Versailles (final season) – BBC 2


It’s such a shame that the first series of this was so silly, and made it a bit of a laughing stock, because it really has improved … and now this, set at the end of the 1670s, and featuring (yay!!) the early days of chocolate consumption across Europe, is going to be the last series, meaning that we won’t get all the exciting stuff that lies just ahead.   (Or, indeed, see what happens to the Parisian proletarian with the Manchester accent.)  1683, the Siege of Vienna.  1685, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.  1688, the Glorious Revolution, and the departure of James II and VII to Paris.  1688-1697, the Nine Years’ War.  1701-1714, the War of the Spanish Succession.  Yes, all right, all right, I do know that, apart from the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, none of those events actually took place in France, but Louis XIV was up to his neck in some of it, and the fact that he wasn’t up to his neck in the rest of it was arguably crucial as well.

And they’ve scrapped the “Inside Versailles” add-on, whereby each episode used to be followed by a brief discussion of the historical background. OK, it was a bit patronising, but I still quite enjoyed it.

This third and final series of Versailles opens at the end of the Franco-Dutch War of 1672-78, with Philippe, Duke of Orleans, returning as a war hero.  I have always disliked Philippe, because I’ve always thought of him as Minette (Princess Henriette Anne of England and Scotland)’s baddie husband who treated her badly and was alleged (admittedly unfairly) to have had her poisoned.  However, I have actually softened towards him because of the way he’s portrayed in this by Alexander Vlahos – we’re getting the lighter side of him, but we’re also getting to see his intelligence and his military prowess.  And maybe this is the first time I’ve really seen him from the French viewpoint – it is rather hard not to look at things primarily from an English viewpoint when you’re reading English history books!  Unfortunately, in this series his main storyline seems to be an obsession with the Man in the Iron Mask.  OK, there was a prisoner in an iron mask, but he had nothing to do with Philippe and I don’t know what the scriptwriters had to bring him into this for.

Oh well.

And then we’ve got Guillaume, the cobbler who fought alongside Philippe – played by our very own Matthew McNulty. And his sister, played by Jenny Platt, aka Violet, the former Coronation Street barmaid who had a baby with her GBF Sean Tully and then went off with Mike Baldwin’s grandson.  They’re fictitious, but they do represent Parisian life outside the court, and I’m quite enjoying their story.  If “enjoying” is the word, given that the life of the lower classes under the ancient regime wasn’t really much fun.

Back at court, various Austrian Habsburgs, notably the Emperor Leopold himself, are visiting. The Holy Roman Empire was allied with the Dutch during the war of the 1670s, and are now in a very weak position … and, come the 1680s, Louis is going to take advantage of that to conquer most of what’s now Luxembourg, and is going to do absolutely nothing to help the Empire in arguably the biggest crisis in its history, the Ottoman Siege of Vienna in 1683.  The Poles are going to claim all the credit for driving the Ottomans off, which always annoys me because Eugene of Savoy deserves far more credit than he’s actually going to get.  But we aren’t going to see that, because this is the final series.  Boo!!

And we’re already getting all the talk about Charles II of Spain, his medical problems and his lack of an heir, and the fact that both the French and the Austrians (the Bavarians haven’t been mentioned) have got an eye on grabbing Spain for themselves. This will ultimately lead to the War of the Spanish Succession, which will see Britain surpass France as the world’s leading military power (hurrah!), Madrid and Barcelona at each other’s throats (some things never change), and Sicily, Sardinia and roughly-what’s-now-Belgium, not to mention parts of Canada, being passed about like parcels.   Oh, and the building of Blenheim Palace.  But we’re not going to get that far.  Gah!!

We also have the Huguenot lady doing a lot of preaching at court. Come 1685, Louis will revoke the Edict of Nantes, promulgated by Henri IV – “Paris is worth a Mass” – in 1598.  Hundreds of thousands of Huguenots will leave France.  Some of them will end up in Manchester.  And Bolton.  And Halifax.  Oh, and London.  And various other parts of Britain.  Others will end up in North America, in South Africa, and in various mainly Protestant parts of mainland Europe.  It’s a major population movement.  The right of return – no, that it not a 20th or 21st century thing – was granted in 1790, during the Revolutionary period, and was reiterated in 1889 , but it was a bit late by then.  It really is a very important part of European and world history.  But we’re not going to get that far.  I keep saying that.

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and the fact that Louis had thoroughly annoyed William of Orange by defeating him in the war of the 1670s and then barging around in parts of the Low Countries in the early 1680s, were two of the contributory factors in the Glorious Revolution. Yes, OK, I know that it wasn’t very glorious for either the Scottish Highlands or most of Ireland, but it was probably a pretty good thing for England, Wales and the Scottish Lowlands … er, and this isn’t the time for the de facto/de jure/social contract/whatever debate.  Louis did actually offer to send an army to help James, but James said no.  However, he did have French help when he landed in Ireland in 1689, at the start of the campaign which would end in the Battle of the Boyne.   And French support for the Jacobites would remain an issue throughout the Nine Years’ War (which was fought in America, as well as in Europe) and beyond.

Obviously the Glorious Revolution and its aftermath is a rather sensitive subject in Scottish and Irish history, and I don’t think any TV company would choose to cover it from the viewpoint of either James or William for that reason, but it could have been covered from a French angle. Sorry, I know that sounds ridiculously Anglocentric!  But no.  There will be no season four.

Boo. Mind you, the scriptwriters would probably have chosen to ignore all of this, and write about nude paintings or mysterious prisoners, or Athenais de Montespan, with whom they seem to be rather obsessed, instead. However, the departure of Athenais for a convent did put Louis in such a strop that – I assume this was fictional, but it was good!-  he ordered one of his lackeys to organise a big party featuring something special, and the something special turned out to be “the medicine of the Aztecs” – chocolate!   Drinking chocolate, at this point.  It became popular in Spain after the conquest of the Aztec Empire, and then spread (chocolate spread … sorry, bad pun) across Europe.  Chocolate bars only really got going in the mid-19th century, thanks to Fry’s of Bristol, who later merged with Cadbury’s.  I now appear to have got completely off the point, but chocolate is always worth writing about.

It’s not exactly been brilliant, and I don’t suppose this series is going to get that much better. And some of the early episodes were just cringeworthy.  But it’s such an important, and, in English, often neglected, period of history that I really would have liked to see it carry on throughout the whole of the reign of Louis XIV.  But, alas, it is not to be.  Maybe console yourself with a cup of hot chocolate?


