BY CHRIS HASTINGS
The London Times
The prime minister tells the Queen she is buying a retirement home in the comfortable London suburb of Dulwich. The monarch’s reply is as sarcastic as it is snobbish: “That’s near Peckham, isn’t it?”
The Queen then makes another cutting remark about politicians who “come and go”, drawing a vigorous riposte from Margaret Thatcher.
The scene of barely suppressed hostility, set in 1986, is in a new Channel 4 series that dramatises a tense relationship between the two women.
Often blurring the line between fact and fiction, it shows their dealings as a series of confrontations. The Queen dislikes hardly being able to “get a word in edgeways” with her haughty premier, while her consort derides “that bloody grocer’s daughter”.
Thatcher, meanwhile, resents what she sees as royal meddling in the Commonwealth and the miners’ strike.
The Queen, a five-part series, intersperses interviews with real courtiers and politicians with dramatised scenes from the monarch’s career. The makers do not claim the portrayal of her meetings with Thatcher are entirely factual, but numerous conversations with people who know the two women, conducted by the producers, “inform” the scenes.
The approach will inevitably draw comparisons with the Oscar-winning 2006 film of the same name, starring Helen Mirren, which dramatised the Queen’s relationship with Tony Blair in 1997.
The frosty relationship between the monarch and Thatcher, who was prime minister from 1979 to 1990, was first reported by The Sunday Times in 1986. The article revealed the Queen’s concerns over the divisiveness of Thatcher’s social policies and the strain that her refusal to agree sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa was putting on her beloved Commonwealth.
In the television series, which begins on November 29, the Queen is played by five actresses at different points of her reign.
Those interviewed on screen include Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury; Lady Anne Glenconner, a friend of the royal family and a train-bearer at the Coronation; the actress Anna Massey, a friend of the Duke of Edinburgh; and Ronald Allison, former press secretary to the Queen.
The producers of the series say they “kept the palace informed about what we were up to at all times”. They sent more than 100 letters to friends and family of the Queen as well as staff and others. A spokesman said: “These conversations inform much of the dramatised sequences in the series.”
The third episode depicts the relationship with Thatcher. The monarch, played by Susan Jameson, lampoons the prime minister’s habit of referring to herself as “we”.
The contributors include Sir Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s former press secretary, and her former cabinet colleagues Lords Howe and Parkinson.
The drama explores the Queen’s growing concerns with Thatcher’s authoritarian style of government and the social divisions caused by episodes such as the 1984 miners’ strike. Parkinson, the former Conservative party chairman, tells the programme: “I can well understand the Queen thinking ‘my goodness, is the country going to tear itself apart?’.”
According to the programme, the mutual mistrust and dislike between the two women is exacerbated by Thatcher’s refusal to support a plan by the Commonwealth to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa.
The Queen is shown as believing in the struggle to bring down the whites-only regime and also fears that Britain’s solitary opposition to sanctions will tear the Commonwealth apart.
After one tricky meeting between the two women, the Queen asks the Duke of Edinburgh: “Why does she always say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’?”
The Queen then impersonates Thatcher and her husband tells her: “You’ve nailed it.” The monarch later tells Sir William Heseltine, her private secretary: “I did rather well at the meeting today, Bill. I managed to get a word in edgeways. I think Queen Victoria had a similar problem with Gladstone.”
For her part, Thatcher is annoyed by what she sees as the Queen’s constant interference and in one scene is irritated by the monarch’s insistence that they should discuss the agenda for the 1985 Nassau Commonwealth conference.
The Queen subsequently casts scorn on Thatcher’s attempt to end apartheid without recourse to sanctions. When the prime minister announces she is to send Howe, her foreign secretary, to South Africa to lobby for an end to the system, the Queen replies: “I am sure the rest of the world will be waiting with bated breath.”
Thatcher is nonetheless depicted as remaining always respectful to the Queen in person and is often nervous before meeting her. Graham Turner, a biographer of the Queen, said Thatcher often “curtsied down to Australia”.
Last night, Ingham said: “Apartheid and the incessant demand for sanctions against South Africa was a serious issue but the prime minister remained unconvinced about the effectiveness of such sanctions. It divided the Commonwealth throughout the 1980s and therefore presented serious difficulties for the Queen too.”
Dickie Arbiter, who joined Buckingham Palace press office in 1988, said: “The honours later bestowed on Margaret Thatcher \ were in the personal gift of the monarch and would not have been given without the utmost respect for the recipient.”
See Related: TELEVISION
See Related: ROYALS
ABOUT THE SAN FRANCISCO SENTINEL
SENTINEL FOUNDER PAT MURPHY