Just when the Duchess of York thought it was safe to peek into the public view, her tea china was rattled again. This time the flak came not from Fleet Street but from London’s satirical Private Eye magazine, which in its most recent issue pointed out the striking similarities between Fergie’s 1989 children’s book, Budgie at Bendick’s Point and an almost forgotten 1964 book called Hector the Helicopter.
In Hector the Helicopter, written by the late Arthur W. Baldwin, the hero is “very unhappy” that he doesn’t get to go to the “exciting places” visited by the planes in the hangar. Budgie is miffed that he’s not appearing in an air show with the bigger aircraft. To cheer up, each goes out for a whirl. Budgie becomes heartened when “the cold wind [whips] his cheeks.” Hector, on his outing, enjoys himself “in the lovely morning air.” The climax of both books is a rescue: Hector saves two shipwrecked sailors who are signaling from a rock in the sea; with Budgie it’s two boys on a rock. On returning to their respective hangars, Budgie “never felt happier” while Hector is “very happy.”
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said he had “no idea” if Fergie, 30, had read Hector as a child, and her illustrator, John Richardson, declared in London’s Today, “It’s a coincidence.” Although he admits that he hasn’t read Baldwin’s book, John Sargent, head of the children’s book division at Simon & Schuster, Fergie’s American publisher, also dismisses the charges. “Because of the length of the text, it is fairly common to have similarities in children’s stories,” he says. “I don’t believe she has plagiarized anything.”
This isn’t Budgie’s first encounter with literary turbulence. When Fergie’s companion book, Budgie the Helicopter, was published last fall, its depiction of two swarthy men kidnapping a blond girl triggered accusations of racial stereotyping. Then there was the matter of the profits—Fergie claimed that most of the estimated $200,000 would go to charity and then reportedly pocketed the lion’s share. There are no more Budgie books in the works, but the duchess is collecting material from the diaries of Queen Victoria. A more likely sequel: The Further Foibles of Fergie.