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The Crown: Fagan

News reader: “The incident left royal commentators asking two questions. ‘How on earth did he get in?’ and ‘What did they talk about?’”

An unemployed man breaks into Buckingham Palace – twice! – in order to have a chat with Her Majesty.

The episode opens with Fagan going through his morning routine in a lower class apartment, not at all pleased by Margaret Thatcher’s words coming over the radio, telling people they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The economy may be in bad shape – even the Queen is concerned about the high unemployment – but Mrs. Thatcher is popular, getting a big boost out of the victory in the Falkland Islands. Prince Philip is impressed by the decisiveness of the government after many years of mismanagement. In The Crown, Prince Philip (probably not the real Duke of Edinburgh) often expresses the popular point of view, in order to provide a contrast with the opinion of the Queen (and to allow the Queen to shine as being more perceptive).

The episode shuttles back and forth between Michael Fagan’s life and the life of Her Majesty. Fagan is in a very bad place, with no work, no money, and some other guy looking after his wife and kids. The travails of Michael Fagan, going from one department to another, is Kafkaesque in its frustration, while the Queen is pampered and lauded. Lines of well-dressed people wait to meet the Queen, while Fagan stands in lines waiting for unemployment checks. It’s a great contrast, but as Fagan will observe later, Buckingham may be a palace, but it lacks many modern conveniences and the paint is peeling.

Fagan has barbed exchanges with a clerk, who tells him he should not complain to her but to his MP. Later we see him lurking outside an MP’s office – Fagan scouts out people and places before making his moves – and then he goes in and speaks to Richard Hastings (who never existed; interviews with the actual Fagan, who is still alive, indicate The Crown took many stanzas of poetic license). The conservative politician doesn’t consider his constituents to be his boss, but rather Prime Minister Thatcher, an attitude that seems far more 2020 than 1982. At least, voicing this attitude is 2020; in earlier years politicians would have given lip service to the people.

The episode shows Fagan stalking Buckingham Palace, scaling the railings (the real Michael Fagan said it easier to get in than to get out), shinnying up a drainpipe, and then pushing his way through an open window. He sneaks around what I expect were most of the sets of The Crown. He opens and drinks a bottle of wine, an act that was attested, and breaks a vase. When the incident is reported to Her Majesty and Prince Philip – they were not in Buckingham when the Fagan entered – the couple decides not to press charges, because they don’t want the fuss and they really don’t want the increased security. Prince Philip doesn’t regret the breaking of the vase, which had what he described as a duck and three blue worms on it. The Queen says those are the three rivers of Guyana and the bird – a Canje pheasant - is the national bird, proving that she has done her homework. Prince Philip’s intelligence and character are again sacrificed to make the Queen appear diligent and caring.

However Fagan, learning Her Majesty is back at Buckingham Palace, tries again. This time, in order to get inside, he has to break a window; however, this time he has a better sense of the place. He enters the Queen’s bedroom before the staff arrives with tea. At first the Queen doesn’t even realize there’s an intruder. Naturally, when she realizes what is going on, she is alarmed, but she still behaves with amazing class.

Isn’t this a fantasy many of us have had? To make a head of state listen to our complaints? And, making the whole episode even more satisfying, the Queen actually listens! In this fictional conversation, Fagan tells her about unemployment and how the government – her government – is failing so many people. He warns Her Majesty that the PM is out for the Queen’s power as well, that Thatcher will want her to be redundant too, and this is something we can see in the Queen’s face as she watches the telly with her husband as Margaret Thatcher celebrates the victory in the Falklands.

Title musings. “Fagan” is the title of the episode. Before I watched it, I wondered if the episode was based on the character out of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (note the character’s name is spelled Fagin, not Fagan, but I misremembered). I had heard of the intruder when it happened, but if I ever knew his name, I had forgotten it. Alas, I think any association with Oliver Twist is pure coincidence, but both Fagan and Fagin are dealing with times of great unemployment.

Bits and pieces

So many cigarettes!

Prince Andrew fought in the Falklands War, yet the episode didn’t mention it.

The high fur caps (known as bearskins because, at least originally, they were made of bearskins) worn by the British Foot Guards look both uncomfortable and impractical, but these types of hats have been a thing for a while.

The Queen is shown kneeling by her bed to pray. I am not religious myself, but I could understand why Her Majesty might want to acknowledge a higher authority – might want there to be a higher authority.

Prince Philip apologizes to his wife for not having been there to protect her when the intruder showed up. We know that wouldn’t have happened with the Thatchers, as Mrs. and Mr. refused to sleep apart in “The Balmoral Test.”


Michael Fagan: Why would you spend over three billion pounds on a war with total strangers instead of looking after your own family?

The Queen: Buckingham Palace is too like a prison as it is.

Margaret Thatcher: The Argentines are now reported to be flying white flags of surrender.

Michael Fagan: Everyone you meet’s on their best behavior. Bowing and scraping. That’s not normal.

Michael Fagan: They say I have mental health problems now. I don’t. I’m just poor.

The Queen: What of our moral economy?
Margaret Thatcher: If we are to turn this country around, we really must abandon outdated and misguided notions of collective duty.

Overall Rating

Although I think this episode probably didn’t reflect reality all that well – I suspect the actual conversation between Her Majesty and Michael Fagan was very different, or at least Fagan, who is still alive, claims it was – I have to give The Crown high marks for creating an episode based on a fantasy so many of us have had, even if we didn’t realize it. Although there were a couple slow bits, I only paused the program to transcribe bits of dialogue, instead of escaping boredom or embarrassment. Three and a half out of four Canje pheasants, which, as Her Majesty would tell you, is the national bird of Guyana. 

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

1 comment:

  1. I liked what Fagan said about not having mental health problems -- "I'm just poor." He said a lot there. But most of this episode was rather dull. I didn't know about this particular incident and I wonder if it would have been more interesting if they hadn't told us what happened right up front. Create a little suspense for those not in the know, perhaps.

    At least this entire episode made the Queen look a bit better than the previous few did.


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