In this episode we see prime minister Margaret Thatcher dealing with the escalating Falklands crisis – a situation about which the Queen looks visibly displeased.
(This article contains spoilers for season 4, episode 5 of The Crown)
Michael Fagan: the Buckingham Palace intruder
Episode 5 opens with global news reports of a shocking break-in at the palace: an intruder had climbed over a fence and into the palace grounds, before scaling a drainpipe and entering the royal quarters. There, the man had a “uninvited, unannounced” audience with Queen Elizabeth II, said reporters.
What’s the real history behind the Buckingham Palace intruder? On the morning of 9 July 1982, 31-year-old painter and decorator Michael Fagan broke into Buckingham Palace and made his way to the Queen’s bedroom. It was one of the biggest royal security breaches of the 20th century.
But while there are certainly elements of truth in The Crown’s retelling of the saga, much of what happens in the episode is embellished. There was no drawn-out conversation between Fagan and the Queen at her bedside, and certainly no discussion of Margaret Thatcher’s policies. In reality, Fagan’s encounter with the Queen was over before it began. “She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor… Her nightie was one of those Liberty prints and it was down to her knees,” said Fagan in a 2012 interview with The Independent.
- Historian Sarah Gristwood reviews The Crown season 4: “We’ve reached the issue of how fiction influences opinion in the real world”
The Queen attracted the attention of a maid, and together they ushered Fagan into the pantry on the pretext of supplying him with a cigarette. Police finally arrived and removed Fagan, who then spent more than three months at the top-security Park Lane psychiatric hospital in Liverpool.
You can read more about the infamous break-in and the real Michael Fagan here.
In The Crown, Fagan is seen pleading with the monarch to “save us all from her… Thatcher. She’s destroying the country.” In reality there is no suggestion that Fagan discussed Margaret Thatcher’s policies with the Queen, but it is true that he was motivated by a desire to tell the Queen what was going on in the real world. He was also under the misguided idea that the monarch could help him. An out-of-work painter and decorator with convictions for heroin dealing and a number of petty crimes, Fagan was struggling after the breakdown of his marriage – his wife, Christine, had left him just weeks earlier. In The Crown he tells the Queen: “I just thought it might be good for you to meet someone normal who can tell it to you as it is.” True to history, in a 1993 radio interview the real Michael Fagan told listeners: “The Queen, to me, represented all that was keeping me down and [my] lack of voice… I just wanted her to know what it feels like to just be an ordinary chap trying to make ends meet.”
It is also true that Fagan had told his mother about his SW1 ‘girlfriend’, Elizabeth (as press reports featured in The Crown attest), and he really did explore the royal residence at his leisure, trying out the royal thrones for size and comfort “like Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. Fagan also quaffed half a bottle of wine in the palace gift room.
Read the real history behind more episodes with our S4 episode guide to The Crown:
- The Crown S4 E3 real history
- The Crown S4 E4 real history
- The Crown S4 E6 real history
- The Crown S4 E7 real history
The Falklands crisis: what did the Queen really think?
Episode 5 also covers the escalating Falklands crisis and sees Margaret Thatcher proudly inform the Queen, “the tide has turned, and the recapture of the Falkland Islands is within reach”. But the Queen looks largely unimpressed by the news, and throughout the episode appears distinctly sour-faced about goings on in the remote British colony. Then, when watching news coverage of Thatcher taking the salute at the victory parade, she moans to her husband, Prince Philip: “The prime minister taking the salute instead of the sovereign, doesn’t that bother you?… I think that woman is getting ahead of herself.” Philip muses: “It’s interesting how much it clearly bothers you.”
What did the Queen really think of the Falklands crisis? “The Queen supported the war; I don’t know where the idea comes from that she didn’t,” says historian Dominic Sandbrook.
“There is no evidence at all that the Queen was against the war and there is no reason to believe she had any doubts about it.”
You can read more about the Queen’s views on the Falklands War here.
There is also no suggestion that the Queen was unimpressed when Thatcher informed her of Britain’s impending victory in the Falklands. In Mrs Thatcher’s own private, unpublished memoir of the war, she writes that after hearing the news that South Georgia had been retaken, she “went over to see the Queen at Windsor. It was wonderful to be able personally to give her the news that one of her islands had been restored to her.” So, “unless Mrs Thatcher was completely deluding herself, that suggests the Queen cared very much indeed,” says Sandbrook.
And would the Queen really have been irked by Thatcher taking the salute at the victory parade? “The Queen had been around a long time by then,” says Sandbrook. “She knew that prime ministers come and go, and that Thatcher would probably be ‘out’ soon enough, so I don’t suspect she was that bothered about it.”
You can read more about the Falklands War here.
Discover more real history behind The Crown here
Emma Mason is the digital editor at HistoryExtra
With thanks to historian Dominic Sandbrook, an expert on Margaret Thatcher and author of Who Dares Wins (Allen Lane, 2019), which explores the pivotal early years of Thatcher’s premiership in Britain: 1979–82
You can listen to Sandbrook discussing the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership in Britain on this podcast: