Sunday 7 December 2014

Jeremy Thorpe, The Silent Conspiracy

Former Panorama reporter [now freelance] Tom Mangold has presented the most extraordinary documentary on Radio 4 this week: Jeremy Thorpe, The Silent Conspiracy

If you've not already heard it I would urge you to listen. It's quite something.

The phrase "The Jeremy Thorpe Affair" is one I've heard, on and off, throughout most of my life but, strangely, I've never thought to find out what it was all about. I knew it was a famous political scandal, had something to do with homosexuality and that there were allegations of murder attempts involved (somehow), and that Mr Thorpe got off, but beyond that, I knew nothing and had never bothered to find out. 

Well, after the recent death of Jeremy Thorpe and his rather kindly obituaries, I've had a crash course in "The Jeremy Thorpe Affair".

And I'm flabbergasted, yes flabbergasted, about it. And ashamed of myself for not having searched out more about it.

Even with the great swirl of abuse allegations now surrounding politicians, the BBC, the Catholic Church, music schools, pop stars, etc, and the parallel allegations of a massive Establishment cover-up, it's still remarkable to hear Tom Mangold's account of how the Establishment of the 1960s and 70s came to the aid of one of their own, the Liberal leader of the day, and covered-up for him in the most astonishing ways.

Hearing this long-suppressed evidence, it becomes clear how far removed in social attitudes we are now from where we were then, especially as regards homosexuality. As Tom Mangold forewarned his listeners, the archive material reveals attitudes from all-and-sundry in the Establishment back then that would have seen them crucified on Twitter these days - and (though he didn't admit it) the Tom Mangold of 1979 didn't seem entirely immune from that 'spirit of the age' either. A different age indeed.

I'm intrigued by how all of this dynamite evidence of Establishment misbehaviour has been embargoed by the BBC for 35 years, until after Mr Thorpe's death.

Immediately after Jeremy Thorpe was cleared Tom Mangold was ordered to destroy his tapes, as Mr Mangold states in the Sunday Times. (By whom?) Only now can we finally hear them. (So he must have disobeyed orders.) Presumably this was purely for legal reasons and that the BBC was only obeying orders here?

What else is hidden in the BBC's vaults though?

Tom Mangold's description of the extraordinary biased summing-up of the judge at the Jeremy Thorpe trial [for the attempted murder of Norman Scott] makes sense of a classic piece of Peter Cook satire - a piece far closer to the truth that might be imagined by those coming across it by chance.

Here's Tom Mangold's take,
[Jeremy Thorpe] must have been delighted by the final summing-up at the Old Bailey from Justice Cantley. The judge did not seem impressed by the prosecution witnesses. He told the jury that Norman Scott was a crook, a fraud, a sponger, a whiner and a parasite, that Peter Bessell was a humbug, Andrew Newton was a chump while, on the other hand, he reminded the jury that Jeremy Thorpe was a national figure with a very distinguished public record.
And here's Peter Cook's masterly spoof (which no one has ever transcribed for the benefit of internet users, so I will here):

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury...
It is my duty to advise you how you should vote when you retire from this court.
In the last few weeks you have all heard some pretty extraordinary allegations being made about one of the prettiest...about one of the most distinguished politicians ever to rise to high office in this country - or not, as you may think.
We have heard, for example, from Mr Becksbissle, a man who, by his own admission, is a liar, a humbug, a hypocrite, a vagabond, a loathsome spotted reptile and a self-confessed chicken strangler.
You may choose, if you wish, to believe the transparent tissue of odious lies which streamed on and on from his disgusting, greedy, slathering lips. That is entirely a matter for you.
We have been forced to listen to the testimony of Mr Norma St John Scott - a scrounger, parasite, pervert, a worm, a self-confessed player of the pink oboe, a man or woman who by his or her own admission chews pillows for kicks. 
You may believe him to be a vile, discredited and embittered man, a more unreliable witness upon whose testimony to convict a man you may rightly think should have become prime minister of this country or president of the world.
You may, on the other hand, chose to believe Mrs Scott - in which case I can only say that you need psychiatric help...
Over the evidence of the so-called hit man, Mr Olivia Newton John, I prefer to draw a discreet veil. He is, as we know, a man with a criminal past but no criminal future. [Judge laughs at own joke]. He is a piece of ordure, a piece of excrement, unable to carry out a simple murder plot without cocking the whole thing up.
Now we turn to the evidence about the money. 
Now we've heard from Mr Jack Haywer and Mr Nadia Rickshaw, neither of whom (as far as I can gather) are complete and utter crooks - though the latter is foreign and is the sort, you might well think, who would boil up poisonous biryanis in the middle of the night and keep you awake with his pagan limbo-dancing.
It is conceded by the defence that the money arrived. What happened to that we shall never know. That is his affair and it is not for us to pry. It will be a sad day for this country when a leading politician cannot spend his election expenses in any way he sees fit.
One further point. You'll have noticed that three of the defendants have chosen very wisely to exercise their inalienable right not to go into the witness box to answer a lot of impertinent questions. I will merely say that you are not to infer anything from this other than that they consider the evidence against them so flimsy that it was scarcely worth rising from their seats and wasting breath denying these ludicrous charges. 
Finally, I'd like to pay a personal tribute to Mr Thrope's husband, Miriam, who stood by him throughout this long and unnecessary ordeal. I know you'll join with me in wishing them well for a long and happy future.
You are now to indeed should I...
You are now to retire carefully to consider your verdict of not guilty.
Now that, Mr Brigstocke, is proper satire!


  1. I thought the Peter Cook "summing up" was a masterpiece of satire until I heard the judge's summing up in the Archer case and realise it was just dull factual reportage:

    [From the Telegraph] The judge Mr Justice Caulfield famously told the jury in his summing-up: “Remember Mary Archer in the witness-box; your vision of her probably will never disappear. Has she elegance? Has she fragrance?” Of Jeffrey Archer, he wondered: “Is he in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel round about quarter to one on a Tuesday morning after an evening at the Caprice?”

    Well I think we all know the answer to that one.

  2. Yes, Marcus Brigstocke take note indeed !

  3. Mega thanks for the Peter Cook link - I'd forgotten all about it till now. Great stuff!

  4. I wonder when this was recorded - YouTube doesn't say anything about it, but it does look awfully like Richard Ingrams at the podium.


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