World Cup loyalties


Obviously England are going to win the World Cup 🙂 , but just imagine, oh horror of horrors, that that doesn’t happen.  Imagine that we get knocked out early on.  Whom are you going to support then?  If anyone’s actually reading this, please feel free to answer that!  A country featuring players from your own club?  I would think a lot of Liverpool fans will be keeping a close eye on Egypt.  Somewhere you’ve got personal connections to? – maybe you had a nice holiday there, or a family member or close friend comes from there?   Maybe – it is meant to be about the football, after all! – it’s all about whose style of play you like.  Or is it political/historical – I assume not too many of us will be supporting Saudi Arabia or Iran.  Or maybe you just want to win the office sweepstake.

OK, I know this has nothing to do with history, but the History Channel said it’d be showing a load of programmes on the history of football during the World Cup, and it hasn’t done! And the BBC somehow managed to get through the whole of Egypt v Uruguay, in Ekaterinburg, without mentioning the assassination of the Romanovs.  Seriously.  I assume we will get a few references to the Siege of Stalingrad when England take on Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday, but I bet we don’t get the Cossack revolts L .  So I haven’t got anything historical to review, as far as the World Cup goes … so, instead, I wrote a rather silly list of notes on whom to support and whom not to support.  And then I was just going to delete it because it was a load of waffle, but, having written it, I thought I might as well post it.  Waffles are associated with Belgium.  I hope that’s not a bad omen for Thursday’s match.

(Marked with a * if I’ve actually been there.)

Countries with a strong connection:

Spain* – after a long and wondrous clay court season, and with Wimbledon up ahead, my brain is practically running in Spanish.  And Spain have the biggest United contingent of any team other than England, with David de Gea, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata all involved.

Russia* – spot the Russian history specialist!  Been there twice, hope so much to go again.

Portugal* – a country I’m very fond of.  Pasteis de nata, pasteis de nata!  And he may be an idiot, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sweden* – I have a long-standing soft spot for Sweden, going back nearly 30 years, and they’ve got Victor Lindelof in their squad.

Serbia – I’ve always had an interest in Serbian history.  And they’ve got Nemanja Matic.


Countries with some connection:

Brazil* – everyone’s got a soft spot for Brazil, haven’t they?  And a nice man lent me a toy World Cup to hold up outside the Maracana.

Belgium* – they’ve got Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini.  And they do make very nice chocolate.

France* – it always feels vaguely wrong to cheer for France ;-), but they have got Paul Pogba.

Argentina* – it may be 32 years since the Hand of God incident but I still have issues with Argentina!   But Buenos Aires has to be the most football-mad city I’ve ever been to, and that made quite an impression on me.  I thought there might still be hostility towards British visitors, even 34 years after the Falklands War, but I was made to feel welcome everywhere, and faces lit up whenever I mentioned the word “Manchester”.  And they’ve got Sergio Romero.

Morocco* – well, I had a very nice holiday there.  Even if someone did ask me if I was German.  I know my French accent isn’t exactly Parisian, but I’ve never been accused of being German anywhere else!!  But, hey, at least they understood me!

Egypt* – another place with happy holiday memories.  And they make tea properly.  Surprisingly few countries do.

Switzerland* – no real football ties, but it has lakes and mountains and chocolate.

Peru* – they’ve got Machu Picchu.  And they seemed to understand my Spanish.

Denmark* – well, they did have Peter Schmeichel.  And they make nice open top sandwiches.

Australia – come on, all Anglophones and Commonwealth countries together!

Nigeria – ditto!


Countries with no connection but which I hope do well:

Iceland – OK, they made fools of us at Euro 2016, but it was all kind of romantic, and I got really into their chanting.

Senegal – I can’t think of a way to say this that doesn’t sound patronising, but they are the poorest country to qualify, and I watched an interesting programme (presented by Eric Cantona) about how much football means to people there.


No strong feelings:

Germany* – I just don’t particularly cheer for Germany.  Don’t mention the war and all that.  Old habits die hard!


Costa Rica.



Mexico* (very briefly).

Croatia* – I have been there, and it was very nice, but it’s not somewhere I’ve ever felt a close affinity for.

South Korea.


Uruguay – it’s usually nice to see South American teams do well, but I cannot bear Luis Suarez!


Countries I won’t be cheering for:

Saudi Arabia.  I know the football team isn’t to blame for what’s going on in Yemen, Or the country’s attitude towards women.  Or its human rights record in general. But even so.

Iran – even if they are managed by Carlos Queiroz.  Again, I know the football team isn’t to blame for political issues.  But even so.

Poland* – I have studied a lot of Polish history, and I have been to Poland twice, and any country which produces cherry vodka deserves a certain amount of respect.  But this current government – ugh.

I use too many exclamation marks, don’t I? Apparently Prince Philip does, as well.

But obviously England are going to win. So all this is irrelevant.  Yes, indeed …

Frankie Goes To Russia – BBC 2


This has been a strange build up to the World Cup.  Instead of the usual excitement, anticipation, and speculation as to who might win and whether or not England have got any chance, it’s been dominated by fears about racism, homophobia and hooliganism.  A Foreign Office committee issued a warning this morning about the risks which fans face.  Interviews with Gareth Southgate and the players have been more about these issues than the actual football.  This is horrible.  This isn’t how it should be.  And, whilst I do think that the media have come to demonise Russia over the last few years, to a level so ridiculous that it’s comparable with what went on in the 1870s (I’m getting a bit of “in the past stuff” in there, to try to pretend that I’m being on topic!), there is undoubtedly cause for concern.  No-one could ever call me anti-Russian, and even I’m saying that there’s cause for concern.

Only a few months ago, Paul Pogba and other black members of the French team were subjected to vile racist abuse during a match between France and Russia in St Petersburg.  Last year, during an under 17s match – under 17s, just kids – black members of Liverpool’s team were racially abused by players from Spartak Moscow, a club whose social media sites has referred to its own black players as “chocolates”.  Danny Rose said yesterday that he’s asked his family not to travel to the World Cup, because he’s so worried that they might face racist abuse.  That’s heartbreaking.  He said that his dad’s really upset.  To play in a World Cup is such a big thing, such an achievement, such an honour; and Mr Rose should be up there in the stands, bursting with pride.  Now he’s not going to get that chance.

When you’re a kid, the players are – obviously! – older than you.  Then you get to the point where they’re the same age as you.  I’m the same age as the Class of ’92.  Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and me – we were born within a few months of each other, and grew up within a few miles of each other, and now they’re all hugely successful, world famous, multi-zillionaires, and I’m … er, anything but!   Then the players are younger than you, and you even find yourself watching the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Thomas Ince and Alex Bruce, whom you remember as toddlers!   And then it gets to the point where you are so ancient that you could actually be the mum or dad of the younger players.  It’s not great.  It really, really is not great!

