Arguably the most interesting moments during the new season of The Crown are when scenes from outside the palace walls throw the the blasé grandeur of royal life into sharp relief. Halfway through the fourth season of Netflix's historical drama, in an episode titled 'Fagan', we follow the day of someone suffering under the economic policies that Margaret Thatcher is corralling the country with. We see Michael Fagan in the queue for the dole, staring at the empty bunkbeds in his council flat, watching his children with his ex-wife's new partner, and staring at Buckingham Palace from the windows of a bus.
The real Michael Fagan was a London-born decorator who broke into the palace a first time in June 1982. After jumping the gates and finding an open window he wandered past doors labelled for members of the royal family in search of a toilet, eventually urinating on a bin of corgi food after failing to find one. While his toilet trip didn't make it into Netflix's dramatisation, Fagan did in fact drink a cheap bottle of white wine he found lying around as he does in The Crown.
The following month he broke into the palace again, this time triggering the alarms twice yet not being apprehended because the police assumed it was a mistake. Following portraits on the wall he made his away around the palace, breaking an ashtray in one room which he carried a shard of when he entered the Queen's bedroom at around 7am.
According to the Scotland Yard report, as reported by the New York Times, Fagan told police that he planned to harm himself in the Queen's presence, which The Crown did not acknowledge in their version of events.
The events within the bedroom also differ considerably from reality, with Fagan saying that The Crown writer Peter Morgan "used a lot of artistic licence" in an interview with The Telegraph. Fagan admits that he "pulled back the curtain and she said, 'What are you doing here?'", but their conversation about Thatcher and the direction of the country never happened. Instead the Queen said "I’ll be back in a minute", and left the room, with her footman offering him a drink to buy them some time before the police came and arrested him.
In The Crown, Fagan is a symbol of the soaring unemployment and unrest which ordinary people are experiencing as Thatcher dismantles society and pushes her agenda of individual responsibility. In reality, Michael Fagan was never finally heard by the establishment who were ignoring him. There was no touching handshake with the Queen, nor her saying she would consider what he said.
Earlier in the same episode we see Princess Margaret encouraged to meet members of the public because it is "good for you to meet someone normal – to tell you how it is", and this foreshadows the Queen having an honest conversation with a real person who is not bowing and scraping. The fictional version of Fagan is also useful fuel to the fire of the Queen and Thatcher butting up against each other, which finally leads to them coming to heads over Apartheid South Africa.
As with much of its fourth season, The Crown adds bombastic emotional details into history, yet the 'Fagan' episode is one not where we imagine the cold cruelness of the monarchy, but hope that an interaction with an ordinary person could be a reminder of the real world beyond the towering gates.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox
Need some positivity right now? Subscribe to Esquire now for a hit of style, fitness, culture and advice from the experts
You Might Also Like