Beyond the marital tensions, relationship scandals, and family drama — though, of course, those parts are riveting — The Crown also consistently devotes time to historic news events and the way the Royal family handled them. There was the Great Smog of 1952 and the Soviet Union’s testing of a thermonuclear weapon in Season 1, and the Suez Crisis and the Duke of Windsor’s Nazi associations in season 2. It’s been a crash course in modern British history, and the newest season of The Crown touches on the Aberfan disaster, which producers called “one of the most tragic events of the 20th Century.”
In October of 1966, weeks of heavy rain in South Wales caused the collapse of a pile of waste from a coal mine. The pile of waste, which is called a spoil tip and mostly consists of soil and rock from a coal mining operation, turned into quicksand-like liquid and slid quickly and violently downhill, devastating a junior school and other buildings at the base of the mountain. There were 240 students at the school; 116 were killed. Five teachers and more than 20 local residents died as well.
Prince Phillip came to Aberfan the next day, and the Queen came a week later, one day after the last body was recovered. Marjorie Collins, who lost her 8-year-old son in the disaster, told ITV in 2015 that the Queen’s visit helped heal the community. “They were above the politics and the din and they proved to us that the world was with us, and that the world cared,” she said.
Later investigations revealed that the National Coal Board (NCB), which oversaw that mine, had received complaints about the potential instability of the spoil tip years earlier. According to the BBC, the NCB refused to take responsibility, but a tribunal declared that the “Aberfan disaster could and should have been prevented,” and that the NCB displayed “ignorance, ineptitude and a failure in communications.”
While the NCB didn't end up removing its leadership or making large demotions, the tribunal did shed a national spotlight on the issue. Controversy broke out over who would take financial responsibility for dealing with the other six spoil tips in the area, as well as rebuilding structures that were damaged and compensating families who lost their children. Though the company initially only paid 50 pounds to each family who lost a child, The Independent reported in 1998 that the company later shelled out £500 per child.
The Crown won't show the entire Aberfan saga, but rather just Elizabeth's role. The series began filming the disaster last year, though the cast shot the scenes in nearby Cwmaman, rather than in Aberfan itself. According to the BBC, producers released a statement stating that they felt a “responsibility to remain true to the memory and the experience of the survivors,” so they met with community leaders and people who live in Aberfan.
"We have been made to feel welcome by the residents who have been very helpful in providing insight into one of the most tragic events of the 20th Century,” the producers said.
Want even more from The Crown? Head over to our curated Pinterest board for all of the 60s and 70s inspiration you’ll need as you work your way through the series.