But you do get this feeling of maternal/paternal pride when young lads you’ve watched come through the juniors make it all the way to the top, and that’s lovely.  Last night, both goals in England’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica, our final warm up match before the World Cup, were scored by Manchester lads who came through the United youth system – Marcus Rashford, just 20 years old, and Danny Welbeck.  I was so proud of them both, I can’t tell you!   And that’s how I want to feel.  I don’t want to be worrying that those lads, both black, are going to have people shouting the n word or monkey chants at them.

Ashley Young and Gareth Southgate have both said that the potential problems have been discussed at team meetings.  It’s good that the subject is being addressed, and a united front being presented, but this, and the warnings from the Foreign Office, and the concerns expressed in the media, aren’t what the build up to the World Cup should be about, in England or anywhere else.  We should be talking about who’s going to be in the England starting XI for the first match.  What are our chances?  Who’s going to win?  Which players and teams are going to light up the tournament?  Will it be the big names?  Will some young lad come from nowhere and make a name from himself?  Will an older player who’s supposed to be past his prime prove that he’s still got it?  Will an unfancied team make a fairytale run through to the later stages – remember Iceland at Euro 2016, and Cameroon at Italia ’90?  Those magical World Cup moments that you never forget, that people are still talking about years later, that get replayed on TV time after time after time – where will they come from this time?

That’s what we should be thinking about, and talking about.  Even the daft side of things.  Nigeria’s “interesting” kit.  The inevitable photos in the tabloids of players’ glamorous celebrity partners.  The quirky things that somehow grab everyone’s attention – remember the vuvuzelas at South Africa 2010?  And everyone getting obsessed with Nessun Dorma during Italia ’90?  Referees and linesmen (sorry, “referees’ assistants”), because, let’s face it, we all know that there are going to end up being controversial decisions which will make headlines.  Who’s got the best commentators, the BBC or ITV?  And why are there so few women involved?

But no.  Instead, the build up seems to have been mostly about racism, homophobia and hooliganism.  Thanks a lot, FIFA.  Oh, and where have they chosen for the next World Cup?  Qatar!   I understand the idea of taking the World Cup to different places – but, seriously, Qatar?  Hardly top of the international list when it comes to human rights, is it?  And can anyone actually name a single Qatari football club, or even a single Qatari football player?  Not to mention the problems with the heat.

Well, we all know very well that something is very rotten in the state of FIFA.   But, whatever went on with the voting process in 2010, when Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the 2022 World Cup, this is where we are.  And no-one’s saying that Russia is the only country in the world where these problems exist.  There’ve been horrendous incidences of racist abuse at football matches in Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine, Germany and elsewhere in recent years.  Hooliganism … well, we can’t deny the involvement of some English fans in clashes in France in 2016, and it wasn’t just English and Russian fans either.  And there were been some nasty incidents in Spain, Italy and elsewhere during European club matches in the season just gone.  But Russia is where the World Cup’s being held, so it’s Russia (and, yes, I do know that I should really be saying “the Russian Federation”) at which we’re looking.

OK, that was a long rant!  What about the actual programme?  Well, quite honestly, it was a bit of a piss-take.  Frankie Boyle, who presented it, is very, very funny, and he made me laugh all the way through, from his deadpan comments about the weather (he went in February, in several inches of snow) and his horrible breakfast to his brilliant crack about how the Russian stadia will be used for football after the World Cup whereas the London 2012 Olympic stadium was handed over to West Ham.  I don’t like West Ham, sorry!  And watching a Cossack chop up a cabbage with his sword was certainly entertaining.  It was all entertaining.  But it all gave the impression of not taking things very seriously, and this just isn’t funny.  It’s not funny that a member of the England squad is so worried about potential abuse that he’s asked his family members not to go.  It’s not funny that black/ethnic minority fans are being warned that they may be at risk of abuse.  It’s not funny that LGBT fans are being warned not to make an obvious show of their sexuality.  It is just not funny at all.

Some of it was serious, admittedly.  And some of the points, whilst made in a jokey way, were very valid.  What the hell was Boris Johnson thinking of, comparing the 2018 World Cup to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, “Hitler’s Games”?  Has the man never heard of the Siege of Leningrad, or the Siege of Stalingrad?  Does he have any idea how many people the Soviet Union lost in the fight against the Nazis?  As Frankie said, remarks like that, from a senior member of the British government, are offensive to put it mildly.

That was at the end of the programme.  It began with a visit to the Luzhniki Stadium.  Now, as we all know, the Luzhniki Stadium was the scene of one of the greatest events in the history of the universe – United winning the 2008 European Cup/Champions League.  Against Chelsea.  Now, thinking back, I cannot remember any particular warnings or concerns at the time about the final being played in Moscow.  OK, it was a one-off match, but even so.  And that says a lot about how much has changed in the last few years … oh dear, was it really ten years ago?!  And, to be fair to FIFA, in the eight years since the decision to stage the 2018 World Cup in Russia was made.  The war in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea.  The worrying and highly discriminatory “homosexual propaganda” law.  All the failed drugs tests.  Syria.  The allegations over interference in the US presidential election.  And, most recently, the Salisbury poisonings.   That’s quite a mixture of things, but it’s all served to worsen Russia’s image in the media … and, of course, the nature of the media has changed a lot in that time, as well.

So how much of the genuine fear about racism and homophobia is well grounded?  Well, strangely, the programme barely mentioned racism.  And Frankie seemed to be setting out to look for trouble.  He spoke to was some kind of obsessive Putin fan, who was clearly rather weird and presumably not at all representative of Russian opinion.  Frankie tried to get him to talk about the issue of homophobia.  The guy insisted that there were no gay people in Russia.  Frankie, serious for once, tried to talk about the need for equality and human rights, but he just couldn’t get any sense out of the guy.  That was clearly worrying, but surely it would have been better to have spoken to the man/woman on the street, in order to get some sort of accurate gauge of public opinion?

And he went to some rather odd organisation which was training people in how to greet visiting fans – and, as he said, it was a bit like a Swiss finishing school.  All social etiquette stuff.  But, again, hardly representative of any sort of general public opinion.  And then on to the hairdresser’s.  That bit was actually better, because the woman in the hairdresser’s made some interesting comments about Russian views on women, and how society there’s still quite patriarchal.  But it was all interspersed with stuff about beards and male grooming, which I don’t really think is anyone’s main concern ahead of the World Cup!

