Netflix’s hit The Crown has returned for its fourth season, and fans are thrilled with the introduction of the infamous Princess Diana as well as the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II (played by Olivia Colman) and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (played by Gillian Anderson).
In Episode 8, “48:1,” the tension between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher comes to a head after Margaret refuses to cooperate with the Commonwealth in backing sanctions on South Africa in response to apartheid in the country. A few days later, inside information is leaked to the press, and fingers are pointed at Michael Shea, the Queen’s press secretary.
Who was Michael Shea?
Michael Shea was the Queen’s press secretary from 1978 to 1987. In his obituary (printed by The Guardian) he was known to be “smooth and urbane.” Michael died in 2009 of early-onset dementia.
Michael Shea attended Gordonstoun School, a boarding school in Moray, Scotland. Prince Philip and Prince Charles both attended the school as well. Michael is most known for being the alleged source of the article published in the Sunday Times which headlined “Queen Dismayed by ‘Uncaring’ Thatcher.” This article drove a giant wedge between the Queen and the then-Prime Minister of England.
What was so controversial about the bombshell article?
The article that was published in the Sunday Times quoted a senior palace source that alleged that the Queen was upset with Margaret Thatcher’s “lack of compassion” over a refusal to back sanctions against apartheid in South Africa, as well as with her stance over the miners’ strike. It said the Queen believed Prime Minister Thatcher’s approach to the Queen’s decisions to be “uncaring, confrontational, and socially divisive.”
So was Michael Shea the real source of the article? Netflix’s The Crown certainly leads viewers to think so. We see Michael take suspicious meetings and participate in shady phone calls.
Netflix may not be far off because, in real life, Michael Shea was blamed for the leak. In fact, Sir Michael Heseltine, the Queen’s private secretary, had a letter published in the Times accusing Michael of being the “Buckingham palace mole,” basically confirming that he (Michael Shea) had met with a reporter.
Michael Shea did eventually confirm that he had been the contact for the Sunday Times, but argued to the Queen that his comments had been misrepresented.
Michael Shea left the Queen’s court a few months after the controversy.
It could be coincidence or just chance that Michael Shea left the Queen’s court a few months after the controversy, but many believe it had to do with the tension created after his role in the leak was revealed.
Michael Shea prided himself on being an author and even wrote a political thriller before his time as press secretary called Sonntag, which was published under the pseudonym Michael Sinclair. After leaving the Queen’s court, he eventually wrote more than 20 books, including a memoir about working at the palace entitled A View from the Sidelines.