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A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies, and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  3,317 ratings  ·  391 reviews
Behind oak-panelled doors in the House of Commons, men with cut-glass accents and gold signet rings are conspiring to murder. It's the late 1960s and homosexuality has only just been legalised, and Jeremy Thorpe, the leader of the Liberal party, has a secret he's desperate to hide. As long as Norman Scott, his beautiful, unstable lover is around, Thorpe's brilliant career ...more
Kindle Edition, 361 pages
Published October 11th 2016 by Other Press (first published May 5th 2016)
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Nigeyb
Feb 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you were in any doubt about how the British establishment protects its own, then this book will dispel any lingering doubts.

I had only hazy memories of “the Thorpe affair” from my teenage years. I had other things on my mind. The Thorpe affair of the 1970s was a British political and sex scandal that ended the career of Jeremy Thorpe, the leader of the Liberal Party and MP for North Devon. Calling this book 'A Very English Scandal' is particularly apt as a combination of the era's anti-homose
...more
Trish
John Preston writes from real-life events, in this case a very public murder trial involving a homosexual Member of Parliament, Jeremy Thorpe, and his liaisons during the 1960s and 70s. The case highlights the difficulties faced by closeted gays where anti-sodomy laws were still on the books, though in the summer of 1967, homosexuality was no longer outlawed between consenting adults at least 21 years of age. But passing a law is not the same as eliminating the stigma of the designation, and gay ...more
Roman Clodia
Jun 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This would be unbelievable if it weren't a true story! I only had a vague idea of the Jeremy Thorpe affair and envy those who lived through it as a live news story. Preston has done a superb job of reconstructing the case which involves gay sex (at a time when it was officially illegal), blackmail, lies, fraud and an outrageous murder conspiracy, all taking place within the highest echelons of Parliament and the Liberal party.

Preston allows the characters to be complicated, not least Thorpe him
...more
Geevee
Jeremy Thorpe was a highly respected politician, who was a member of parliament between 1959 and 1979, and leader of the Liberal Party between 1967 and 1976.

On the surface he was a young talent - in parliamentary terms - whose natural charm and ability to have people want to serve and work with him belied a far more complex and dangerous character.

The 1960s into the mid-1970s was still very much a time where people in positions of authority and professions were revered and respected. The backgr
...more
Cold War Conversations Podcast
Serious, but entertaining insight into one UK establishment coverup of the 60s & 70s

I remember this scandal having huge impact in the late 70s when I was a teenager. I had expected this book to be quite a dull resume of the trial and associated events, but from the start you are thrust (literally!) into the warts and all detail of the case.

I found the book an entertaining read and some aspects are almost farce like. There are sections do go into some detail that some may find unnecessary, but t
...more
Nancy Oakes
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The title of this book really doesn't do justice to what's inside -- not only is it about "sex, lies, and a murder plot," but more interesting to me is a look at the seamy, nasty, hypocritical, unethical and corrupt underbelly of British politics (and I'm sure what happened here in the 1960s and 1970s continues today and not just in Britain). Plus, reading very closely into what Mr. Preston has written here, there is also a brief examination into the past illegality of homosexuality and how that ...more
Stephen Goldenberg
I'm old enough to remember the Jeremy Thorpe trial (I even have a reference to it in my novel The Lying Game). If you don't know or remember it then you can read this as an almost murder mystery. John Preston's research has been so extensive with so many detailed first hand accounts that he has been able to novelise the story. Personally, I like this approach although some may prefer a more academic historical approach. Certainly the cast of characters could have come straight out of a lurid pol ...more
Ammar
Jun 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018
What a cover up !

Jeremy Thorpe , M.P, member of the privy council. Accused of conspiracy to murder.

Norman Scott: victim, once lover of Jeremy Thorpe. Horse lover.

Interesting drama
Deceit
Cover ups
Money
Blackmailing
The stiff upper lip cracking

Susan
Mar 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was only a child when the scandal involving the leader of the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, exploded so, although I was aware of it, I did not know the details. As English politics have always interested me, I was keen to read this and certainly found it an engrossing book.

Events begin in 1965 when Liberal MP Peter Bessell was invited to dinner by Jeremy Thorpe – an MP since 1959 and a rising star in the Party. Thorpe confided that he wanted to be the leader of the Liberal Party; he also conf
...more
ALLEN
Feb 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is said that American political scandals are usually about money, while British political scandals are usually about sex. In A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL we have an excellent example of a scandal prompted by the latter. In fact, the small sums of money paid to the potential blackmailer eventually furnished a trail that tracks the corruption, but the real story lies in the fear of the head of the UK's Liberal political party of his own homosexuality, and the lengths he and his cronies will go to cov ...more
Nadia
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
What an eye opening and captivating read this was!