Then on to Rostov-on-Don. Glasgow’s twin city.  Supposedly infamous for hooliganism.  I thought that was Spartak Moscow!  United played Rostov not so long ago, and there was no trouble.  And Frankie didn’t find any trouble either – there were lots of families at the match, and it was all very nice.  He then spent a lot of time hanging around with Cossacks.  I was rather disappointed that none of the Rostov fans at Old Trafford turned up in Cossack dress, I have to say!  The idea of Cossacks policing football matches – which apparently is going to happen – sounds  a bit bonkers, and we were shown videos of the worrying scenes at the Sochi Winter Olympics in which Pussy Riot (thank you, Google – the programme didn’t mention the group’s name, and I couldn’t remember it and kept thinking “Pussycat Dolls”!), the protest punk group, were whipped by Cossacks.  But, instead of talking about that, we then got scenes of a Cossack chopping up a cabbage with his sword.  Yes, it made for good TV, but I doubt that worried fans and players are going to be very reassured by seeing someone chop up a cabbage.

Frankie did seem to be concluding that there wasn’t that much to worry about, politicians were making things worse and the media were creating a bit of a fuss about nothing.  I hope he’s right.  But I’m not sure that making a comedy programme about people’s very real fears, over such serious issues as racism and homophobia, is really very appropriate.  Frankie was clearly taking the issues seriously, especially in the discussion with the very strange man who just wouldn’t acknowledge that people could be gay, but the tone of the programme just didn’t really work for me.  These aren’t laughing matters.  I love Russia, but no-one can deny that there have been some horrible racist incidents at football matches there, very recently, and the anti-gay “propaganda” law of 2013 has no place in any decent society.  No offence to Frankie Boyle, who is a comedian and was being a comedian, but, BBC, don’t say that you’re going to show a programme about something so serious and so horrible and then show a bloke chopping up a cabbage with a sword.  It just isn’t appropriate.

Here’s to a wonderful World Cup.  May it be full of wonderful football, and free from any sort of unpleasantness.  We can but hope.


Emmeline Pankhurst: the Making of a Militant – BBC 1


Is this a thing now, having historical documentaries presented by soap stars?  What next – six times married Steve McDonald presenting a programme on Henry VIII?!  Some of the Dingles, who always seem to be feuding with their cousins, presenting a programme on the Wars of the Roses?!  First it was Tracy-Ann Oberman, who used to play Chrissie in EastEnders, presenting the recent series on Queen Victoria, and then last night it was Sally Unwin, best known as Shelley in Coronation Street, presenting this programme about Emmeline Pankhurst.  No offence to lovely Sally, but she clearly knew little beyond the basics about Emmeline Pankhurst and was surprised to hear what the real historians had to say, so wouldn’t it have been better just to have had the real historians doing the presenting?

Oh well.  It was a very interesting programme.  Mrs Pankhurst does have this image as a real battleaxe, and we don’t often hear much about the flesh and blood woman behind that image.  And there is often an image – presented by men – of women who espouse causes, especially women’s rights, as being hard and unfeeling, and Emmeline Pankhurst was anything but.  This programme showed how she had a very romantic relationship with her husband, worked hard to support her children after being widowed, and how deeply she cared about the sufferings of women betrayed by a patriarchal society and believed that giving women the right to vote was the best means by which to help them.

The subject of reform movements in the Victorian era is a fascinating one.  Abolitionism – and British abolitionists continued to work for Abolition in the US, after slavery had been abolished within the British Empire – , prison reform, the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, education reform, better sanitation … that would make several programmes on its own.  Emmeline Goulden was born into a prominent Manchester Abolitionist movement, and was politically aware from her childhood.  In 1867, when Emmeline was 9, a woman called Lily Maxwell somehow accidentally got on to the list of voters in Chorlton-on-Medlock and, supported by the early Manchester suffragist Lydia Becker, went off to cast her vote.  This ended up in court, and the court ruled against her right to vote.  The lawyer who defended her was Richard Pankhurst, so, as Sally and the historians pointed out, he became quite a local hero.  He and Emmeline met at a political meeting some years later, had a whirlwind romance, married, and had five children.

And, as the programme made clear, she could combine the roles of campaigner and middle-class wife and mother.  It even mentioned that she sang at parties.  Very Jane Austen – and what a fascinating character.  One role in public life open to women was that of Poor Law Guardian, and she was elected as a Poor Law Guardian, running soup kitchens during the harsh winter of 1894, and that brought her into close contact with the workhouses, and the terrible conditions endured by women there.  This is what we don’t hear about – we hear about the militant suffragette campaigns, but not all the story behind it, the fact that this wasn’t “just” about equality as a principle but about trying to improve the lives of women in general, especially those at the bottom of the heap.

Then on to something else which we rarely hear about – the Boggart Hole Clough Incident.  Sounds like an Enid Blyton book, doesn’t it?  Boggart Hole Clough is a park in North Manchester.  When my dad was a teenager, he used to play for a local football team.  One weekend, the team had an important match, and Dad and a couple of his mates somehow got the wrong end of the stick about where it was being played, and thought they were meant to be at Boggart Hole Clough playing fields.  They weren’t.  By the time they’d realised that, and got to where they were meant to be, it was too late.  The manager was very cross.  Sorry, that’s got nothing to do with Emmeline Pankhurst!  She held a women’s suffrage rally, and was arrested, on the grounds that local by-laws prohibited the holding of political meetings there – and that was when she first realised the power of court appearances, and the potential of being sent to prison, as a means of publicity.  That was to become so important in the suffragette campaigns.  And it can be traced back to Boggart Hole Clough!  I love that!

Then tragedy struck.  Richard Pankhurst died suddenly.  Emmeline and her children were forced to give up their home and move to a smaller house – and she had to take a job.  No, she didn’t try to live in genteel poverty, or depend on help from relatives.  She got a job as a registrar – and this came up in Thursday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, when Michelle Keegan, another former Coronation Street actress, found out that Emmeline Pankhurst had registered the births of some of her relatives, and that her own great-grandmother had been part of the women’s suffrage family.  Michelle’s ancestors, like many of the people with whom Emmeline’s work brought her into contact, were desperately poor, and this all proved more and more to Emmeline that women needed power.  Sally read some very distressing extracts from Emmeline’s diary about how she’d registered the births of babies to young girls who’d been abused by male relatives.   No-one tells you that, when they show you the pictures of suffragettes smashing windows and all the rest of it, do they?

After that, it was on to the founding of the WSPU, and the famous incident with Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney at the Free Trade Hall, and all the things we’ve heard before – but we don’t often hear the story of Emmeline Pankhurst’s life before the WSPU, and this programme was fascinating.

And, of course, it ended with a reminder that this was a Manchester story.  The Manchester WSPU banner that’s now in the People’s History Museum – “First in the Fight”. And a reminder that, at last, Manchester will soon have a statue of one of its most famous daughters.  Emmeline Pankhurst, we are so proud of you!  And thank you, BBC 1, for showing this.  It was well worth watching.

