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"A Very English Scandal" and My Facebook Pal Norman
The story in the BBC miniseries is too strange to be believed -- except it's all true. And my Facebook Pal Norman Josiffe Scott is still alive to tell his tale.
I have been writing a play about a homosexual liaison between a powerful politician and a vulnerable younger man. After their affair ends, the younger man has trouble making his way in the world, becomes a problem for the politician, and a murder attempt fails. At the trial, the Establishment unites to find the politician not guilty and to slander the young man.
It's not terribly believable, but it's based on a true story. The BBC has produced “A Very English Scandal” about the former leader of the Liberal Party Jeremy Thorpe (played by Hugh Grant) and former model and horseman Norman Josiffe Scott (Ben Whishaw). In the US, this three-hour miniseries is on Amazon.
Thorpe was often called “Britain's JFK” and leader of the Liberal Party in the 1960s. He defined himself as 80% homosexual, was married twice and had a son. This is the kind of thing that happens when being gay is a crime, which it was in Britain until 1967 – Jeremy and Norman's affair was in 1961-62. Norman was also (unhappily) married and has two children.
Thorpe passed away a few years ago, losing a battle with Parkinson's Disease. I was a member of the Union of Liberal Students from 1981-1984, while attending the London School of Economics. I never met Thorpe, but I met several of his parliamentary colleagues. There was a sense in those day that Thorpe had let the side down badly. Among the Liberal MPs and activists I knew, Norman was something of a villain. “If only he had kept his mouth shut . . . .”
Jeremy's son Rupert has been kind enough to help me, offering guidance on his father's character. He was protected from the headlines, and he says his father was a rather distant man in those days. His conclusion is that Jeremy Thorpe took excessive risks and that he was poorly served by his friends, who ultimately organized a murder plot.
Norman puts the blame squarely at Thorpe's feet. “It was he who said it [the murder] is no worse than shooting a sick dog, it was he who said drop him from a helicopter in the Everglades, it was he who suggested getting me drunk and dropping me down a tin mine in Cornwall , nobody else in fact three other plans were mooted, all by him to Peter Bessell”
I have been lucky enough to become a Facebook friend of Norman Josiffe Scott. I have learned he is a gentle soul, who prefers farms and animals to cities and people. At the end of the first episode, Peter Bessell, MP (Alex Jennings) says, “He tells the truth and doesn't care. No one else does that, Jeremy - no one, certainly not us. In this whole land, there is Norman and Norman alone. To be blunt, he amazes me. I think he's one of the strongest men in the world.” That is the Norman I have come to know, not the camp character Whishaw plays.
Hugh Grant stars as the British politician Jeremy Thorpe in “A Very English Scandal,” debuting Friday on Amazon Prime Video.