Spectator, 7 July 1979
Notebook, by Alexander Chancellor
It is no longer interesting to speculate whether or not Mr Jeremy Thorpe is or ever has been a homosexual. Anyway, it is none of my business. but if he ever did have tendencies of this sort, he has not exactly proclaimed them from the rooftoips. He is not, in other words, a standard-bearer of the Gay Liberation Movement. And there is no reason that I can think of why his acquittal at the Old Bailey, pleasing though it may have been for other reasons, should be seen as any kind of victory for British 'gays'. If anything, I would have thought the opposite, as Mr Norman Scott's performance in the witness box is unlikely to have raised homosexualism in public esteem. So it was therefore not just unlikely, but inconceivable, that a party of 'gays' would wish to crown the celebrations of 'Gay Pride Week' by hiring a coach and roaring down to North Devon to attend the appalling thanksgiving service for Mr Thorpe's acquittal. And yet when this little titbit of unsubstantiated information was cast casually into Fleet Street, it was seized and devoured by every newspaper in sight. It was, of course, an obvious hoax, of which I will not name the perpetrators, for fear that heads might roll and the gutters foam with blood. Suffice it to say that the 'Mr Simpson' who last week telephoned the vicar of Bratton Fleming, the Reverend John Hornby, to announce the planned 'gay' visitation was nothing more than a cruel and malevolent impostor, and not even a 'gay'. The extraordinary thing is that Mr Hornby believed him and sought only to mitigate the embarrassment by declaring that the church would be full (not true, as it turned out) and that the 'gays' would have to make do with accommodation in the village hall, to which the service would be relayed by loudspeaker. Perhaps Mr Hornby's reaction should not surprise us, for on television he appeared to possess in abundance those characteristics which we have come to associate with many of those publicly identified as 'friends' of Mr Thorpe - a disagreeable and slightly sinister appearance and a capacity to say, do or believe almost anything, provided it is in some way inappropriate. If the thanksgiving service was in itself a masterpiece of bad taste, Mr Hornby's sermon was even more so. It was well reported by Ann Leslie in the Daily Mail. 'God is so fantastic', said Mr Hornby, thanking God both for the jury's verdict ('With God, nothing shall be impossible!') and for 'that fantastic resilience' He had granted to Jeremy and Marion. 'My dears, don't you think if it had been you or I in Jeremy's or Marion's'shoes, that we'd be either round the bend or in the madhouse or had a couple of coronaries. . . ?' But enough of Mr Hornby. The really surprising thing was the gullibility of those hard-bitten Fleet Street journalists. Even Mr John Junor, the man who has edited the Sunday Express for countless generations, did not doubt that 'a coachload of poofs' was on its way to Bratton Fleming and practically gave himself a coronary when he thought about it. 'After you with the sick-bag please, Alice' were the closing words of his comment on the subject. But the fantasy world of Jeremy Thorpe has by now enveloped us all.