Saturday, 8 November 2008

Jeremy Thorpe - 0

Ah me! While we may not reach a three digit figure I’ll be surprised if this lot doesn’t run somewhere into the high 20s at the very least. And there probably would have been a lot more material if it hadn’t be for a lot of circumspection, or cowardly pussyfooting if you prefer, by the national media in fear of law suits.

And do please remember in all of this, Jeremy Thorpe was acquitted of conspiracy to murder and he’s still alive. So let’s mind how we go, okay?

Christ, though, but where to begin in all of this? Whole books have been written about this. And I don’t mean to add to them.

Jeremy Thorpe had the traditional Establishment background. He was born April 29, 1929, schooled at Eton and studied Law at Oxford University. He was the Liberal Party MP for North Devon, from 1952 to 1979. By this time the Liberal Party was just a hint of its former 19th and early 20th century glories, but Thorpe stood out as a young headline-grabbing showman. In 1967 he became the leader of the Liberal Party. By the 1974 General Election the Liberals had recovered to the point that they were now in a position to refuse an offer of a coalition government from Edward Heath’s Tories, making it possible for Harold Wilson’s Labour government to scrape in with the smallest of majorities. (This is the almost unfathomable reason why a man in a strangely horse-like mask and a trilby hat keeps appearing to wave at the camera throughout the very last episode of “Monty Python”.)

In late 1960 or early 1961, Thorpe casually befriended a young groom called Norman Scott, leaving Scott an open-ended invitation to come see him if he ever needed anything. In November 1961 Scott, twenty-one years old, unemployed and recovering from a nervous breakdown, visited Thorpe at Westminster. Scott alleged that on the night of 8 November 1961 Thorpe seduced him with the aid of a copy of James Baldwin’s novel “Giovanni’s Room” and a pillow. Their “affair” lasted for several years but Thorpe eventually found Scott too erratic and left him. Since this was before decrimalisation in 1967 any homosexual relations were illegal. Thorpe got fellow Liberal MP Peter Bessell to make a series of payments to buy Thorpe’s silence. Scott would eventually take his allegations to the police, giving them several letters Thorpe had written him but no further investigation resulted. In 1971 Scott’s claims that Thorpe had been his lover had reached the Liberal Party. An internal investigation exonerated Thorpe, and Scott was again left feeling victimised. By 1974 the Liberal Party treasurer David Holmes had taken on the responsibility of buying Scott’s silence. When Scott gave some of his documents to his then physician, Dr Gleadle, to look after, Holmes would purchase them from Gleadle. By 1974 Scott had moved to North Devon and would still talk to anyone who would listen, but few people were inclined to believe a former male model’s accusations against one of the UK’s foremost politicians and his claims of mysterious threats. David Holmes then arranged through various intermediaries to use “election expenses” to hire a former airline pilot, Andrew “Gino” Newton, to kill Scott. On Friday 24th October, Newton met Scott and pretending that he was there to protect him, convinced Scott to come away with him to Exmoor. Scott would only get in the car though if he could bring his beloved Great Dane, Rinka, with him. Newton had a phobia about dogs but let Scott bring Rinka with him. Newton drove Scott down a secluded lane, and formulated an excuse to get Scott out of the car. As the two men got out, Rinka also leapt out of the car. Newton was suddenly panicked by the excitable dog and shot it in the head. Newton was having problems with his gun and the sight of the distraught Scott cradling his dead dog only further compounded Newton’s lack of control over the situation so he suddenly drove off. The police made a pretence of investigating but again it went nowhere. Journalists had started to pick up on rumours about the shooting of a dog belonging to a man who had been making claims about Jeremy Thorpe but still it wasn’t a story worth pursuing. Then at the end of January 1976, Scott appeared in court on minor fraud charges (which Scott claimed to have perpetrated as a means of gaining a soapbox). A horde of journalists had been prepped that something momentous was about to revealed, and Scott was finally able to repeat his allegations that Thorpe had sexually corrupted to an interested audience.

Which is where we start this whole mess, and just from the précis above you already know more than most of the participants did at the time.

There are an awful lot of cartoons about this farago. Most of them are about the Liberal Party’s machinations to evade the embarrassing Thorpe, but not actually confronting the whole murder and homosexuality thing, which is of course why Thorpe was such a liability.

newspaper cutting in “Private Eye”, 20 July 1974

Osbert Lancaster cartoon in the “Daily Express” 30 January 1976

“Private Eye” cover, 6 February 1976

Wally Fawkes “Trog” cartoon in the “Observer” 8 February 1976

Marc Boxer cartoon, unpublished, February 1976

William Rushton “Chatto” cartoon in “Private Eye”, 20 February 1976

editorial parody from “Private Eye”, 20 February 1976

Marc Boxer cartoon in “Private Eye” 20 February 1976

“Private Eye” cover, 19 March 1976

Thorpe letters parody by Eric Idle from “The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book”, 1976

Raymond Jackson “JAK” cartoons in “Evening Standard”, 11 May 1976 and “Evening Standard”, 14 May 1976

Osbert Lancaster cartoon in “The Daily Express”, 20 October 1977

“Lloyd George Knew My Father” parody article by Alan Coren in “Punch”, 26 October 1977

"Auberon Waugh's Diary" in "Private Eye", 29 October 1977

“Times” editorial parody from “Private Eye” 11 November 1977

David Austin cartoon in “Private Eye”, 15 September 1978

“Private Eye” cover, 24 November 1978

Michael Heath cartoon in “Punch” 29 November 1978

Michael Heath cartoon in “Punch”, 13 December 1978

Auberon Waugh’s "Dog Lover’s Party" campaign materials in “The Spectator”, 28 April 1979

“Entirely A Matter For You” sketch by Peter Cook from “The Secret Policeman’s Ball”, 29 and 30 June 1979

“Private Eye” cover, 6 July 1979

“Auberon Waugh’s Diary” in “Private Eye” 6 July 1979 and 20 July 1979

“Notebook” by Alexander Chancellor in “Spectator”, 7 July 1979

news parody in “National Lampoon” October 1979

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