A Very English Scandal

(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

I think they should have used Michael Bloch’s book rather than John Preston’s but it’s impressive, none the less.

In 1974, Thorpe came close to becoming de facto deputy prime minister; by 1979 he came close to a lengthy jail sentence for a very serious crime: conspiracy to murder a former lover, Norman Scott.

This BBC drama makes painfully apparent, Thorpe, for all his talents and fame, charm and sincere political principles, was a basically highly selfish man who eventually damaged everyone who came into contact with him: his family, friends, boyfriends, parliamentary colleagues, the entire Liberal Party, business acquaintances, financial benefactors, alleged co-conspirators (to murder, no less), and, most grievously of all, Scott. One way or another all had cause to regret ever bumping into Jeremy.

Grant captured all of Thorpe’s superficialities well: the permanent five o’clock shadow, the expansive mannerisms, the theatrical delivery of everything from a parliamentary speech on racism to an order for drinks; the trademark Edwardian dress and natty brown trilby; the steadily thinning comb-over; the gift for mimicry; the tendency to treat politics as some sort of game (this seems to be habitual among the Old Etonians even today), and, above all, the reckless randiness of his secret life as a promiscuous homosexual.

Some have been shocked by references to Vaseline, “biting the pillow”, and a love letter ­mysteriously declaring that “Bunnies can and will go to France”.

Jeremy Thorpe died in 2014. The drama could not have been made during his lifetime for legal reasons. Thorpe could have brought a case of libel against it for portraying him as being behind the conspiracy to murder, given that he was acquitted in court and never even publicly acknowledged his homosexuality.

This mini-series seems to take it for granted that Jeremy Thorpe was guilty as charged and actually had connived to have his former lover murdered. It should be said that he was acquitted of this charge, that no further evidence was found to indicate definite guilt, that he vigorously maintained his innocence until his death in 2014 and that the script of this TV account leans heavily on the disputed witness-box account of Peter Bessell, an extremely shady character whom the police were interested in for a number of other things quite unrelated to this case. BUT new evidence seems to have come to light and they’re re-opening the case.

It revealed a society very different from our own. In some sense, Thorpe was as much as Scott a victim of his time. It was not easy to be a gay man, even in the 1970s.

Today it is still relevant -the abuse of power in sexual relationships; that consensual sex can be consensual while still deeply damaging: vulnerable people may have expectations that they will be offered protection, even love, which has never been on offer.

“Thorpe referred to Ted Heath as ‘The plum pudding around which no one has succeeded in lighting the brandy’.”

“bastards, liars, perverts, thieves, blackmailers, inbreds and arsonists”

 

“Jeremy Thorpe lives on a knife-edge of danger”

 

“Of course, you’re ruined. You know that, don’t you?”

 

“And now you must retire to consider your verdict of not guilty”.

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