When I was a young adult male, news stories that seemed light years away from me mattered precious little at the time. Maybe the odd name, or situation registered in my memory, but now I am much older, these seemingly boring tales come back to haunt me, one of which is the rather prolonged saga of The Leader of the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, and the much vaunted murder attempt accusations of a man named originally as Norman Josiffe, later to become a.k.a. Norman Scott.
This newest examination of the case that shook the establishment back in the latter half of the 1960’s, and right up to the late 1970’s, certainly raises the eyebrows of the reader. ‘A Very English Scandal’ by John Preston, published 2016, retells the history of the political field as was, the inner workings of Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and many others. How they all conspired to close ranks, the old schoolboy networking in the Metropolitan Police Force coming to light over the years. How seemingly the judicial system, in retrospect, seemed to collude to cover up, and destroy a seemingly decent factual case. It all amounts to a colossal ‘whitewash’ if this book is to be believed.
To outline the story, we first get a meeting of like-minded politicians finding out their individual tastes in their choices of wants and needs. This eventually leads to the meeting of the accuser Norman Josiffe with Jeremy Thorpe, and the consummation, (illegal at the time) of a homosexual relationship between the two of them.
Thereafter is a catalogue of meetings between all the characters that would normally be resident in a ‘who done it’ novel. There are clandestine meetings in the House of Commons, where it is voiced that murder might well be the answer to be rid of the clinging, whining, simpering Norman Scott. Scott became a liability to Jeremy Thorpe as his star began to rise within the Liberal Party. Thorpe’s homosexual tendencies were rather dangerous to his career motives, he was warned, but basically ignored the advice until it became imperative that he be rid of his nemesis.
Then begins the chase, the shootings, and the cover up, the final court case at the Old Bailey that ended Thorpe’s career aspirations and dreams, and the eventual aftermath of all the protagonists.
The book is enticingly exciting in the extreme, plus it reads so well. One could be forgiven to be a trifle confused over a similar tragedy earlier in the Sixties, The Profumo Affair’. It does get a mention, plus Jeremy Thorpe’s involvement in the early pages of the book.
In hindsight, which is a wonderful thing in these cases, we get to replay the strange characters once again, John Profumo, Jeremy Thorpe, the larger than life Cyril Smith, the Three Day Week power-cuts, and so on. The entire book revisits the times in such a way as to make the story watertight. Read it and make your own mind up.
Reg Seward 5/3*
A Very English Scandal by John Preston
9780241215722 Viking HBK 2016