In the House of Commons, Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, together with a small group of intimate friends, plots to get rid of a thorn in his side. Thorpe’s ex-lover Norman Scott is getting in the way of a burgeoning political career – if something isn’t done about him soon, the politician’s hopes of high office will end up down the toilet. Having tried to fob Scott off with money and employment opportunities, it seems there’s only one way Thorpe can be certain the male model and horse-lover will keep his mouth shut – murder.
I was a teenager when the Thorpe/Scott saga hit the headlines, and while I remember how the whole thing seemed to drag on for ages, I’d forgotten most of the details, such as the murder plot, the suitcase full of letters and the antics of a man with a gun. John Preston’s book is a gripping read, taking us from the hallowed halls of Westminster to the beaches of California, through idyllic lanes in North Devon’s Combe Martin and onto the wilds of Dartmoor. Preston’s narrative is well researched and sensibly plotted, and easily captures the essence of the times (early Sixties to late Seventies), as well as giving each of the ‘characters’ a (generally) unbiased voice. He masterfully lays out the many different stories that make up this fascinating tale in its equally fascinating setting in British political history. I loved too, all the gossip, rumours and backroom tales that cleverly illuminate a large cast of incongruent characters, including drunken barrister George Carman, millionaire Jack Hayward, airline pilot and would-be hit-man Andrew Newton and fruit-machine salesman George Deakin.
This is a thoroughly absorbing, highly amusing and completely captivating account of one of England’s most memorable scandals. And for those interested in seeing how the story transfers to the small screen, it’s worth noting that the BBC recently produced a drama based on Preston’s book, starring Hugh Grant as the disgruntled MP and Ben Wishaw as Scott.