Suffragettes with Lucy Worsley – BBC 1


As I’m fond of reminding people 🙂 , I went to the same school as Christabel Pankhurst and her sisters Sylvia and Adela.  We used to have Speech Days in the Free Trade Hall, the iconic building where, in 1905, Christabel and her friend and fellow suffragette Annie Kenney heckled politicians at a Liberal Party rally, whereupon they were arrested and carted off to Strangeways.  (Strangeways was unisex in those days.)  I’m trying and failing to resist making the old teenage jokes about how being carted off to Strangeways would have been preferable to having to sit through school Speech Day, which, in my day, was usually held on the first Monday in July, generally very hot and stuffy and often fourth round day at Wimbledon.  We so did not want to be there!

Sorry.  Back to the point.  The Free Trade Hall incident in 1905 marked a turning point in the campaign for women’s suffrage, and it was the starting point for Monday night’s hour and a half long programme on the suffragettes, presented by Lucy Worsley.  It also summed up the suffragette movement very well.  The brilliant PR machine run by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded in 1903: Christabel, as a law graduate – although, as a woman, she wasn’t allowed to practise – knew that spitting at the police would get them arrested on charges of technical assault, and that that would get them far more publicity than just being dragged away.  The contempt shown to campaigners for women’s suffrage by the Establishment.  The wide range of backgrounds amongst the suffragettes: Christabel was from a middle-class family from the city of Manchester, Annie from a working-class family from one of the semi-rural mill villages of Saddleworth.  And the extent to which women were prepared to go to – at this stage, arrest and imprisonment.  Later, it would be what can only be described as torture; and, whilst I honestly don’t think Emily Wilding Davison meant to lose her life, women did say that they were ready to die for The Cause.

I do find Lucy Worsley’s bossy prefect style of presenting a bit irritating, and her obsession with dressing up rather infantile.  However, that’s become quite a clever PR machine as well: every time one of her programmes is on, it’s all over the TV reviews as pundits argue over whether her dressing up is entertaining or just plain silly.  She certainly gets attention.  It’s unlikely that, had anyone else been presenting this programme, it would have been on BBC 1 rather than BBC 2 and in a prime time slot straight after EastEnders.  So take a bow, Lucy.  You might be annoying, but you get the media talking about history, and that can only be a good thing!

It was presented in docu-drama style.  That again can seem quite infantile sometimes, but in this instance it worked extremely well.  Seeing women with the clothes and hairstyles of the period, reading out the suffragettes’ own words, especially about the horrors of force-feeding and of sexual assault by the police, was very evocative and very effective.  The roles assigned were those of Annie Kenney and several other leading suffragettes who were… well, most of the names were familiar, but they were certainly far less well-known than those of the Pankhurst women, and the idea was to show that it wasn’t all about the big names.  I would have thought that was rather obvious, TBH.  With any sort of movement, you’re always going to have the big names, but surely everyone realises that the big names didn’t do it all by themselves.  But, OK, it made the point that there were a lot of people involved.

Lucy also made the point that this was an effective home-grown terrorist organisation.  I’m not very comfortable about the use of that expression to describe the WSPU. OK, yes, they were.  They used violence.  But the word “terrorism” has come to mean the murder of innocents.  Slashing paintings, smashing windows, setting fire to empty houses, and even letter bombs, vandalising public buildings and attacking politicians with catapults can hardly be compared to that.  So may we stick with “militant” rather than “terrorist”, please?

Just wandering off topic a bit, it’s interesting that the campaign for universal male suffrage at this time was so low profile, compared with the campaign for female suffrage.  Despite the reforms of 1832, 1867 and 1884, millions of British men did not have the right to vote until 1918.  So why weren’t they doing all this militant campaigning as well?  This never gets asked.  It wasn’t mentioned at all in Lucy’s programme.  Well, those who still didn’t have the vote were those at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale, who wouldn’t have had the time or funds for campaigning – but you could say the same about a lot of the men, and women, who’d attended the large-scale rallies of the first half of the 19th century.  Think Peterloo.  Think the Chartists.  There were major developments taking place in trade unionism at this time, so were the blokes putting their attention into that, rather than into campaigning for the right to vote?  I wish someone would do a programme on that.  This year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the T.U.C. – in Manchester, of course!! – but that hasn’t had even a fraction of the attention that “Vote100” has.  Hmm.

Back to the subject of PR.  It’s a modern term, but the suffragettes were bloody good at it!  As Lucy pointed out, the image of women chained to railings is one that everyone knows, the iconic image of the suffragette movement – but it’s not something that actually happened very often.  It just got brilliantly publicised.  And then there are the suffragette colours – white for purity, green for hope, purple for dignity.  Everyone knows those colours.  Theresa May wore those colours on the centenary of the passing of the Representation of the People Act – a day which she marked by visiting Manchester, of course (just had to get that in!).   And this was turning the tables on the mockery shown by the Establishment, including sections of the media, which presented suffragettes as unfeminine, and made fun of them.  Being criticised, you can take.  Being made fun of, not being taken seriously – that’s horrendous.  It still happens now, with the so-called “liberal elite” and the scorn which they pour on anyone who doesn’t agree with them, but it was even worse at the time of the suffragettes.

What summed it up brilliantly was a bazaar featured as part of the docu-drama –selling the sort of things which Edwardian ladies were supposed to make, and sell, but also featuring a mock-up of a prison cell, so that visitors could see what suffragettes who’d been imprisoned for their activities were having to endure.  What a superb juxtaposition.  And a lot of women were being imprisoned, even before the really militant period of the campaign began – but, as Lucy explained, this actually boosted the movement.  What does the suffragette song in Mary Poppins say?  “Take heart!  For Mrs Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again”.  Lucy used the word “radicalised” – and that’s another modern term which fitted the events of the time perfectly.  Suffragettes bonded with each other during their time in prison.  When they were released, they were greeted by cheering crowds.  We’ve all seen the pictures of that.   Less well-known are the huge banquets which were held afterwards, to honour the suffragettes who’d done their stints in prison, and the medals – “For Valour”, the words used to accompany the Victoria Cross – presented to them.

It wasn’t all of the media.  One photographer hid in a cupboard so that he could jump out and take a photo when policemen came to arrest Emmeline Pankhurst (again) – another clever PR coup for the WSPU.  It wasn’t all of the Establishment, to be fair.  But it was enough of them.  The suffragettes tried doing things peacefully, in the tradition of those who attended the rally at St Peter’s Fields – and look how they were treated – and the Chartists.  They held huge rallies.  And even the more militant activities, such as the planned “rush” on Parliament, over which the arrest with the photographer in the cupboard took place, weren’t violent.  60,000 people attended that.  Sixty thousand.  Still, nothing was done.  And this wasn’t some sort of ultra-conservative government.  This was the reforming government which introduced Old Age Pensions and National Insurance.  And showed some sympathy for Irish Home Rule.

