Since its release on 4 November, Netflix’s new series The Crown mirrors true life events found through the pages of the British Newspaper Archive. You can follow the real life drama through contemporary newspapers from the death of King George VI and the coronation of the young Queen Elizabeth to the political intrigues of the day. The Crown chronicles the lives of the royal family and the Queen’s accession to the throne.
The Independent has called the series ‘sumptuous but empty, Netflix’s latest fails its queen’. The Telegraph found that The Crown ‘humanised the royal family in a way that has never been seen before’. Whatever your opinion on how the show depicts the royal family, you cannot deny that it was a huge undertaking. The Crown is the most expensive television series to date. Queen Elizabeth is played by Claire Foy, with Matt Smith at her side as Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Also joining the pair is the talented John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. It is hard not to be impressed with Lithgow’s transformation into the famous prime minister.
The series begins with the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Five years later, due to his failing health, King George VI requested that the couple embark on a royal tour of the Commonwealth in his stead. Through the newspapers on the British Newspaper Archive, you can follow their tour in Africa. The Portsmouth Evening News from Friday 1 February 1952, only days before King George VI’s death, reported that ‘Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh stepped into the blazing African sunshine to-day to receive a Royal welcome at Nairobi from 400 African chiefs, resplendent in their robes and leopard-skins’. The London Illustrated Times published photographs of the treetop hotel where Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh stayed while in Kenya.
The tour was cut short with the death of the King and the couple’s need to return to London. In The Bucks Herald from 8 February 1952, you can view one of the last pictures taken of the late King from a visit to Drury Lane Theatre during a farewell party for the Princess.
As the series continues, the young Queen Elizabeth is to take the throne, and the newly elected Winston Churchill is battling unrest within his cabinet. One historical moment featured in the episode ‘Act of God’ is the Great Smog of London, which lasted from 5 to 9 December 1952. Netflix did not overestimate the effects of those days of fog from air pollution in the city particularly from the use of coal. The fog in the city was thick and caused visibility to be little or none existent. In this article from The Northern Whig, on the fourth day of the fog, crimes such as burglaries and street robberies were on the rise.
Also, The Northern Whig reported that one labourer was killed and two others injured after being struck by a light engine ‘when visibility was restricted to about a yard’. The terrible effects of the Great Smog lead to the passing of the Clean Air Act of 1956.
As you continue watching the series, all of the events and political happenings can be followed through the newspapers, including the scandal of Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend and, of course, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. The papers also explain how others celebrated the coronation with advertisements of teas and parties, as well as special announcements for coronation day births. You can also find special ‘coronation editions’ of newspapers like this edition from The Bucks Herald.
Continue to explore more than 16 million pages from 695 titles on the British Newspaper Archive and let us know what you have discovered.