A Very English Scandal

Sex, Lies, and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment

Publication Date: Oct 11, 2016

368 pp


List Price US $15.99
ISBN: 9781590518151


List Price US $27.95
Trim Size (H x W): 6 x 9

A thrilling true crime account of the scandalous private life of Jeremy Thorpe, the British MP whose covert homosexual affair led to blackmail, cover ups, a hired hitman, and ended with the “Trial of the Century.”

As a Member of Parliament and Leader of the Liberal Party in the 1960s and 70s, Jeremy Thorpe’s bad behavior snuck under the radar for years. Police and politicians alike colluded to protect one of their own. In 1970, Thorpe was the most popular and charismatic politician in the country, poised to hold the balance of power in a coalition government.

But Jeremy Thorpe was a man with a secret. His homosexual affairs and harassment of past partners, along with his propensity for lying and embezzlement, only escalated as he evaded punishment. Until a dark night on the moor with an ex-lover, a dog, and a hired gun led to consequences that even his charm and power couldn’t help him escape.

Dubbed the “Trial of the Century,” Thorpe’s climactic case at the Old Bailey in London was the first time that a leading British politician had stood trial on a murder charge, 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 gay man, in an era when homosexuality had only just become legal.

With the pace and drama of a thriller, A Very English Scandal is an extraordinary story of hypocrisy, deceit, and betrayal at the heart of the British Establishment.

Excerpt from A Very English Scandal

Thorpe took a letter from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it to Bessell.

“Read it,” he said.

Bessell saw that the envelope was addressed to Thorpe’s mother, Ursula, at her house in Surrey. The letter inside was written on blue notepaper. Although the letter was very long—seventeen pages—and the handwriting hard to decipher, Bessell soon got the gist of it. The writer began by apologising for bothering Mrs Thorpe but reminded her that he had once been a guest in her house. He went on to claim that he and Jeremy Thorpe had been lovers.

For the last five years as you probably know, Jeremy and I have had a ‘homosexual’ relationship. To go into it too deeply will not help either of us. When I came down to Stonewalls that was when I first met him. Though he told you something about the TV programme and Malta. That was all not so true. What remains is the fact that through my meeting with Jeremy that day I gave birth to this vice that lies latent in every man.

Thorpe, the man claimed, had promised to look after him. But the affair had ended and he had reneged on his promise. [ . . . ]

He ended with an apology and a plea. ‘Can you understand any of this, Mrs Thorpe? I’m so sorry. Please believe me, I’m desperate for help.’

Bessell looked up to see Thorpe staring intently at him.

“Is it true?” he asked.

Slowly Thorpe nodded.

Named One of the 10 Best History Books This Fall by Signature Reads

Named One of the Irish Times Favorite Books of 2016

“This is the story John Preston tells with tremendous energy and narrative flair in A Very English Scandal. The tone he evokes is more Kind Hearts and Coronets than The Godfather as the half-mad Thorpe and his imbecilic cronies stagger from plot to idiotic plot.” Wall Street Journal 

“No actual murder is committed inA Very English Scandal, but political suicide runs rampant. John Preston has resurrected the 1979 trial of Jeremy Thorpe, the charismatic (and secretly gay) leader of the Liberal Party, whose career was upended by Britain’s stringent laws against homosexuality and his own malfeasance. . . Preston has written this page-turner like a political thriller, with urgent dialogue, well-staged scenes, escalating tension and plenty of cliffhangers, especially once the trial begins.” —New York Times Book Review

“Love House of Cards? Then try this gripping real-life story of a British politician accused of trying to murder his secret male lover. Best thing I’ve read this year.” —Cosmopolitan

“Preston, like any good journalist, has quite an ear for quotes and character sketches, and “Scandal” is sprinkled with gems that reflect an England long gone. . . The story that Preston skillfully tells here is a much broader one than that of an M.P.; it’s also the tail end of a way of life for corrupt politicians of the 1960s and ’70s, and the financial and social upheaval that arrived shortly after.” —Seattle Times

