The Crown controversy has taken another turn ahead of the arrival of Season 5 this week on Netflix.
Following the disapproval voiced by several public figures of producers’ focus on the tumultuous events within the British monarchy of the 1990s – divorces, books, interviews, leaked telephone calls with lovers and even a terrible fire destroying priceless art at Windsor Castle – one of the new season’s stars has whipped up debate in another direction.
Prasanna Puwanarajah plays Martin Bashir, the BBC journalist who landed the scoop of the decade in sitting down with Princess Diana for her only solo feature-length interview, in which she famously said, “there were three in this marriage so it was a bit crowded” and admitted to her own infidelity.
Bashir has been completely discredited in recent years, as his methods of securing the interview – including presenting fake bank statements to the Princess’s brother to support his claims that her staff were being paid to spy on her – have come to light. Following an inquiry, the BBC has returned the BAFTA award it won for the programme, and pledged never to show the interview on screen again.
Now Puwanarajah has told The Observer newspaper he believes Bashir to have been a victim in some sense himself at the corporation. The actor said:
“There was a wariness of outsiders in the BBC that is part of what happened. Bashir’s ambitious actions are part of a documented lineage of ethical malpractice in journalism, but the subterfuge was detected in his case. Despite apparent progressive strides, problems around race persist in our institutions.”
The production of the fake bank statements came to light when a former graphic designer, Matt Wiessler, revealed the work he had done at Bashir’s instruction, without realising their intended use.
Wiessler told the Daily Mail this weekend he rejected Puwanarajah’s claims, saying: “I don’t agree with any of that.
I don’t agree that race played any part in the detection. The reason Bashir’s deception was detected is because I blew the whistle.”
Puwanarajah also defended the decision to bring to screen the Panorama interview in the fifth season. “The whole programme is now part of the fabric of our collective knowledge, our history, and not to do it properly would have been to bump the audience out of an important dramatic moment.”
Bashir, who also famously interviewed Michael Jackson in 2003, resulting in footage that was subsequently used in the star’s trial for child abuse, no longer works for the BBC.