17 November 2019 15:03
While I found the previous episode of The Crown taking too many liberties with the truth, Coup dramatises a story that is truly stranger than fiction – embellished again, but not to the detriment of a wider truth: that politics in the late Sixties was absolutely poisonous. Indeed, Harold Wilson's political reputation is taking a battering in this series, his administration characterised as one prolonged economic nightmare of strikes and a tanking pound. That alternative is a coup dreamed up by a disgruntled newspaper proprietor, backed by a cabal of businessmen, bankers and the military and led by a military, royal and national icon. The fifth episode of The Crown season three is titled 'Coup' – which is pretty accurate, as the drama shows newspaper boss and Bank of England director Cecil King (Rupert Vansittart) trying to woo Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance) to lead a coup d'état against Harold Wilson's government. Was Lord Mountbatten approached by Cecil King about overthrowing the government?
'Walking on Water' recounts a 1968 plot by his colleague, the newspaper magnate Cecil King, to bring down Harold Wilson and install an unelected government. At the head of that government would be Lord Louis Mountbatten. At the time, Cecil Harmsworth King was Chairman of the International Publishing Corporation, which was then the biggest publishing empire in the world and owned the Daily Mirror. King felt that Britain was heading for total political and economic collapse, and that Wilson's administration would either disintegrate or be forcibly removed. Cudlipp summarises King's view like this: "Before, during or after this debacle there would be violence and bloodshed in the streets, the docks and the factories beyond the strength or patience of the police to subdue or contain… a new administration would be urgently required, perhaps a new regime if only for a limited period, dominated by new men or at any rate not by political hacks.
Cudlipp adds: "In an era when the reputation of politicians had sunk so abysmally low, when nothing short of a revival of national pride led by disinterested men of power and action would change the course of events, it occurred to King that this legendary personality int he history of our times was surely the man for the hour as the titular head of the Emergency Government." King was already considering getting his dream-leader on board in August 1967 when he noted a conversation in his diary between Cudlipp and Mountbatten. Mountbatten said it had been suggested, but that he was far too old." King made no secret of his distaste for the Wilson government, and others started to catch hints of his plans – though press reports said he was pushing for a "coalition government". King issued a response, which said: "A coalition at this moment is just not on, and will not become so unless the political situation deteriorates still further, which it may." The whole episode is interesting as it would not have been given the prominence it was unless people are thinking in terms of a National Government." King and Cudlipp met with editors within the IPC publishing group over dinner to discuss the Wilson question, but it was not a wild success. They were dubious about supporting what King really wanted: a "Wilson Must Go" campaign and a newspaper-led plot to unseat the Prime Minister. Did Lord Mountbatten consider the coup against Harold Wilson? As we see in The Crown, some of the manoeuvring did actually go down at the Burma Star Association annual reunion – but Cecil King wasn't the one who made contact. Instead, when a mutual friend mentioned Cudlipp's name to him, Lord Mountbatten issued an invitation to meet him at the Royal Squadron – or at Broadlands in Romsey, his country house. Cudlipp took himself off to see Lord Mountbatten at Broadlands and discuss current affairs over glass of sherry. According to Cudlipp's account, Mountbatten was concerned about the state of the nation but did not seem inclined to get involved in politics or economics. In The Crown, we see Mountbatten summoned to the Bank of England for a meeting, before inviting everyone to his Broadlands country home to hear his response to their plot. Get all the latest Crown news and views direct to your inbox Sign up to receive our newsletter! Sign up to get alerts on The Crown and receive TV and entertainment email newsletters from our award-winning editorial team. Nevertheless, a meeting between King and Cudlipp and Mountbatten was arranged for the afternoon of 8th May 1968 at the Lord's London residence in Kinnerton Street. On the day, Mountbatten phoned Cudlipp to say he was also inviting Sir Solly Zuckerman, Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Government. Cudlipp recalled: "He [King] awaited the arrival of Sir Solly and then at once expounded his views on the gravity of the national situation, the urgency for action, and the embarked upon a shopping-list of the Prime Minister's shortcomings… He did the talking and I sat aback in my chair to observe the reactions, detecting an increasing concern on the part of the two listeners. "He explained that in the crisis he foresaw as being just around the corner the Government would disintegrate, there would be bloodshed in the streets, the armed forces would be involved. The people would be looking to somebody like Lord Mountbatten as the titular head of a new administration, somebody renowned as a leader of men who would be capable, backed by the best brains and administrators in the land, to restore public confidence. He ended with a question to Mountbatten – would he agree to be the titular head of a new administration in such circumstances?" Mountbatten turned to his friend: "Solly, you haven't said a word so far. Lord Mountbatten was, as always in my experience, courteous by firm: he explained explicitly but briefly that he entirely agreed with Solly and that sort of role, so far as he was concerned, was 'simply not on'." Two days later, Cecil King decided to go ahead even without "the titular blessing of Lord Mountbatten", and pushed through a Daily Mirror front page calling for Wilson's downfall. The Queen did go on a four-day fact-finding trip to France and America with Lord "Porchie" Porchester to investigate various stables and studs, but that wasn't until May 1969. The two of them were old friends and fellow horse enthusiasts, and working for the Queen made him more prominent in racing than ever. As for Harold Wilson's reaction to the would-be coup, it seems the Prime Minister did not trust MI5 and thought they were trying to bring him down. In tapes played in the 2006 BBC documentary The Plot Against Harold Wilson, he actually talked about two plots: one in the late 1960s involving plans to instal Mountbatten, and another one in the mid-1970s led by the military. Whether he ever discussed the Cecil King/Mountbatten plot with the Queen is a question which may never be answered… The Crown season 3 is available on Netflix now Spoiler alert for 'The Crown' Season 3 Episode 5 — 'Coup'. Such seems to be the case for episode five of 'The Crown'. Titled 'Coup', it sheds light on the scandalous theory of how Lord Mountbatten (Charles Dance) was asked to lead a coup against Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Bank of England director Cecil King (Rupert Vansittart) is infuriated by the news. Moreover, Wilson's cabinet advises him to remove Lord Mountbatten as Chief of the Defence as his presence symbolizes "privilege" and "inequality." King then approaches Mountbatten in 1968 to discuss deposing Wilson and handling the reins to the latter. He formulates a plan: "Replacing the Prime Minister and installing an emergency government". King wants Lord Mountbatten as Prime Minister, in what is described as a coup. About 48 hours later, Lord Mountbatten holds a meeting with King and the Bank of England about his research on coups. He claims a coup in the UK is only possible if they earn the support of the Crown. After a "good" day, she confesses in a heartfelt chat to Lord Carnarvon "Porchey" how horses make her truly happy and it was what she was born to do if the responsibility for the Crown hadn't befallen on her shoulders. A still from 'The Crown' Season 3 Episode 5 — 'Coup'. Their conversation is cut short when the Prime Minister rings the Queen to tell how a senior member of her family is trying to overthrow the Government with Cecil King, The Daily Mirror and the Bank of England. The Queen returns home and calls a meeting with Lord Mountbatten, making it clear there is no place for such a coup. "Why would you protect a man like Wilson?" he questions her, to which she blatantly answers, "I am protecting the Prime Minister. It is quite debatable whether or not the Queen knew about Mountbatten's plans, but historian Andrew Lownie did pen down in his book 'The Mountbattens: Their Lives & Loves' about how she was instrumental in sidetracking his interest in "rank treachery." Perhaps, that inspired the events of 'The Crown' too.