The Crown : The ‘Royal Rift’ Of 1957: How The Story Broke

– Queen Elizabeth II. The Crown. Season Two, Episode One.

On February 8th, 1957, American newspaper The Baltimore Sun published an article that was to cause a global storm, prompt Buckingham Palace to issue an extraordinary denial and lead to Queen Elizabeth II and her husband putting on a carefully stage-managed public display of togetherness in Lisbon, Portugal.

This all took place amidst the backdrop of continued speculation about the nature of Philip’s four-month separation from his wife and children, coupled with the disintegration of his close friend Mike Parker’s marriage on the grounds of adultery – which prompted him to resign as the Duke’s Private Secretary.
‘London Rumors Of Rift In Royal Family Growing’ proclaimed The Baltimore Sun’s front page headline. The accompanying article from London correspondent Joan Graham suggested that an “unhappy discomfort is growing amongst Britons that all is not well with the royal family”, while it had been “hinted by the know-it-alls that the Duke of Edinburgh had more than a passing interest in an unnamed woman.”
The article concluded with the following assessment of the matter: “Whatever the explanations, and whatever the causes, the fact remains that every day more and more people are talking more and more openly of a rift between the Queen and her husband.”
 One may wonder why the British press were not leading the way on the rumourmongering front. Yet at this point in time, the British press were accustomed to being highly deferential towards the royal family. There was an unofficial agreement between Buckingham Palace and the British/Commonwealth Press that any negative news stories would only be published after a two week ‘grace period’ after informing the Palace press office, allowing them to prepare.

It was also customary for the Palace to ignore rumours, but on this occasion the Queen’s Press Secretary Commander Richard Colville quickly issued a blunt denial to the American news agency Associated Press:

“It is quite untrue that there is any rift between the Queen and the Duke.”

If the objective was to halt further tittle tattle, it had the opposite effect. The floodgates opened. While the majority of British newspapers such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail continued to steer clear of the ‘royal rift’ story altogether, other outlets such as the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror chose to emblazon the official denial on their front pages.

Outside of the Commonwealth, the media were feeding on these developments – and the British press reaction became a story in itself. “The British newspapers refused to publicise the story of even the terse three-word Buckingham Palace denial “It’s a lie’,” jeered the morning edition of the New York Herald Tribune on February 11th, 1957. On the same day, The Miami News reported:

“The British public finally learned at breakfast today about worldwide rumours of a rift between Queen Elizabeth and her husband… Breaking a three day silence, morning newspapers published the reports coupled with an official denial by a Palace official. The papers referred to the repost of royal matrimonial troubles as a “silly rumour” and “baseless speculation.” The afternoon papers ignored the reports entirely, devoting their front pages to a local murder, the Middle East situation, or the latest exploits of America’s TV quiz winners.”

Parts of the British press hit back at such reports from across the pond, which they felt lacked the respect that should be accorded to the Royal Family. An article in The Manchester Guardian could not conceal the feeling of indignation:

“Not since the first rumours of a romance between Edward and Wallis Simpson have Americans gobbled up the London dispatches quite so avidly as they have this afternoon. For two days and nights the ‘tabloid’ press and the evening papers from coast to coast have waved banner headlines over a story from London, first cabled to this country by the ‘Baltimore Sun’ London bureau, reporting a “rift” in the marriage of the Queen and the Duke.”

And so to Portugal, where the world’s eager eyes were awaiting news and footage of the highly publicised ‘royal reunion’. It took place in private on February 16th, when Philip boarded Elizabeth’s plane – followed by a swift relocation to the Royal Yacht Britannia.

“Their 20 hours together after a reunion yesterday, the Duke having returned from a 35,000-mile tour, gave them their first opportunity to discuss events that led to reports of a royal rift. Buckingham Palace had quickly and positively denied there was trouble between the Queen and the man she married nine years ago. Gossip persisted, however, and the royal couple must be aware of it. The privacy of their royal cabins last night would have given them a chance to talk about it.”

– Associated Press report, February 18th , 1957

What followed on the state visit was very much a case of ‘business as usual’ for Elizabeth and Philip, with positive and reverential headlines generated on their state visit such as the Detroit Free Press’s ‘Queen, Duke Go Partying In Portugal’.

Yet back home, things would never quite be the same again with the way the British press saw the royals. Before they were untouchable, to be protected at all costs. After the events of the ‘royal rift’ reporting, they were now starting to be seen as viable targets. You don’t need fire to sell papers. A whiff of smoke will do.

The Crown : The ‘Royal Rift’ Of 1957: How The Story Broke The Crown : The ‘Royal Rift’ Of 1957: How The Story Broke Reviewed by Raam Iyer on February 12, 2018 Rating: 5

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