"I've got some terrible news about the Flintstones..." Oliver Dowden and The Daily Mail have lost their minds over The Crown

Let me shock you, Olly: Historical drama is more about the drama than the history.

I have been asked by the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, to make the following clarifications about ‘beloved’ TV favourites:

  • The Flintstones could not and, in fact, did not have a car made of stone. Cars were not invented until 1886 and besides that stone is not a suitable material for making an automobile.

  • The Mousquetaires de la garde (“The Musketeers”) did not feature any anthropomorphic dogs. Musketeers were all men and ‘Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds’ takes wild liberties with their history.

  • While ITV’s ‘Victoria’ is very good, we must reminder viewers that Queen Victoria did not have a previous career as the companion of a time-travelling alien with nice hair. Doctor Who is fictional.

It’s important to issue these warnings as Oliver Dowden has told the froth-mouthed fulminators at The Mail On Sunday that he will write to Netflix to demanding that it add a ‘health warning’ before episodes of The Crown, indicating that some elements of the story are fiction.

Similarly dusty-haired and doe-eyed, it is thought — only by me it has to be said — that Dowden empathises with Emma Corrin’s Diana, who has a jolly horrible time across the season.

Bowing deeply to his true sovereigns in the Sunday newspapers, the Culture Secretary told The Mail on Sunday:

'It's a beautifully produced work of fiction, so as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that. Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact.'

Dowden should be very aware of the interaction between fact and fiction as a member of the Conservative Party which, during the 2019 debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, rebranded its Twitter account as ‘FactCheckUK’, changing its logo and seemingly attempting to briefly deceive viewers.

Dowden’s dear leader, the Prime Minister, is economical with the actualité when it comes to the number of children he has fathered and would find a TV drama about his ‘romantic’ exploits — if rutting like a randy pig in a filthy trough can be considered romantic — most distressing.

The Mail, Mail on Sunday, and MailOnline campaigning about a TV programme containing scenes created entirely for dramatic effect, decrying the ‘lies’ and ‘distortions’, is akin to Dr Harold Shipman appearing as a force ghost to campaign for better elder care in the NHS. Stories in the Mail stable of titles treat the truth like parsley garnish on a plate of bad pub food — nobody’s quite sure why it’s there and it is entirely unrelated to the main purpose of the exercise.

Meanwhile, friends of Prince Charles — who it is historically accurate to say once fantasised about being a tampon and was greased into Cambridge with grades that would have got some ordinary spod nowhere — told The Mail on Sunday:

It is quite sinister the way that Morgan is clearly using light entertainment to drive a very overt republican agenda and people just don't see it. 

They have been lured in over the first few series until they can't see how they are being manipulated.

Peter Morgan CBE is hardly a Jacobin. He’s a soapy screenwriter who likes to tell an entertaining story, whose scripts for The Crown, he has openly admitted are about getting to what he considers “the emotional truth” over a pure recitation of what happened when. There is no shortage of documentaries about the Royal Family. In fact, many Royal documentaries are available to watch in the same Netflix streaming catalogue where you’ll find The Crown.

I would love to watch a drama that pushed an overtly republican agenda, but The Crown is far from that. Despite the firm’s noses being knocked out of joint, it’s actually a pretty soft soap representation of what they do and who they are. If the characters in it were as weird, cold, and disconnected as the real Royal Family, nobody would watch it. The same goes for Margaret Thatcher who Gillian Anderson cannot help but imbue with more sympathetic qualities than the real woman presented in her time in power.

The Tories are obsessed with fighting a culture war and they don’t care if the fronts they open in that battle are contradictory or downright stupid. Viewers of The Crown, many of whom ‘second screen’ Wikipedia as they watch, know that the series is drama. It is not presented as a documentary and, furthermore, historical dramas cannot simply be documentaries with actors acting out what happened.

For a drama to be entertaining, it needs a structure that real life often lacks, it needs peaks of jeopardy and emotional intensity. That means events and characters get combined, timescales get condensed or expanded, and certain conversations are invented to move the plot from one point to the next. If Tory politicians and their press vultures cannot understand that — and I know they can really — they should not expose their soft brains to the dangerous drug of TV drama. They should stick to lukewarm tea from a Coronation commemoration mug and reading proto-fascist takes on the news in your favourite mid-market tabloid.

The humourless Royal biographer, Hugo Vickers, who cannot possibly have a professional interest in pointing people to books about the Monarchy, delivered the most unintentionally hilarious quote in The Mail on Sunday’s extended rant:

“Pretty much every character is dislikable. The Queen is portrayed as glum and schoolmistressly; the Queen Mother is given some truly horrible lines; Princess Margaret is downright rude; Margaret Thatcher buttoned-up, and so on.”

Imagine! Princess Margaret, who used to blow her cigarette smoke in servants faces and was nicknamed ‘Her Rude Highness’ by people working within her household, being presented as rude. And objecting to Margaret Thatcher, a woman who always looked like her top button was superglued closed, being presented as uptight is beyond ludicrous. The objection by people like Vickers is toward someone else’s fiction about their favourite family of demons and degenerates getting any attention. For someone like Vickers, the Monarchy has been the gift that keeps on giving and he doesn’t want anyone to cast aspersions on the lovely gilded cash cow.  

I must end this newsletter with another ‘health warning’. While he may look like a Spitting Image puppet rejected because it just looked too ridiculous, Oliver Dowden is, in fact, really the Culture Secretary and a senior member of Her Majesty’s Government. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

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