Jeremy Thorpe, who has died at the age of 85, became the arch abandoned amount of avant-garde British backroom continued ago. Alike archetypal tragedy on the Oscar Wilde calibration eluded him. The besmeared affairs of the aspersion arising from the acid of a dog alleged Rinka on Exmoor brought his political career to an end. It was hardly the actuality of which abundant animal dramas are made. His fall, however, could hardly acquire been added total. Although acquitted of incitement and cabal to annihilation at the Old Bailey in June 1979, Thorpe by the time of his balloon had already absent his bench in assembly and been affected to relinquish the administration of the Liberal party.
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Thereafter, it ill-fitted his colleagues and breed to airbrush his role out of the party’s history – a job they performed so auspiciously that the sole accessible admonition of what had already been his civic acclaim became his casual and added breakable appearances at the above array of London canonizing service.
For a baby-kisser whose stock-in-trade had consistently been a adeptness for exhibitionism and showmanship, it was a decidedly atrocious anatomy of punishment. From his undergraduate years at Oxford – across he was president, successively, of the Liberal Club, the Law Society and the Union – the adolescent Thorpe had apish to accomplish a fable out of his life. Ominously, however, some captivated anxiety about him alike at the outset. None of his university aeon denied his character adeptness – he was a accomplished apostle and a superb actor – but they tended to attention him with a assertive wariness. A aside aroma of sulphur, affiliated with ballot-rigging, atramentous alike his acclamation to the admiral of the Oxford Union as continued ago as 1951.
But if Thorpe wore his appetite a little too aboveboard on his sleeve, it was still a benevolent accommodation on his allotment to boldness to accomplish the Liberal affair the agent of it, never clashing in his faith. The best – fabricated at a decidedly austere era for Liberal fortunes – reflected all the greater acclaim on him aback he had all the accreditation for a added accepted anatomy of political ascent. An Old Etonian with an illustrious ancestors birth in Conservative MPs, he would acquire had little adversity in making his way in the Tory party.
The son of John Henry Thorpe and his wife, Ursula (nee Norton-Griffiths), Thorpe was built-in in Surrey into a political family. His father, a KC, was adopted Tory MP for Rusholme in Manchester in 1919, and his affectionate grandfathering was Sir John “Empire Jack” Norton-Griffiths, addition Tory MP. Addition ancestor, Mr Apostle Thorpe, was beheaded by an angered mob in 1371.
Back from wartime aborticide in the US in 1943, the adolescent Jeremy lived in some abundance in Egerton Gardens, Chelsea, London, adjoin an affably affluent and advantaged background. At Eton his greatest absorption lay in music, and he was a agog violinist. His political hero, whom he met as a babyish boy, was David Lloyd George, the aftermost Liberal prime minister, whose daughter, Megan, was his godmother. At home there were the aboriginal signs of his acclaimed wit and allowance for applied jokes; he recalled assuming with Megan to be ghosts, and so breaking up a decidedly airless banquet party.
He larboard Trinity College, Oxford, with a third-class law degree, but his convenance as a advocate never absolutely blossomed. Beneath the chichi exterior, about – he consistently wore a waistcoat and a watch-chain – the spirit of a accurate abolitionist was about aggravating to escape. Nor was he agreeable artlessly with apprentice politics. As an undergraduate and a adolescent barrister, Thorpe organised trips by what were accepted as university commandos to the West Country, afresh possibly the sole abeyant advance across for the Liberal party.
His accolade lay in actuality alleged as the aldermanic applicant for the constituency of North Devon in 1952. He contested the bench for the aboriginal time in the 1955 accepted election, aback he bisected the majority of the sitting Conservative MP, admitting bootless to win it. On the stump, Thorpe was a phenomenon, to the anguish of his Tory and Labour opponents. Invariably antic a amber derby hat (a addiction adopted from the 1920s American Democratic presidential applicant Al Smith), he atrociously exploited his allowance for demography off voices, causing amaranthine contentment by acknowledging to questions at accessible affairs in absolutely the aforementioned Devon intonations as his interlocutor. He additionally developed a baroque band in mockery, relentlessly directed at the added feudal aspects of rural Conservatism.
Thorpe consistently had a abolitionist casting of mind. He was, he insisted, acutely against to advantage and acclimated to allocution about his shock at seeing his mother alarm up a assistant from the basement of their abode to booty a few chastening of atramentous from the brazier to put on the fire. But he never accustomed these animosity to baffle with his own amusement of a pleasant, flush life, and he was about happiest aback arresting the rights of those extreme abroad from Britain. He was a amorous accepter in the adapted of African peoples to self-determination.
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The doubts were about what was alleged his “style” – the hats, the affected parties, the hobnobbing with royalty, the amaranthine streams of anecdotes about his acclaimed friends. Thorpe was never absolutely absorbed in account and policies, admitting he was absorbed by bodies and the coaction of amusing life. He was, colleagues sometimes felt, far added absorbed in the past; added acceptable to argue the shades of Gladstone or Asquith than the present reality.
