11 January 2012

Why Britain should be grateful to Mrs Simpson

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“A patriotic extra has revealed how he set Madonna straight on UK royal history during the filming of her Wallis Simpson biopic W,” reports the i newspaper this morning. It is an amusing tale of how north Londoner Ben Goodman, 69, hired to play a newspaper vendor who hands a ‘Royal scandal’ newspaper to the actress playing Mrs Simpson.

And he explained to the US star why Wallis was not popular in Britain. And it’s a happy plug for tonight’s premiere of the biopic

“Madonna came on set with her bodyguards and said ‘So, are you our disapproving newspaper vendor? I said, ‘Yes, we’re down on Mrs Simpson here … it’s because we lost our King.”

Up to a point.

Mr Goodman is right that the British attitude to Mrs Simpson – ‘the American divorcee’ – has often been pretty negative.

Regret at the abdication of the Monarch was probably the dominant instinct in 1936.

But it is surely also worth remembering that the abdication of a pro-fascist King was one of the most fortunate historical accidents that has ever befallen Britain or indeed the House of Windsor too.

That is something that is more widely known today after the popular success of The King’s Speech, in which the stoicism of George VI in having greatness thrust upon him is contrasted with a pretty fair caricature of his playboy elder brother, even if the politics of the Munich crisis and beyond play second fiddle to the stammering.

Of course, the abdication was not about that issue. That is why Mr Churchill, extravagantly wrong on this question as much as he was brilliantly right about Hitler, was the parliamentary leader of the king’s party at the time. But, if Mrs Simpson was to blame for the abdication, then perhaps it is time to realise how grateful we really all should really be to her.

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