The secret letters of Wallis Simpson are sensational ? but don't prove she longed for her ex
It has traditionally been billed as the love story of the century: the king who gave up his throne for the woman he adored. While it's well known Wallis Simpson was not as obsessed with Edward VIII as he was with her, no one has ever really questioned whether the feelings were reciprocated. Until now.
While researching a new biography of Wallis Simpson, historian Anne Sebba came across a previously undiscovered cache of 15 letters written to her husband, Ernest Simpson, from around the time of their divorce in 1936 through to the first two years of Wallis's life in exile in France with Edward. The letters were a genuine find, revealing a depth of affection between Wallis and Ernest that had been written out of the official histories and Wallis Simpson: The Secret Letters (Channel 4) more than lived up to its pre-broadcast hype as a radical reassessment of the relationship between Wallis and Edward.
And yet the hype did get in the way. I was left with the nagging feeling that Sebba was pushing her material too far and being drawn into making unnecessary claims that could not be properly substantiated. Which was a shame, because what she had uncovered was sensational enough on its own: proof that Wallis and Ernest were still fond of one another even after their divorce and that Wallis felt trapped into maintaining a relationship with the king that she would rather have ended.
What these letters showed to me was a couple, Ernest and Wallis, who had allowed themselves to think they could use Wallis's affair with Edward ? condoned by Ernest ? to advance their position in London society, but had found themselves outmanoeuvred when Edward fell in love with Wallis and felt obliged to fall in line with his wishes or risk being totally ostracised.
This wasn't enough for Sebba. She claimed the letters proved that the great love affair had actually been between Ernest and Wallis. That just didn't ring true. Would a madly-in-love couple have been happy for the wife to swan off to the south of France with the Prince of Wales? Droit de seigneur wasn't that powerful in the 1930s. And the letters spoke more of regret than passion, of a couple having their congenial "understanding" disturbed, the talk of love a hollow echo for something they could have had, but never did. Sebba wanted us to believe Wallis went to her death pining for Ernest. I'd doubt that. Ernest had certainly moved on within a couple of years, having happily remarried.
I would also have liked to hear more about the provenance of the letters. Sebba said they had come from an unnamed source who had had them for ages and didn't think they were of much value. How could anyone imagine that letters from Wallis to Ernest had no historical interest? I'd find it easier to believe the letters had been deliberately held back until such time that no further damage could be done to Edward's reputation. Wallis, Ernest and Edward all moved in circles where everyone spoke with cut-glass accents. So, too, did everyone in this documentary, Sebba included. The establishment has a way of looking after its own. For once, a conspiracy thriller seemed more plausible than a great untold love story.
Still, at least the hype was partially justified, which is more than can be said for Mount Pleasant (Sky 1), which was being touted as the new middle-class Shameless comedy-drama. It failed on every count. No laughs, no drama, no edge. l it had going for it was suspense: the mystery of how it got commissioned in the first place.
Imagine an all-female workplace where Lisa, Shelley and Denise do absolutely no work, as they are fully occupied talking about their sex lives. Imagine that Lisa's dull and not particularly attractive husband Dan keeps getting hit on by every woman he meets. Imagine that Lisa gets so upset that Dan has forgotten their 10th wedding anniversary that she organises a internet blind date for the very same day. Imagine Lisa is getting on very nicely with her blind date, Jim. Until she is interrupted by an old friend.
Now imagine she comes to her senses, goes home to give Dan a right seeing to and the pair of them decide to visit their new next-door neighbour the following morning. And it's Jim. On second thoughts, don't imagine it. Mount Pleasant isn't that bad. It's worse.