||THE MAKING OF EDWARD AND MRS SIMPSON
Adapted from a 1978 Thames TV publication "The Souvenir of the Thames Television series Edward and Mrs Simpson."
7 episodes of 60 minute duration. Thames Television. 1978.
When television producer Andrew Brown purchased a paperback book to while away the hours on a flight from London to California, he could not have foreseen that it would lead to a major television series. But within a few short hours of absorbed reading, the idea was beginning to form in his mind.
"I was utterly fascinated," he later said. "I'd bought the book because I thought it would make good, interesting reading, but it was only in reading it that I realised I held in my hands ideal TV material."
On arriving in San Diego he quickly got on the phone to his agent and told him, "I've just read Frances Donaldson's biography about Edward Vlll. Can you find out whether the TV rights are available?"
The agent rang back to say that the BBC owned the radio rights but the TV rights were still available. Brown, a New Zealander who used to work in advertising, immediately set the wheels in motion to acquire the rights. Having done so, he then went to Thames Television and, within 24 hours, got them to agree to back a seven part series to the tune of one million pounds.
The Donaldson biography was the most comprehensive work on the abdication saga ever printed at that time. The authoress had, through her own connections, gained access to papers not previously seen. The daughter of Frederick Lonsdale, a famous playwright in the twenties, and married to Lord Donaldson, Minister for the Arts, Lady Donaldson could count on some of the protagonists as personal friends and acquaintances. Nevertheless, the television series based on her work took months of further research in its pursuit of authentic material, especially for key scenes too crucial to the story to exclude.
One of these key scenes was Wallis Simpson's divorce hearing. It was essential to be able to depict the proceedings in court as they happened at the time as well as getting the reactions outside the court. The production team knew there were incidents where photographers had their cameras smashed so the scandal could be kept out of the newspapers. But because of their self-imposed brief to only include factually authentic material in the production, they knew they could not invent the scene or try to guess the way it might have been. And there was nothing in the English newspapers at that time to guide them -all references to the King and Mrs Simpson had been suppressed by an arrangement between newspaper proprietors.
However, research uncovered a verbatim transcript of the divorce hearing in a copy of the New York Herald Tribune that was so explicitly detailed that they were able to use it in its entirety as the climax of one episode.
The production team also got permission to film at Fort Belvedere, Edward's hideaway home, just weeks before it was due to be renovated. And Lady Diana Cooper, who was one of Prince Edward's set, helped the designers to recreate the light-hearted atmosphere that used to prevail at weekends at the Fort. Other advisers were employed in recreating the period authentically, including Lady Helen Hardinge, wife of Edward's Private Secretary, who talked about the critical role her husband played in the crisis.
Lady Alexandra Metcalfe (known to her friends as "Baba" and married to "Fruity" Metcalfe, Edward's best man) produced photographs never before published and recalled the time that Edward was on the phone to Wallis when he saw his Private Secretary approaching with some State Papers. Not wanting to be disturbed from his intimate conversation, Edward swiftly closed the door, opened a window and climbed through it escaping to the garden.
Directing the series was Indian born Waris Hussein. Producer Andrew Brown said that with an Indian director and a New Zealand producer, the series benefited by being completely objective. "I can look at it - so can Waris - as part of English history. It's a fascinating point that no one working on the series was born when it happened." He said. "I don't go along with newspapers that bill it as "The Greatest Love Story Ever Told." I see it as the greatest constitutional crisis this country had to face. A crisis which was a direct result of two people falling in love. That's what makes it different. That's what makes it interesting."
Questions Site Information Contact
Return to Top of Page