The BBC is bringing to life one of the biggest stories to ever rock British politics on Sunday (20 May) night with big-budget drama ‘A Very English Scandal’.
Starring Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw, it tells the tale of the Thorpe scandal back in the 1970s, which saw MP Jeremy Thorpe stand trial for conspiracy to murder his former lover, Norman Scott.
The three-part series is based on John Preston’s true-crime non-fiction novel of the same name, and the script has been penned by esteemed writer and former ‘Doctor Who’ boss Russell T. Davies, with ex-‘EastEnders’ head honcho Dominic Treadwell-Collins serving as executive producer.
“It’s a great story and is tabloid-y and it’s funny and sensational, but actually these are real people. This really happened,” Russell says. “The fascinating story, the consequences and the ramifications of this go on through the decades.”
But for those not old enough to remember what happened, we took a look at the story that shocked the nation…
Jeremy Thorpe was a former leader of the Liberal party who took office in 1967, but he is now better known for being the first politician to ever stand trial for conspiracy to murder.
He was born in 1929 into a Conservative family, but after studying at Eton and Oxford, he found his political ideas aligned more closely with the Liberal party. His career as a Liberal MP began in 1959 when he was elected to represent the North Devon constituency.
After taking over as leader, the once-struggling party saw its popularity soar, and by 1974, it seemed as if they stood a chance at being voted into power.
However, Thorpe was hiding the truth about his sexuality, as he had enjoyed relationships and liaisons with men, despite being twice married – first to Caroline Allpass, who died in a car crash in 1970, and then to Marion Stein from 1973.
His double life was hugely risky, as it was illegal to be homosexual in Britain until 1967, and even after the law changed, Thorpe believed the truth being uncovered would put an instant end to his political career.
One man who he’d had an affair with long before taking over as leader of the Liberal party and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, was a man named Norman Scott…
Norman Scott was an accomplished horseman and one-time model, who was working as a groom at the stables of the self-made son of a coalminer, Brecht Van de Vater, in the early 1960s.
During this time, Thorpe paid a visit to the stables and took a shine to him. He told Scott – then going by the name of Norman Josiffe – if he ever experienced problems with his employer to get in touch.
Months later, Scott left the stables after a row with Vater and suffered a mental breakdown, spending time in a psychiatric hospital for his severe depression.
Having been estranged from his family years prior, upon his release from hospital, Scott found himself penniless and homeless. He had also left Vater’s employment without a National Insurance Card, which he needed to be able to claim work and access to benefits. It was then he contacted Thorpe for help…
How did Jeremy and Norman’s affair begin?
According to Scott’s testimonial in court, after visiting Thorpe for assistance, he was taken to the house of his wealthy mother, Ursula, in Oxted. He claimed that during the night, Thorpe slipped into his room and the pair had sex for the first time.
A relationship soon ensued, and Thorpe showered Scott with gifts, paid his rent and tried to help him find work. He also acted as his guardian in 1962 when he was questioned about the theft of a leather jacket from the psychiatric hospital he was treated at.
Thorpe soon assumed the role of his employer, but their relationship soured by later that year, with Scott claiming Thorpe had retained his replacement National Insurance Card. This remained an on-going source of tension between them.
Thorpe always maintained he and Scott did not have a relationship and he had never employed him, stating they had only ever been friends.
What happened to Scott after the affair?
Suffering another spell of depression, Scott confided in a friend he wanted to shoot the MP and commit suicide. This friend told the police, and Scott was forced to provide letters between him and Thorpe proving their affair. However, it was not enough for them to take any action.
He spent the ensuing years moving around, while finding it difficult to find stable employment thanks to the missing National Insurance Card. He blamed Thorpe for his troubles, regularly attempting to contact him for help.
He had, however, briefly married a woman in 1969, and fathered a son who he became estranged from.
Meanwhile, Thorpe had washed his hands of the affair, and enlisted fellow MP Peter Bessell to help sort the situation with Scott.