Jeremy Thorpe: A Life in Comedy
The flamboyant former leader of the Liberal party, Jeremy Thorpe, passed away last week. A noted raconteur and apparently a devastating impersonator of political rivals, he will be remembered for, among other things, two contributions to comic history. The more direct of these was his famous quip about the Night of the Long Knives, when Harold MacMillan sacked seven of his cabinet ministers: “Greater love hath no man than this – that he lay down his friends for his life”.
The other contribution was a more roundabout affair. The exact details of Thorpe’s relationship with Norman Scott and his possible involvement in a plot to kill the latter are still a source of dispute. Thorpe was acquitted of conspiracy to murder Scott, but the judge’s remarks to the jury before they retired to consider their verdict were widely seen as prejudicial (see the section on Committal and Trial here).
The following week Peter Cook, appearing in Amnesty International’s first Secret Policeman’s Ball, needed some new material to respond to a critic’s complaint that the show lacked satirical bite. The rest is comedy history: