21 November 2019
The TV interview.
By Neil Tidmarsh
(With apologies to William Shakespeare and acknowledgement of his ‘Henry IV part I’, ‘Henry IV part II’ and ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’.)
BBC: Here we are, in the glorious royal presence chamber in the palace of Westminster, face to face with Prince Hal, to ask him about his relationship with the notorious liar, cheat and convicted sex-offender –
HAL: I’m sorry to interrupt, but could I just say before we start that I’d much rather be talking to you about more important and urgent matters, like my plans to heal this country’s wounds after the recent bitter rebellions and civil wars, to unite the whole nation once again? You see, if we could all get together to invade France –
BBC: But, your highness, I thought we agreed that the purpose of this interview would be to put the record straight about your relationship with the notorious liar, cheat and convicted sex-offender Sir John Falstaff?
HAL: Yes, indeed. I’m grateful to you for this opportunity to tell my side of the story.
BBC: Perhaps you could begin by telling us how and when you met Falstaff, and why you became friends?
HAL: Well, it was about ten years ago. My best mate Ned Poins introduced us. I took to Falstaff immediately. He was a huge man with a huge personality, massively charismatic. Larger than life in every way. And he was such a laugh. Such fun. His crowd, the people he knew – fascinating, entertaining, glamorous. The drinking, the games, the parties…
BBC: At that infamous London night-spot, the Boar’s Head?
HAL: Yes, every night was party night at the Boars Head.
BBC: The sleazy, debauched goings-on in the Boar’s Head are common knowledge now, of course, but even at the time, you, as an insider, must have realised that something wasn’t quite right? I mean, all those girls…
HAL: Yes, there were girls there. After all, it was a night-spot.
BBC: But many of those girls are now saying that they weren’t there of their own free will. That they’d been pressured into it by Falstaff or by his associate and ex-lover Mistress Quickly. That Mistress Quickly procured them and groomed them and pressured them into having sex with Falstaff. That they were trafficked and abused, in short. That many of them were under-aged. One of the girls, Doll Tearsheet, now claims that Falstaff and Mistress Quickly pressured her into having sex with you, when she was only seventeen.
HAL: Well, I remember Falstaff’s friend Mistress Quickly, of course. But Doll – what’s her name? Doll Tearsheet? No, I don’t remember her. Anyway, on the day that she says we, you know, I was elsewhere, eating one of those new-fangled Tuscan open sandwiches in that tavern which that ex-pat Florentine chef had just opened in Little Italy. I remember that vividly. Besides, that other thing she mentioned, the dancing, impossible, not after that embarrassing condition that’s been troubling me ever since I fought for king and country in the battle of Tewkesbury.
BBC: But you must have been aware of Falstaff’s many nefarious activities, quite apart the disgusting house of ill repute he was running at the Boar’s Head. What about that appalling, sordid business reported by the merry wives of Windsor, for instance? Or his damnable misuse of the king’s press in the Tewkesbury campaign? Or the robbery at Gad’s Hill?
HAL: I did not take part in robbing those merchants at Gad’s Hill, let me make that quite plain. If I had anything to do with the matter – well, let me just remind you that the stolen money was paid back. In full. With interest.
BBC: Well, while we’re on the subject of money, some people are claiming that you were only interested in him because of his wealth and his rich friends.
HAL: Oh, no, no. Falstaff was as poor as a mendicant begging Franciscan friar. And all his friends were even poorer.
BBC: Then who was exploiting whom? Perhaps he was taking advantage of you, exploiting you for your royal connections?
HAL: Possibly. We used to joke about it, but I always made it clear to him that he’d get nothing from me once I became king. Look, perhaps no one was exploiting anyone. Perhaps it was just a simple matter of friendship.
BBC: Some might say that’s rather naïve of you. And they would say that it was foolish and unwise of you – and even reprehensible – to continue with that friendship once you and the royal court and indeed the whole world knew what a monster he was. Why on earth did you persist in hanging out with him even after he’d been found guilty of serious crimes?
HAL: Well, that doesn’t make me guilty of his crimes, does it? Isn’t that what this is all about, whether I’m innocent or guilty of the kind of crimes he committed?
BBC: Not exactly. The fact is, you’re guilty by association, whatever the truth of the matter might be. Your guilt or innocence in a criminal sense is almost irrelevant. You’re guilty of being an ultra-privileged white male. You’re guilty of hanging out with extremely unsavoury characters. You’re guilty of being naïve and stupid and weak at best, of being grasping and predatory at worst. If you had any sense, you’d be using this interview not to try to rationally prove your innocence and honesty but to get the public on-side by showing a bit of humanity and humility and empathy.
HAL: What do you mean?
BBC: Well, for a start, you could show a bit of sympathy for Falstaff’s victims. Shed some tears for those poor girls. You could even present yourself as a victim. You know, you were just a teenager, you were vulnerable, you were going through a rough time, your dad was always absent, he was too busy overthrowing King Richard to pay much attention to you, Falstaff took advantage of that by presenting himself as a father figure, he led you astray, etc, etc. It would be brilliant if you could sort of break down a bit, if you could start crying. It’s what people expect these days, it’s what they want (prurient and puritanical and sentimental as they are), they won’t be satisfied with anything less. A lot of humble grovelling, a lot of abject but non-specific apologies, begging for forgiveness, repentance followed by a promise of redemption – you’re going to try to be brave and strong and turn your life around, you know, the usual heart-warming thing.
HAL: What, even if it’s insincere and dishonest? Wouldn’t that be weak and cowardly and cheating?
BBC: Come on, your highness. Get real. This is twenty-first century trial by television.
HAL: Oh no, it isn’t! This is the fifteenth century! Guards, off to the Tower with this lot! And off with their heads!