“In December 1968, British member of Parliament Peter Bessell left a meeting with his friend and boss, Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, praying Thorpe would change his mind about a plan he’d just set in motion. The undesirable assignment wasn’t a matter of political policy or election strategy; it was homicide. Thorpe wanted Bessell to attend a meeting with a would-be assassin to plan the murder of a troublesome ex-lover [Norman Josiffe]. . . Preston does a thorough job of following [Norman] Josiffe—who later changed his name to Norman Scott—through a long string of fresh starts and disappointments. . . Preston refrains from editorializing, but it’s impossible not to be appalled by the ambient homophobia of the period. . . Preston’s account of the fight to decriminalize male homosexuality in Britain is especially enjoyable.”  Slate’s Book Review

“It is easy to forget just how much British attitudes to homosexuality, power, and privilege have changed in the last 50 years, but John Preston’s terrific new book A Very English Scandal provides a supremely entertaining reminder. The scandal in question is that of Jeremy Thorpe, who, when the book begins in 1960 was a Liberal Member of Parliament and later became leader of the party. Although Thorpe always denied it, the book accepts widely circulated claims that he was a bisexual who often slept with men. . . Preston does a wonderful job of pointing out some typically British eccentricities.” —NY1

“An addictive true crime account of one of Britain’s greatest political scandals.” —Publishers Weekly

“In his narrative of the scandal that engulfed Great Britain’s Houses of Parliament in the 1970s, Preston (The Dig) delivers an operatic account about hypocrisy, deceit, and betrayal at the heart of the government’s establishment. . . This book, which is based on extensive interviews with principal players and reads like a thriller, is recommended for those with a penchant for 1970s British political culture.” —Library Journal

“I spent a thrilling 48 hours reading it. The narrative is so vivid, the characterisation so brilliant… I thought I knew all about these events, but the full horror of them has only now become apparent.” —Antonia Fraser, author of Marie Antoinette

“A terrific book and brilliantly researched. John Preston writes wonderful deadpan prose and reveals the depths of depravity, the absurd power of snobbery and the old-boy networks of the time.”  —Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life

“I loved it; eccentric, dark, humane and English in the very best sense. It’s going to be a surefire hit.” —Alain de Botton, author of The News: A User’s Manual

“The most forensic, elegantly written, compelling account of one of the 20th century’s great political scandals . . . a real page-turner.” —The Observer

“Very funny and endlessly extraordinary . . . makes for amazing reading.” —Catherine Shoard, The Guardian

“Impeccably researched . . . full of shocks, surprises and laugh-out-loud moments. Preston revives a forgotten era and delves into the personalities behind the headlines.” —Times Crime Club

“Retold with masterful skill . . . It grips like a detective story, as compelling as BBC Two’s Line of Duty and every bit as dirty in what it exposes about the upper echelons of society in the Sixties and Seventies.” —Daily Mail Book of the Week

“This brilliant account made me feel I was hearing the tale for the first time . . . Preston is an enthralling narrator” —Mail on Sunday

“Gripping . . . cack-handed assassins, buffoonish policemen, dodgy Home secretaries and sozzled judges. The conclusion of an Establishment cover-up is hard to avoid.” —Daily Telegraph

“The unbelievable truth . . . Preston is a natural storyteller . . . he provides the context for actions that seem unbelievable today.” —The Times

“Wonderfully readable . . . John Preston is the ideal author, having researched for years many minor characters and talked to dozens of well-known political and literary friends and enemies of Thorpe.” —Standpoint

“Fluent, readable . . . a vivid tableau of the players in Thorpe’s long, tragic downfall.” —Evening Standard

“A gripping account of the Jeremy Thorpe case. The details make one laugh out loud or gasp with amazement.” —Charles Moore, The Spectator

Praise for The Dig:

“A very fine, engrossing, and exquisitely original novel.” —Ian McEwan, author of Atonement

“Wistful and poignant. A masterpiece in Chekhovian understatement.” —Times Literary Supplement

“An enthralling story of love and loss, a real literary treasure. One of the most original novels of the year.” —Robert Harris, author of An Officer and a Spy