steady ground.
“He couldn’t even look at another woman without the press saying that he was probably having an affair,” Ingrid Seward, royal biographer and author of My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of the Royal Marriage, tells RadioTimes.com.
“There is absolutely no proof that he was unfaithful,” Seward says. “But I imagine he might have been.”
How did rumours of Philip’s affairs begin?
The Crown season two begins on 16th February 1957, with the Queen in a fractious argument with her husband on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.
“I thought we might take this opportunity, without children, without distraction, to lay our cards on the table, and talk frankly for once about what needs to change to make this marriage work,” Elizabeth tells Philip in the drama.
How did it come to this?
Rumours of problems in the royal marriage began in 1956, as Prince Philip spent five months away from his wife and children travelling the seas aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia and opening the Olympic Games in Melbourne. Why was he spending so long away from his family?
As Prince Philip and his entourage held a beard-growing competition, hung out with penguins and visited Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, a crisis was brewing at home – because his Private Secretary’s marriage was in trouble.
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Philip’s old friend and right-hand man Mike Parker’s wife Eileen had filed for divorce in London and alleged that her husband had been unfaithful.
These rumours of infidelity opened the Duke of Edinburgh himself up to criticism. It also raised the suggestion that, with Mike Parker at his side, Philip could be taking advantage of the royal tour and turning it into a glorified ‘lads’ holiday’. Eventually, after they returned to London, Mike resigned from his post as the divorce case dragged on in full view of the newspapers and the public.
What did the Queen think? Seward speculates: “I think she was made aware that perhaps he was taking some liberties. After all, she had given him the Britannia. And I think perhaps she felt that her largesse in that area had been slightly compromised.”
Still, the Queen made a show of greeting him affectionately when he arrived in Portugal – even making sure the whole family surprised him by wearing fake beards in tribute to the facial hair he’d grown at sea.
Who was the woman in Prince Philip’s photograph?
Another scene in the opening episode of The Crown sees the Queen discover a picture of another woman in Prince Philip’s luggage before he sets off on the Commonwealth Tour.
The woman in the photograph is Galina Ulanova, one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century – and in The Crown, we watch as the Queen tortures herself by going to see Ulanova dance in a Bolshoi ballet.
A Russian dancer during the Second World War and then the Cold War, Ulanova only came to London at the age of 46 towards the end of her stage career. It was 1956, and excitement for her appearance reached fever pitch: the entire tour sold out in advance and eager fans slept all night in the streets of Covent Garden in hopes of a ticket.
The Queen, of course, was able to get hold of a ticket and apparently saw the Russian dancer perform as Giselle.
In reality, there doesn’t seem to have been any suggestion of an affair between Prince Philip and Ulanova, although – seeing as London went Bolshoi crazy that year – it’s perfectly possible he was an admirer from afar.
The dancer and actress whose name was actually linked with Philip’s was Pat Kirkwood, although she was horrified by the rumours and always denied them. She and Philip had first met in 1948 when he visited her dressing room and took her out to dinner, sparking gossip and speculation (headlines included “The Prince and the Showgirl”). But this ‘affair’ does not crop up in The Crown.
What was the Thursday Club?
Another of Prince Philip’s regular haunts in The Crown, in real life the Thursday Club met for lunch each Thursday in a private room upstairs at Wheeler’s restaurant in Old Compton Street, Soho – and was notorious for its wild parties.
Prince Philip and his friend Mike Parker were regular attendees, and other members included actors David Niven and Peter Ustinov, columnist Patrick Campbell, photographer Cecil Beaton, Lord Mountbatten, and a range of newspaper editors.
The Thursday Club soon became surrounded by rumours, and the ex-wife of Mike Parker Eileen spread the word that her husband and the Prince had been up to some serious mischief. In 1982 she published a book, Step Aside for Royalty, in which she claimed that the two men would slip out of Buckingham Palace and use the pseudonyms “Murgatroyd and Winterbottom” to go out on the town.
According to Parker’s 2002 Telegraph obituary, he called these allegations “the biggest load of hogwash I’ve ever read in my life”.
However Seward, who interviewed Eileen before her death, begs to differ. “Oh yes, they had all these silly names, absolutely. Mike Parker said the book was a load of rubbish, but actually it wasn’t,” she claims. “It might have been exaggerated, and there might have been things that she’d forgotten, but it wasn’t completely fabricated. Definitely not.”
Was the Queen hurt by rumours of Philip’s affairs?
There was a statement in 1957 from the Queen’s spokesman, who insisted: “It is quite untrue that there is any rift between the Queen and the Duke.” But was that the end of it?
“I think what people have to remember is that it was very different times and women were totally subservient – but of course the Queen wasn’t, by dint of who she was,” Seward explains. “So there was already an element of her trying to make him feel better. She was very conscious of the fact that he had to walk two steps behind her, and I think as a result she was very forgiving of any of his little misdemeanours. You know, when he got drunk at the Thursday Club and when he came home late.
“She was forgiving of him, because she felt that he’d been emasculated by her position, and he’s a very alpha male.”
It’s also possible that the Queen simply ignored allegations surrounding her husband. “We don’t know if she even acknowledged that he’d done anything wrong, because the Queen was very, very discreet and very buttoned up in those days – and she might not have even said anything,” Seward says.
“The Queen would turn a blind eye to it. She was confident in his love, and she sort of said, ‘Well men will be men.’ That was her attitude. It doesn’t mean she was not hurt, but she wouldn’t show it. ”
And how about the flirting? Would the Queen have been upset if Philip was a little bit too familiar with Jackie Kennedy, as is depicted in The Crown during US president John F Kennedy’s visit in 1961? Or if he admired a beautiful ballerina? Apparently not.
“Oh no, he was a terrible flirt. Oh definitely,” Seward says. “And the Queen really, really never minded that. I think she just so wanted Philip to be able to enjoy himself a bit; if Philip was in a good mood everyone was in a good mood, because his bonhomie sort of spread, so if he wanted to flirt that was fine by her. I don’t think that worried her at all.”
She adds, “Because he was so handsome and because he was a flirt and because he was such a good dancer and because he didn’t give a damn, it just always looked like he was having affairs.”
Who was “The Naked Waiter”?
The final episode of The Crown is intriguingly titled “Mystery Man”. In it, we see Princess Margaret taunting the Queen by suggesting Prince Philip was “The Naked Waiter” at a notorious society party.
The drama shows an unknown man on a newspaper front page standing with his back to the camera.
“Would you like to know a rumour Tony and I heard?” Margaret asks her sister, ignoring her negative response. “Now, it is just a rumour, but you can’t deny. There is a similarity. Look – you see? There’s something of Philip in the shoulders.”
So where has this storyline come from?
One of Philip’s companions at the Thursday Club was the society osteopath Stephen Ward. He was caught up in the Profumo Affair when he was revealed to be procuring women for a government minister, and it also came out that he liked to throw wild dinner parties at which “The Man in the Mask” or ” The Naked Waiter” served drinks wearing nothing but a skimpy apron.
Satirical magazine Private Eye took to referring to Prince Philip as “The Naked Waiter”, although there was never any evidence that it was him in the picture.
The Profumo scandal caused the downfall of both Profumo and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Ward was prosecuted for living on immoral earnings, but on the last day of his trial he overdosed and killed himself.
Investigations continued, but “The Naked Waiter” has never been convincingly identified.
The Crown season 2 is available on Netflix now