And this same government, the great Liberal reforming government, was the one which force-fed women on hunger strike.  Marion Wallace Dunlop, who deserves to be better-known than she was, was the driving force behind hunger striking – and it was really the first time that this tactic had been used.  It’s used a lot now, but it was new then.  And it’s horrible, but it’s very clever.  What do the authorities do?  Let people die?  Create martyrs?  Be seen as murderers?   They didn’t want to do that, so, instead, they fed them by force.  The descriptions of this, and they’re pretty well-known even if the name of Marion Wallace Dunlop isn’t, are horrific.  The bravery of the women who endured it, some of them over and over again, was incredible.  Doctors protested.  Public sympathy for the suffragettes increased.

And a truce was called.  At last, Parliament addressed the subject of women’s suffrage.  In came the first Conciliation Bill, which would have granted some women the vote.  It passed its first reading.  It passed its second reading.  But that was as far as it got.  Asquith refused to allow it any more parliamentary time.  Lucy said that it got lost amid all the chaos of the People’s Budget.  Two general elections in one year.  Reform of the House of Lords – and what a great shame that they didn’t just abolish it.  I’m not sure that I entirely agree with that, though.

Yes, there was a lot going on at the time.  Social reform.  The Irish Question.  Concerns about Germany.  But many of the leading Conservatives and Liberals just weren’t prepared to give women the vote, and that wasn’t just about misogyny – that women weren’t intelligent enough to understand politics, or were ruled by their emotions and couldn’t make sensible decisions, or were so soft that they’d oppose declaring war if it came to it -, it was also about self -interest and both parties believing that they’d lose out if women got the vote.  The Liberals had won by an absolute landslide in the “free trade” election of 1906.  After the second of the two elections in 1910, they could only hold on to power by forming a coalition with the Irish Nationalists, but they were still the biggest single party.  Some Conservatives, believing that women would vote as their husbands or fathers told them (seriously), thought that giving the vote to women would just double the Liberals’ advantage.  Some Liberals, on the other hand, thought that women were “conservative” by nature and that giving the vote to women would boost the Conservatives.  And some amongst both the Liberals and Conservatives thought that giving the vote to women would lead to universal male suffrage and boost the rise of the Labour Representation Committee.

Whatever the reason, the bill got chucked out – but it had got a lot of support from MPs.  That was the first bill, in 1910.  The second Conciliation Bill, introduced as a Private Members’ Bill, in 1911, passed its first reading.  Asquith tried to change things by proposing a bill to introduce universal male suffrage, and the whole thing got dropped.  In 1912, the third Conciliation Bill was narrowly defeated, and this seems to’ve been because the Irish Nationalists voted against their Liberal coalition allies because of fears that it’d take attention and parliamentary time away from the issue of Home Rule.

So what was going on?  Did MPs think that other issues were more important?  Or were they just making excuses because they weren’t prepared, when push came to shove, to see any women get the vote.  A bill to introduce universal male suffrage was also introduced in 1912, but got nowhere either.  But the first two Conciliation Bills did get passed, as far as they were allowed to, and the third one came close.

Was it all about Asquith?  The WSPU certainly seem to have blamed Asquith.  Whatever the truth of it, and it’s hard to assess, the mood turned more militant – especially after the disgraceful events of “Black Friday”, in November 1910, when, after the abandonment of the first Conciliation Bill, hundreds of suffragettes protesting outside Parliament were “kettled” – a controversial procedure still in use – and treated very brutally by police brought in from the East End.  There were tens of serious injuries.  Two women, including one of Emmeline Pankhurst’s sisters, died as a probable result of their injuries – which the programme didn’t actually mention.  Others were sexually assaulted by policemen who pulled their skirts up and twisted their breasts.  There were calls for a public inquiry.  They were ignored.  It’s beyond appalling that something like this should have happened in Westminster, and it says so much about the attitude of men towards women who defied convention, and about the attitude of the Establishment towards those who challenged their authority.  It’s well-named “Black Friday”: it’s a very black day in British history.

Is it any bloody wonder that the suffragettes turned militant after that?  You’re supposed to make your feelings known at the ballot box.  But how do you do that if you aren’t allowed to vote?  Peaceful protests hadn’t worked.  Even with support from MPs, no progress had been made.  But violent protest is wrong.  It has to be.  Smashing shop windows might not have hurt anyone, but it caused thousands of pounds’ worth of damage to the property of people who had nothing to do with the government.  Vandalising letterboxes and telegraph wires caused widespread disruption, and, again, most of those affected had nothing to do with the government.  And it swung public opinion against the suffragettes.  It also lost the support of many MPs – it’s a problem that existed then and a problem that continues to exist, that you do not want to be seen to be giving in to violence.  And it split the WSPU: some of its members thought that things had gone too far.

But else was there to try?  It was an impossible situation.  It is an impossible situation, when those excluded from power are treated in such a way – and it’s why lack of reform has so often led to civil war and or revolution, when that hasn’t been the original aim of those calling for reform.   There aren’t really any answers.  Just the arrogance of the Establishment – towards women, towards working-class men, towards nationalists in Ireland and India.  Sorry, but it’s hard not to go on a rant when you think about all this!   As Lucy said, the militant phase of the suffragette campaign – and she did use the word “terrorism”, and she justified doing that, but I just don’t like it – was wrong, but you can see, and how understand, how it came to that.  Especially the attacks on property, given that the society at the time seemed to value property more than it valued women.

The next part was the phase of the suffragette campaign which is best known.  Arson attacks, letter bombs, vandalism, and, of course, Emily Wilding Davison dying under the hooves of the king’s horse at the Derby.  By this time it was 1913.  Then came the Great War, and then, finally, in 1918, some women were given the vote.  Only in 1928 were women given the vote on equal terms with men.  How long would it have taken for women, and for all men, to be given the vote, had war not come?  We’ll never know.

Lucy summed it all up brilliantly at the end of the programme, saying what an important chapter in British history this was, and how the violence cannot be excused but how it raises crucial questions about who should have a say in running society, how far you should go to get that say, and to what extent does the end justify the means.  Those questions apply to a lot of struggles for civil rights.  They aren’t easy questions.  This programme really made the viewer think about them.  Very, very well done.


Pompeii’s Final Hours: New Evidence – Channel 5


I was hoping for a few mentions of Caecilius, but there wasn’t even one. Instead, we got John Sergeant prancing around half-naked and eating bulls’ testicles!   Aidan Turner wandering about with no shirt on is all very well 😉 , but, whilst I’m sure John Sergeant is a very nice bloke, I didn’t particularly need to see him bare-chested and having oil rubbed all over his back. Kudos to him for having the confidence to be filmed doing that, though. I scuttle off to pull a full-length wrap on over my substantial swimming costume the second I get out of the pool!

