Now a major TV drama series starring Hugh Grant and Ben Wishaw, a behind-the-scenes look at the desperate, scandalous private life of a British MP and champion manipulator, and the history-making trial that exposed his dirty secrets
While Jeremy Thorpe served as a Member of Parliament and Leader of the Liberal Party in the 1960s and 70s, his bad behavior went under the radar for years. Police and politicians alike colluded to protect one of their own. In 1970, Thorpe was the most popular and charismatic politician in the country, poised to hold the balance of power in a coalition government.
But Jeremy Thorpe was a man with a secret. His homosexual affairs and harassment of past partners, along with his propensity for lying and embezzlement, only escalated as he evaded punishment. Until a dark night on the moor with an ex-lover, a dog and a hired gun led to consequences that even his charm and power couldn’t help him escape.
Dubbed the “Trial of the Century,” Thorpe’s climactic case at the Old Bailey in London was the first time that a leading British politician had stood trial on a murder charge, the first time that a murder plot had been hatched in the House of Commons. And it was the first time that a prominent public figure had been exposed as a philandering gay man, in an era when homosexuality had only just become legal.
With the pace and drama of a thriller, A Very English Scandal is an extraordinary story of hypocrisy, deceit and betrayal at the heart of the British Establishment.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
John Preston’s retelling of British politician Jeremy Thorpe’s sex scandal is as riveting as it is farcical. When Thorpe was a charismatic rising star in the culturally homophobic 1960s, he initiated an affair with a disturbed young man named Norman Josiffe (a.k.a. Norman Scott); the pair’s breakup triggered a black comedy of errors. When Thorpe and his associates attempted to silence Josiffe and obscure evidence of the relationship, their efforts backfired in spectacular fashion. Investigated and written with patience and compassion, A Very English Scandal offers a comprehensive look into a closeted society that seems almost unrecognizable today.
In 1979, Jeremy Thorpe, a popular member of Parliament, stood trial over claims that he hired an assassin to murder model Norman Scott, who claimed to be Thorpe's ex-lover. In this addictive true crime account of one of Britain's greatest political scandals, London-based novelist Preston (The Dig) chronicles Thorpe's early, secretive love life, at a time when sodomy was still illegal, and his exposure. Thorpe is portrayed as repressed and concerned with his public image and political career; he involved colleagues in schemes lasting years to silence Scott. Though Scott had a cache of Thorpe's incriminating letters as evidence, Thorpe always maintained that they were never lovers. Drawing from Scott's memoir and documents from Peter Bessell, a political colleague of Thorpe's with a checkered business past, Preston blends factual with farcical, recounting, for example, a horrifying incident with Thorpe's helicopter and a protester standing too close to the rotor blade a huge clump of hair seen on the ground turned out to be a muddy wig blown off. The trial near the end is riveting, with Thorpe's lawyer demolishing Scott's and Bessell's credibility; Thorpe was acquitted. Preston caps off the dramatic account by discussing the widely held belief that the acquittal was an establishment cover-up, even though Thorpe never regained his career, and died in 2014. Though knee-deep in politics, scandal, and betrayal, the book also conveys the sobering, grim reality of lives destroyed by dirty politics and homophobic culture.