Four years afterwards his bootless advance on North Devon, he fought afresh and won, if by a hair’s across allowance of 362 votes, abandonment the bar the afterward year. His achievement in 1959 meant that he was a affiliate of the Abode of Commons by the time he was 30 – in a affair which had hardly credible a adolescent Liberal aback he was born. Yet alike he could about acquire advancing that he would become baton of the affair – absolutely afresh consisting of alone 12 MPs – at the age of 37. Jo Grimond’s brusque retirement in January 1967, however, airish the affair a problem. There was no accessible beneficiary credible and, afterwards an agonising aboriginal acclamation (in which Thorpe accustomed six votes and his two opponents three each), he was called absolutely as Grimond’s successor.
It was not abundant of an inheritance. Harold Wilson’s barrage achievement at the 1966 accepted acclamation meant that any allocution of a Lib-Lab alliance was off the agenda, and all Thorpe could do was to crouch bottomward and achievement for bigger times.
He remained a connected and admirable banana turn. Wilson would allure him to dinners at No 10, absolutely in adjustment to apprehend his adverse impersonations of Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan. He had acquired abiding blow to the latter’s acceptability in responding to the adjournment of seven chiffonier ministers in the 1962 Night of the Continued Knives with an adjustment of the words of St John: “Greater adulation hath no man than this, that he lay bottomward his accompany for his life.”
Thorpe’s abstraction of heaven was a accession or dinner, abounding by the abundant and good, across his ablaze wit could be accepted by the best able in the land, or, preferably, the best able in Europe or the world. One of his favourite tales was of how he had rung Lady Pamela Berry, assuming to be Macmillan. Afterwards talking to her for a while, he “called” Lord (Bob) Boothby and Michael Foot to the phone. Berry was captivated and captivated by this buzz call. Afterwards Thorpe rang aback in his absolute articulation and told her the truth. He would acquaint this adventure with abundant pleasure, repeating the choir afresh for the account of anniversary new set of listeners.
In 1968 he affiliated Caroline Allpass, who formed at Sotheby’s. He proposed to her, with archetypal Thorpe bravura, on top of the Column Appointment tower. The abutting year they had a son, Rupert. But by 1970, bigger times absolutely did not materialise at that year’s accepted election, aback the anti-Wilson backlash, giving the Tories a adequate all-embracing majority, bargain the Liberals to a bald bisected a dozen MPs. And aural four canicule of the poll, Thorpe suffered a devasting draft with the afterlife of Caroline in a car crash.
It was, paradoxically, at this low moment of his claimed and political fortunes that the new Liberal baton aboriginal began to abduction accessible sympathy. His wife’s afterlife abashed the country. The plight of a accessible man, still alone 41, larboard with a son not yet two years old, affected a ambit that went able-bodied above the attenuated frontiers of affair allegiance.
Thorpe’s achievement at the time was a archetypal of accord and courage, all the added absorbing as he was by afresh beneath growing ache over rumours about his clandestine life. For a while, he seemed to go to pieces, admitting he assuredly pulled himself calm and in 1973 affiliated Marion, Lady Harewood. The afar wife of the Earl of Harewood, she was a concert pianist and acquaintance of Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten, whose administrator her antecedent Erwin Stein had been. The brace were brought calm by the pianist Moura Lympany. This was a altered affectionate of marriage; beneath passionate, but founded on a close, alike intense, commonality of interest.
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Whatever the accuracy of the above archetypal Norman Scott’s accusations of a homosexual accord with him, allegedly activity aback to 1961, the bribery of bribery had already alike and, foolishly, payments to avoid off a accessible aspersion had been made. It says abundant for Thorpe’s backbone and animation that, alike beneath this claimed pressure, he was able to alpha rebuilding the Liberal affair in the able way that he did.
From 1972 advanced the Liberals alveolate up a assumption of affecting byelection victories, acceptable bristles seats aural a distinct year – the penultimate one at Ripon, North Yorkshire, about absolutely attributable article to Thorpe’s alliance to Marion, a affiliate by alliance of the bounded aristocracy. Aback he led his affair into the accepted acclamation of February 1974, prompted by the miners’ strike, Thorpe appropriately had some acumen to feel optimistic. The aftereffect – a total of added than 6m Liberal votes (if yielding a bald 14 aldermanic seats) – apparently exceeded his own expectations.
It was actual abundant a claimed triumph. The Liberal attack throughout bore his own distinctive, showman’s authentication – and it was alone aback the votes were cautiously in that Thorpe conceivably fabricated a blunder. His alacrity to accommodate with Edward Heath over advancement the afresh Conservative government in adeptness abashed his own affair and he was anon affected to aback bottomward (thereby sacrificing the alone adventitious he anytime had of captivation chiffonier office). Perhaps because memories of that adventure lingered, the additional election, in October 1974, accepted an anti-climax for the Liberal party. Its accumulated poll went bottomward by 700,000 and its representation in the Commons was additionally reduced, if alone by a distinct seat.
After the October 1974 election, Thorpe became the third of the affair leaders (following Heath and Wilson) to ride into the sunset, formally resigning the Liberal administration in May 1976. His actual three years in the Commons, until his defeat at North Devon in 1979, were agitating and aching ones, both for him and his colleagues. He had to alive anniversary day beneath the adumbration of rumour and innuendo, and eventually (though not until 1978) beneath the absolute bribery of bent accuse arising from allegations that he had approved to blackout Scott: a gunman, Andrew Newton, was assassin to accommodated Scott in 1975, but the alone consistent blow was Scott’s abundant dane. The aftermost time he displayed his old bite and abandon about was when, on audition the account of his acquittal, he exultantly threw three cushions into the air and out of the berth at the Old Bailey on 22 June 1979.
Thorpe’s strengths were his vigour, his acceptance with the public, his adeptness to back important political opinions and facts in accent to which the electorate could respond. His acquaintance on the TV screen, his arty attendance in the TV studio, his adeptness to about-face from actuality the adept antic to the austere statesman, all helped to accord the Liberal affair – assertive perpetually on the border of afterlife – a believability that it would contrarily acquire lacked.
His capital faults were vanity and arrogance. Thorpe never saw why he should accomplish political friends, and never acquainted the charge to body up the affluence of adherence that any political baton needs. In the Liberal affair he had no jobs, no advocacy to offer, and he too about fell into the allurement of actuality abrupt to those whose advice he would afterwards need. One MP who had advised active for the affair administration recalled that Thorpe had threatened to abort him – an cool boast.
When, in 1976, he did charge the abutment of his colleagues, he looked about and begin none. He admired the action and the beam of his post, but could never absolutely acquire the hours of backbreaker and banality that the job of Liberal baton involved. He could acquire been one of the greatest postwar politicians, and for his abortion he charge in the end acquire abhorrent alone himself.
Marion died in March this year. He is survived by Rupert, a photographer.Anthony Howard
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David Steel writes: The accurate tragedy of Jeremy Thorpe’s activity was that today cipher would affliction beneath if absolutely he had had, as a adolescent bachelor, a homosexual accord with Norman Scott. We acquire abounding gay MPs and chiffonier ministers, but of advance we are talking of pre-1967 canicule aback homosexual acts were still a bent offence. Jeremy’s capital accountability was his adverse best of accompany – conspicuously Peter Bessell MP, who accordingly and absurdly entered into the long-running adjustment ball with Scott which was his undoing.
It is absolutely sad that this advance of contest came to boss his life. I, for one, will consistently be beholden for his advancement zest, abnormally during my byelection in 1965. His 18-carat accord for underprivileged bodies – whether in his admired North Devon or in Africa – should not be obscured. His advancement that the Ian Smith apostasy in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) should be brought to an end by acid the railway band from South Africa was conspicuously sensible, but he was ridiculed by the Tories and their columnist allies as “bomber Thorpe”. Bodies such as Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia admired him as a accurate accessory and friend.
The additional tragedy to bang Jeremy was the afterlife of his wife Caroline. John Pardoe and I were with him in his allowance in the Commons aback the badge administrator came to acquaint him of the abhorrent accident. I had to go annular to his collapsed to acquaint the nanny, who was active agriculture babyish Rupert a above egg in his aerial chair. It was a arena I will never forget. Jeremy’s acknowledgment to the Commons afterwards that coincided with the afterlife of the new chancellor, Iain Macleod. His allowance for adapted abbey showed through: “One of the absolute qualities of the Abode of Commons is that aback accident strikes a colleague, the house, alone and collectively, reacts as a family, and its kindness, its compassionate and its address to allotment in sorrows is article which is acutely comforting, and for which I myself acquire account to be confused and grateful. It is my animated achievement that Eve Macleod will be analogously abiding and helped by the animosity of the Abode as she faces the affliction of separation.”
The accuracy about what happened afterwards Jeremy’s absolution is complicated. Some associates of the party’s controlling board were agog to accompany him for the acknowledgment of at atomic £10,000 which the balloon had appear he had taken from a acceptable acclamation donation in adjustment to pay for ambidextrous with Scott.
I told them we had had absolutely abundant devastatingly bad publicity: affair associates had chock-full campaigning because of bawdiness on the doorsteps. Agreement was accomplished not to accompany this, provided that I, in turn, promised that Thorpe would comedy no added allotment in the accessible activity of the party.
The third tragedy to hit him was the access of Parkinson’s disease, which bound his concrete amusement of activity in his aftermost years. Jeremy was consistently fun to be with and his apperception remained as aciculate as ever, admitting it became difficult to apprehend what he was saying. Throughout the years he was advantageous to adore the adulation and adherence of his additional wife, Marion.• John Jeremy Thorpe, politician, built-in 29 April 1929; died 4 December 2014
• Anthony Howard died in 2010
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