Anyway, moving swiftly on! It was all a bit confused, because they said they’d be talking about the three days leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius, but then they kept going off to talk about new excavations and scanning casts. That was all very interesting, but I don’t know where the three days thing came into it, except that John Sergeant got to wander round food stalls in Naples, eat a large banquet whilst dressed up as a Roman senator, visit a bath-house (hence the bare chest and the oil), hang around playing cards in a Neapolitan bar, and take a boat trip round the bay. Nice work if you can get it!

The idea seemed to be that everyone in Pompeii spent the city’s last few days out enjoying themselves. Six hour working day, then off to watch a gladiator show or sit in a bar. This presumably applied only to well-to-do men. I think the idea was that it was like the image of everyone on the Home Front enjoying the war – eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. They kept saying that people must have realised that something was seriously wrong, because of the earth tremors. But they also kept saying that people there were used to earth tremors so they wouldn’t have been unduly worried. As I said, it was all a bit confused!

The dates were confusing, apart from anything else. The date usually given for the eruption of Vesuvius, based on letters written by Pliny the Younger, is 24-25 August AD. Channel 5 kept giving the date as 24-25 October AD. A lot of evidence points to the eruption having taken place in the autumn rather than the summer, and many people think that the date given by Pliny may have been misread or copied down wrongly – but, as the August date’s still the one generally accepted, they really should have explained why they were giving the October date instead. They didn’t explain that, but they did helpfully point out that people in Pompeii didn’t eat pasta or tomatoes. Or drink orange juice. And they provided subtitles for Italians speaking in perfectly clear English.

OK, enough sarcasm. Bettany Hughes and Raksha Dave did actually get to see some new excavations. Only two-thirds of the city has been excavated, but new excavations are rare. Cynics think that this is to avoid disrupting tourism. Seeing the newly excavated buildings, and even the ones excavated years ago, was genuinely moving, as was seeing things like loaves of bread, perfectly preserved. It’s like a story out of the Bible, or a legend, or a sci-fi novel. One day, life was going on as normal, and then everything was just destroyed … and preserved, in ash. All those casts – they were all real people, who lived and breathed and led their lives, and were then just cut down in the street, like the White Witch turning people in Narnia into stone where they stood … except that the Narnians got to come back to life. It’s almost unthinkable.

Some of the casts were taken to a hospital in Naples, and scanned in a modern day scanner and some of the bones were taken for detailed analysis. That – hooray!! – genuinely was new evidence. It was strange. Hospital staff had given up their time to do this, and they were all crowding round the casts – as Raksha Dave said, like some weird version of Casualty, but with people who’d been dead for nearly two millennia. I’m never sure how I feel about that sort of thing. Would you want your remains being examined for a TV programme, in two thousand years’ time? Or is the concept so hard to grasp that you wouldn’t really care? Anyway, the scans showed that a cast thought to be male was actually female, and a cast thought to be that of a gladiator was actually that of a young lad! Although the one thought to be a muleteer really was a muleteer.

Incidentally, Herculaneum barely got a mention. I recently read a book which compared Herculaneum to Nagasaki (i.e. and Pompeii to Hiroshima). Poor Herculaneum. No-one ever talks about it!  But Pompeii’s been talked about a lot – and most of what was in this three-part series was same old, same old. It was interesting, and it was sad, but putting “New Evidence” in the title was pushing it a bit! The series didn’t really seem to know what it wanted to be. One minute, it was genuine history and archaeology. The next, it was pending-doom music with commentary on what was happening with the eruption at a particular time of day. The next, it was John Sergeant eating bulls’ testicles. Stuffed with pepper, fennel seed and cumin, just in case anyone wants to know.

And they seemed determined to make out that modern-day Naples was just like Pompeii – hence the aforementioned food stalls and bars. And complete with curses. Well, if they used them against Juventus, they didn’t work very well.

So I’m not really sure what I thought of it, quite honestly. It was all a bit muddled. I’m just rather narked that they never mentioned Caecilius. How can anyone make three programmes on Pompeii and not mention Caecilius?!

A Very English Scandal – BBC 1


The one genuine hero in all this was a minor character, Leo Abse, the middle-class Welsh Jewish Labour MP who led the parliamentary campaign for the decriminalisation of homosexuality – whilst the Old Etonians were off murdering their ex-lovers’ pet dogs. The main characters were all thoroughly unlikeable.  Daniel Cleaver, sorry, Jeremy Thorpe, as brilliantly portrayed by Hugh Grant, was so bloody obnoxious that I just kept wanting to thump him.  I’d expected to feel some sympathy for him in the early part of the programme, as the victim of institutionalised prejudice and a blackmail plot; but he was just odious.  Snooty (in practically the first scene, he and his sidekick Peter Bessell were making fun of Harold Wilson’s Yorkshire accent), ruthless, self-obsessed, conceited, arrogant, entitled … and, whilst (hooray!!) I’m not old enough to remember the 1960s or most of the 1970s, by all accounts that was pretty much what he was like in real life.

As for Norman Scott (Norman Josiffe, until he changed his surname to that of an earl whom he’d convinced himself was his natural father), equally brilliantly portrayed by Ben Whishaw, however sympathetic the viewer might have felt about his mental health problems and financial traumas, it’s very hard to feel any sympathy for someone who tried to blackmail and ruin the career of a person with whom he’d once been in a relationship and had then received help from in finding work and accommodation.  As Peter Bessell pointed out, he at least had the strength and honesty to speak openly about his sexuality; so he deserved credit for that, but that was all.  So it was hard to warm to either main character.  But, as TV viewing, it worked really well!  Cosy Sunday evening viewing, like Downton Abbey or Victoria, it is not; but it certainly kept your attention.

(Just to be accurate, the dog-shooting incident actually took place eight years after the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in the UK, but I thought the contrast in priorities between the self-obsessed Thorpe and someone who was actually in politics to try to make a difference to society made the point well!)

You really couldn’t make this story up.  I don’t know who is and isn’t going to turn up in later episodes, but I assume we’re going to get Thorpe’s second wife, who’d previously been married to none other than the Earl of Harewood, Sir Jack Hayward of Wolverhampton Wanderers fame, who provided the funding to the Liberal Party which was allegedly used to try to pay Scott off, and George Carman, the barrister famous in Manchester for trying to keep the Hacienda open but whose first big case was the defence of Jeremy Thorpe against attempted murder charges.  And apparently Thorpe, back in 1960, was considered for the role of best man at Princess Margaret’s wedding.

