Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Norman Scott’

A Very British Scandal

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st May, 2018

A Very British ScandalI watched the first episode of Stephen Frears’ three-part TV bio-pic about the Thorpe Affair, A Very British Scandal, with a degree of trepidation. Despite the director’s esteemed back catalogue and the stellar cast, could it be anything else but a travesty of the truth? I knew Jeremy Thorpe from the time he came to speak at the Oxford University Liberal Club (of which I was then Secretary) in about 1970 right up until his death in 2014, so well over 40 years, and like most of his numerous friends I was very fond of him. He was one of the most charismatic politicians I have ever encountered — witty, charming and urbane to such a degree that most of us failed to perceive a darker side to his character. Right to the end, he denied having plotted Norman Scott’s murder, and indeed a court found him not guilty of that charge. So I think he would have been shocked — probably to the point of litigation, for which he did have a bent — by the dramatic assertion at the end of episode 1 of A Very British Scandal that he effectively commissioned Peter Bessell to have Norman bumped off. Bessell was of course an extremely dodgy character himself (beautifully played by Alex Jennings, very much as I remember Bessell), who moved to America and was an unreliable witness, to put it mildly. I never encountered Norman Joliffe/Scott, who was much less attractive in real life than the super-talented and winsome Ben Whishaw, but Whishaw absolutely nails the element of helplessness about Norman which Jeremy did find immensely appealing, sexually stimulating even, until things started to turn terribly sour. So what about Hugh Grant as Jeremy? He accurately mimics some of Thorpe’s mannerisms, though the voice wasn’t quite that Edward-Fox-plummy, and naturally the Edwardian-style clothes that Jeremy favoured are down to a T. But I think the audience needed to see more of Thorpe’s undeniable charm and splendidly theatrical showmanship before the storm clouds gathered and the murder plot was allegedly hatched. Frears shows he is still very much the master of his art. Indeed, as a TV mini-series this promises to be outstanding entertainment. But is it really true or fair? And will it be that it manages in later episodes to show why talented and successful people like Jeremy Thorpe (or, indeed, at an intellectually and creatively higher level, Oscar Wilde) dice with danger for the thrill of the risk and a fatal curiosity about what it would be like to be found out?

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Michael Bloch’s Jeremy Thorpe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th March, 2015

Jeremy Thorpe 1Thorpe biographyJeremy Thorpe was the Liberal Party’s most charismatic leader since David Lloyd George, whom in many ways he tried to emulate. I first met him when he came to speak at the Oxford Union while I was Secretary of the university’s Liberal Club and I was dazzled by his wit, his talent for mimicry and his genuine interest in everyone he spoke to. All those charms, and more, are evident in Michael Bloch’s magisterial biography (Jeremy Thorpe Little, Brown £25), which means that the reader gets a good idea of the substance of the man before his catastrophic downfall in 1979, when he was a co-defendant in a trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder. The supposed target of this plot was the sometime model and horseman Norman Scott (né Josiffe), with whom Thorpe developed a most unfortunate relationship, which he then spent many frustrating years trying to shake off. His constituency association in North Devon adored him, as did much of the electorate until his disgrace — and even after that, many friends and political acquaintances stood by him. Very soon after the trial — at which he was acquitted — it became obvious that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but it is tribute to his fortitude (one might even say his cussedness) that he lived for another 25 years, mostly confined to the beautiful house in Orme Square which his second wife Marion received as part of her divorce settlement from Lord Harewood with trips to their other two homes in North Devon and Suffolk. Marion’s loyalty to Jeremy was quite extraordinary and is rightly acknowledged as such in Michael Bloch’s book. Neither Jeremy nor Marion were particularly happy about the book’s being written, and having read it in draft nearly two decades ago, Jeremy insisted that it not be published while he was alive. That was a pity in many ways, as he could not have wished for a fairer and more scrupulous biographer, who over 500 impeccably researched pages gives a brilliant picture of the man, warts and all, critically but ultimately affectionately.

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