The secrets of Edward and Mrs Simpson

SOMETHING must be done.' Those were the famous words uttered by Edward VIII during a visit to Merthyr in 1936 after seeing the desperate plight of the unemployed in the Welsh valleys.

The words form the title of a fascinating book by the former Merthyr MP Ted Rowlands. I recall the look on Prince Charles' face when Ted's excellent successor Dai Havard presented him with a copy of the book at a meeting with MPs.

For the Prince's great-uncle, the king who sacrificed his throne for the woman he loved, was the black sheep of the Windsor family.

When I discussed Ted's book with him last year, he told me how he had been frustrated when writing it. Many government papers from the period were still secret. A decision had been taken in the 1960s not to release Cabinet papers for 100 years, to spare the blushes of the Queen Mother.

This led to speculation that the papers might contain some sensational revelations about her role in the abdication. Or perhaps the papers contained evidence of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson's alleged links with the Nazis.

‘It seemed crazy to me that we should not be allowed to know about our own history, particularly after the death of the Queen Mother in March last year. I asked questions in the House of Commons and the government agreed to look at publishing papers.

Yesterday, the Public Record Office in Kew opened the files to the citizens of Britain for the first time in 67 years.

Press coverage has focused on trivial tittle tattle about Wallis Simpson's other relationships. Even so, I wonder who authorised the Police to spy on Mrs. Simpson and the Prince, and whether current Royals have similar files.

But going through the papers was fascinating. It was remarkable to read of the lengths to which George VI and the Queen Mother went to make sure that Wallis Simpson was not given the title ‘Her Royal Highness.'

There are echoes here of recent arguments about Princess Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles. It is also a revelation to see that news management and ‘spin' are nothing new. These days Edward VIII would probably have been able to use his own Spin Doctor to release the speech he wanted to make to the British public asking for their support for his marriage.

It is also fascinating to read letter from the Leader of the Irish free State, Eamon De Valera, who used the royal crisis cleverly to detach Ireland from the monarchy and, eventually, to become a Republic.

But it is disappointing that some later files have not yet been opened up. These contain discussions from the 1960s about why the papers were still to be kept secret.

Edward VIII was a weak man, who seemed genuinely to care about the Welsh unemployed, but flirted dangerously with Nazism. The papers contain references to Wallis Simpson bragging about their meeting Hitler in 1937.

They don't tell us for sure if he would have been made a puppet king if Hitler had successfully invaded Britain. But now the secret history of the abdication crisis can at last be read by the British public.