It all makes for such a brilliant story.  Great TV.  A great book, I assume, although I haven’t read it.  The leader of a British political party, someone who stood a real chance of becoming Prime Minister in a coalition government, ended up on trial for plotting to have his blackmailing ex-lover murdered!   If it had been the storyline in a Jeffrey Archer novel, readers and reviewers would scoff at how far-fetched it was.  And yet it really happened.

And, in so many ways, it was a tragedy.  A promising political career ruined: Thorpe had to resign as leader of the Liberal Party because of the Scott saga. At the heart of it all, Thorpe’s relationship with Scott having taken place when both were single, was the fact that any public figure who was gay had to live in constant fear, knowing that his or her career would be ruined should that fact ever become public.  There was a very poignant scene in which Lord Arran, whose gay elder brother had committed suicide, spoke about the high rate of suicide amongst gay men, and said that they weren’t really killed by their own hands, but were murdered by society.  What a brilliant line, and what a tragic one.

You think, too, of all the other things that people have felt obliged to conceal about themselves over the years, because of prejudice.  Illegitimacy.  Ethnic or religious background – think of all the actors and singers who changed their names to conceal their origins, and the people who concealed the fact that they had non-white ancestry.  Be very glad that we’ve moved on from that – but remember that there are many countries in which that isn’t the case.  And we’ve still got a way to go, even now.  There are, famously, still no openly gay Premier League footballers.  And think of Will Young and – bah, I’ve forgotten the guy’s name, but another singer spoke out about this recently – being told to pretend to be straight, because record producers apparently thought that their popularity would be affected if they were known to be gay.  Which is bloody rubbish: Elton John sang at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding reception!  And remember all the support that the late Stephen Gately got when he announced that he was gay?  But we’ve come a long way – and, in Jeremy Thorpe’s time, things were very different.

That was why I thought I’d feel some sympathy for him – before things got to the murderous stage, obviously! – but no.  The BBC did include one speech about Commonwealth immigration (I’d love to know if that was in the original script or if it was added in in the wake of the Windrush affair), but there was nothing else to show that Thorpe was a well-known anti-racism/anti-apartheid campaigner, his main redeeming virtue.  That was a shame.  He wasn’t all bad.  And it did show him having some affection for his son, but all I felt was overwhelming sympathy for his wife (his first wife, who later tragically died in a car crash), after we’d seen him talking about how he’d decided to get married because he hoped it’d give him a boost in the opinion polls.  OK, it wasn’t uncommon at the time for a gay man to marry a woman for the sake of being seen to be conventional, but the way he spoke about it was so callous, and we didn’t see how he met and courted his wife so we didn’t know if he felt any genuine affection for her or not.  He just came across as being a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

And yet he was pretty popular, at one time.  Was that all about charisma?  Well, charisma in a politician can be a very overrated trait!  Mentioning no names.

And the Scott saga went on for years.  The relationship between Thorpe and Scott took place in 1962.  Scott’d been working as a groom – how Lady Chatterley-ish is that?  He worked in Altrincham at one time: I didn’t know that until I did a bit of reading up on all this!   He started threatening to go to the press in 1965, but the press didn’t want to know.   That’s fascinating in itself.  We’re so used to the press falling over themselves to print stories about famous people’s private lives.  The story couldn’t be proven.  In the era of fake news, it’s quite impressive to think of the press turning down a story because it couldn’t be proven – although it’s hard to know how much of it was down to integrity and how much of it was due to fear of being given huge fines under the libel laws.  But, whatever the reasons, it says a lot about how good the Establishment were at covering things up back then.  When it comes to protecting someone from attempted blackmail when they’ve done nothing wrong, that’s a good thing; but, as we all know, there were other things which were covered up, by politicians, the BBC, the religious authorities, and other powers that be, at the cost of great suffering to young boys and girls.

Anyway.  But, all along, even though the story didn’t get into the press, Jeremy Thorpe was paying Scott off, and having to live with the knowledge that this could all come out at any time, in an era when gay people, even after decriminalisation, faced horrendous prejudice.  So, in 1968, he apparently decided to have him killed off.  And the TV programme was quite clear about that: we saw Jeremy Thorpe saying, quite clearly and unmistakeably, that Scott had to be killed.  Things like that don’t happen in British politics, do they?  Well, yes, they do.  OK, Thorpe always denied it, and he was acquitted, but … well, what do most people really believe?   It’s difficult to believe that the character portrayed in this series wasn’t capable of ordering his ex-lover to be murdered.

Nothing happened at that time, but, in 1971, Scott went to the Liberal Party with his tale – and was sent packing.  It then all died down again, until 1974, when papers containing details of the various goings-on came into the hands of the Sunday Mirror … which decided not to publish them.  The Sunday Mirror decided not to print the story, and handed the documents over to Thorpe!  Imagine that happening now!  However, Thorpe allegedly decided that enough was enough and that Scott had to be “dealt with”.  And this, in 1975, was when Scott’s poor old dog was shot dead.  I mean, I can’t stand dogs, but shooting one dead is a bit much.  Poor dog 😦 .

Did the gunman really intend to kill Scott, rather than his dog?  And, the crux of the matter as far as this story’s concerned, was this on Thorpe’s orders?  In 1976, the whole tale finally ended up all over the papers, after Scott was brought to court on charges of benefit fiddling and shouted his mouth off about Thorpe: claims made in court are exempt from libel laws.  So maybe the press were just scared of the libel laws, rather than being part of a cover up, or actually showing some integrity in not wanting to risk damaging someone’s career without being sure of their facts?  Whatever, into the papers it went.  And, in 1978, nearly twenty years after Thorpe and Scott met, Thorpe was put on trial on charges of conspiracy to murder his ex-lover.  Well, Scott’s generally referred to as his “ex-lover”, but he denied that Scott had ever even been his lover.

And he was acquitted.  But he’d already had to resign as Liberal Party leader, and his attempts to find a new career outside politics came to nothing.  Because no-one really believed in his innocence?  And then, because of Parkinson’s Disease, poor health also restricted his attempts to re-establish himself in public life.  That’s very sad.  But … well, he couldn’t get back into public life anyway.   It does seem that most people thought he was very lucky not to have been found guilty.  You couldn’t make it up.  Imagine – anyone reading this (I never know if anyone reads anything I write!), if you don’t remember the late 1970s, a senior politician being put on trial for the attempted murder of a blackmailing ex.  Nah, stuff like that doesn’t happen here.  We’re much too safe and boring.  Well, obviously we’re not!

As I said, it’s not cosy Sunday night viewing.  It’s exciting, but it’s also troubling, especially knowing that it’s a true story.  But the script is brilliant.  So is the acting, even if you do sometimes forget that Hugh Grant isn’t actually playing Daniel Cleaver or the baddie from Paddington II.  He plays all three parts in pretty much the same way!  But it really does grab, and keep, your attention.  Fact really can be stranger than fiction.