John Preston's book provides an informative but also shocking insight into the behind the scene affairs of a high profile politician, the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe in the 60s and 70s. The book has everything you would expect from a good thriller except that - this is a true story!

Normally, I am not overly interested in politics, however, living in the UK for the past 10 years, I wanted to learn more about the events that have shaken the trust
...more
Bettie
Penguin Books (UK) Viking

Description: In 1979, Jeremy Thorpe, the rising star of the Liberal Party, stood trial for conspiracy to murder. It was the first time that a leading British politician had stood trial on a murder charge. It was the first time that a murder plot had been hatched in the House of Commons. And it was the first time that a prominent public figure had been exposed as a philandering homosexual. With all the pace and drama of a thriller, A Very English Scandal is an extraordin
...more
Rachel Hall
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The year of my birth, 1979, coincided with the former Leader of the Liberal Party and then still a sitting MP, Jeremy Thorpe, being charged with conspiracy to murder at the Old Bailey. Whilst doubts will inevitably remain about the strict accuracy and narrative license of John Preston in his forensic account of the origins and climax of the Thorpe Affair it undoubtedly makes for highly absorbing reading. Regardless of how much Preston’s own interpretation is present, that the raw material involv ...more
Richard Derus
Jan 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindled, quiltbag
I CHECKED THE EBOOK EDITION OUT FROM MY LOCAL LIBRARY. USE THE LIBRARY, FOLKS, THEY NEED US!

The Emmy-winning TV series available on Amazon is an ideal adaptation of the story told in this book.

The morality play that was Jeremy Thorpe's life is hard to misunderstand: Bisexual in a time when any taint of same-sex love was fatal to a career in any walk of publis life, Thorpe resorted to attempted murder of his younger, unstable ex-lover when he reached power in Parliament. Like any good scandal, th
...more
Jill Meyer
May 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"National Insurance is my lifeblood". This non sequitur was uttered by Norman Scott at a trial in England in 1979. The trial was that of four men for the conspiracy to murder a fifth man - Norman Scott. Scott escaped murder, but his dog was killed in the attempt. Of the four men on trial, one was Jeremy Thorpe, the retired head of Britain's Liberal Party. Norman Scott and Jeremy Thorpe had had an affair some years earlier and Thorpe had promised to take care of Scott, but rather, took his Nation ...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jeremy Thorpe was once the center of a scandalous murder for hire trial in England. At one time the head of the Liberal party and an apparently well-liked MP, Thorpe was tried for trying to hire somebody to kill off a loose-cannon of a guy who was at one time his homosexual lover. He and his would-be hit men talked of tossing his body down a Cornish tin mine, encasing his feet in cement and dropping him in the English Channel, and my favorite, killing him in the middle of the Big Cypress Swamp i ...more
Angela
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reading-group
I read this as part of a reading group I belong to and all of us enjoyed the book.

This is quite a fascinating and almost unbelievable story of Jeremy Thorpe's rise to leader of the Liberal Party. It is told over a few years at the height of Thorpe's parliamentary career, through to his self inflicted, reckless demise.

Told in the main from the perspective of Peter Bessell, this is an absolutely riveting story of the dangers of homosexuality by a member of Parliament at a time that it was illegal.
...more
Rob Twinem
May 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of a government MP who uses and abuses his position of power to not only funnel funds but also amazingly to arrange the murder of his on/off lover Norman Scott, makes for surreal reading. Jeremy Thorpe was a respected eloquent Liberal MP and under the guise of a suave persona he was frightened to reveal to his friends, and in particular his constituents, that he was homosexual. In the politically correct world we live today such a revelation  would have had little impact in comparison ...more
Richard Moss
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
You think politics is seamy now; just wait till you read this jaw-dropping account of the Jeremy Thorpe affair.

Although this is nominally non-fiction, it does read like a combination of thriller and farce.

At the heart is darkness though; an attempt on the life of a former lover by a political party leader.

Also driving it is are the problems of being a politician in an era when sex between men was illegal, and being openly gay was career-ending.

But any sympathy for Jeremy Thorpe won't last long.
...more
David
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
A scream! I was laughing on the DLR.

Bits:

"Then, in January 1962, a former patient at the Ashurst Clinic called 'Jane R' turned up in London. While they were both in hospital, she and Josiffe had become friends. At her suggestion, they had discharged themselves and rented a house in Polstead Road, North Oxford, together with another Littlemore patient called Ian B. It was a disastrous arrangement from the very start. On their first night there Ian had tried to seduce Josiffe. Running downstairs t
...more
Doug
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unfortunately, I was only able to view the first part of the TV adaptation made from this book, so decided to read it to find out what happened. While the story is almost too wild to believe, it is certainly both revelatory and entertaining. My only qualms stem from the almost exhaustive detail Preston provides, some of which minutiae seems extraneous (e.g.., do we really need three pages about a vasectomy bill that bears no relevance to the proceedings?). Although he does an admirable job of co ...more
Hermien
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating story, particularly after having watched the mini-series based on it.
Imi
I remember sitting down to watch the TV adaptation of this book last year, before I knew this book existed or anything about the real-life cover-up it describes, and laughing over how ridiculous this all was, how unreal. Then my parents started reminiscing on when the scandal all came out in the late 1970s, leaving me speechless that any of it was close to truth. I'm both ashamed of being so entertained (and if this was a fictional crime thriller I'd be bashing it for being too outlandish) and h ...more
Samuel (Still Reading Sam) Hallam
"No sane person talks of murder - and certainly not two MPs in the House of Commons"
.
Spoilers/ Review for A Very English Scandal
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A Very English Scandal focuses on infamous (for reasons you'll see why) Liberal MP for North Devon, The Right Honourable Jeremy Thorpe. His story begins in the 1960s when Harold Wilson (Labour) was Prime Minister. At a meeting with fellow Liberal MP, Peter Bessell, of his homosexual encounters. A few weeks later Jeremy tells Peter of threatening letters he's received f
...more
Mike Clarke
Dog lovers’ party: an enjoyably sordid romp through the enjoyably sordid Jeremy Thorpe: now he, and the cast of seedy men in blazers and cravats are mostly dead, John Preston goes full tilt at a juicy bit of scandalare. Setting the scene is the portentous use of the term ‘homosexual’ in the manner of a Home Counties magistrate emphasising the first syllable (or my GP, elderly, straight and Scottish, giving me my first HIV test - “are you a practising home-oh-sex-you-all?”...me: “it’s the only wa ...more
George K. Ilsley
A true and fascinating tale of power, politics, intrigue, sex, risk-taking, cover-ups, trials and one dead dog. Margaret Thatcher makes an appearance, with vague promises to make the country great again (whatever that meant). Well-written and interesting for those who know nothing of the times, as well as for those who have some memories. Surreal, insightful and gripping. Well done.
Ann Tonks
I loved this book. It was the classic page turner - just how bad would things get for Liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe - or rather how bad would be get. The research and writing style are excellent and the result is an informative but also deeply entertaining story of British 20th Century politics.
Ashleigh
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Going into this book, I knew very little about this story. I was aware of the BBC miniseries starring Hugh Grant and aware that it involved a British politician in a gay relationship, but that's where my knowledge stopped. What a crazy fucking story this is. It's so twisty and turny that if it were a real novel, there's no way you'd believe it. Most of the time, I didn't believe it.

It's very hard to root for anyone in this story because they're all shifty shady men only interested in self-prese
...more
Col
Oct 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: p, 2016
Synopsis/blurb.......

The shocking true story of the first British politician to stand trial for murder

Behind oak-panelled doors in the House of Commons, men with cut-glass accents and gold signet rings are conspiring to murder. It's the late 1960s and homosexuality has only just been legalised, and Jeremy Thorpe, the leader of the Liberal party, has a secret he's desperate to hide. As long as Norman Scott, his beautiful, unstable lover is around, Thorpe's brilliant career is at risk. With the he
...more
Karen
This was a very interesting read about Jeremy Thorpe who stood trial for conspiracy to commit murder. In the late 1960s Thorpe had a relationship with another man, homosexuality had only just been legalized and Thorpe was desperate to keep this relationship a secret as he feared that it would destroy his political career. With the help of friends and fellow politicians he comes up with various schemes to keep Norman Scott quiet, until he decides that there is only one way to keep him quiet for g ...more
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Postwar British history group 1 10 Jan 14, 2017 03:36AM  

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John Preston is the arts editor and television critic of the Sunday Telegraph. He is the author of three highly acclaimed novels, including Kings of the Roundhouse (2005), and a travel book, Touching the Moon. He lives in London.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
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Articles featuring this book

It's no secret that television is getting in on the book adaptation game. With so many channels—along with Netflix, Hulu,...
80 likes · 18 comments
“Thorpe referred to Ted Heath as ‘The plum pudding around which no one has succeeded in lighting the brandy’.” 2 likes
“he would have to lie, he decided. Although he had done quite a bit of it in his life, Bessell did not like lying. He was still” 0 likes
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