Born In: South Kensington, London, England, United Kingdom
John Jeremy Thorpe was a seasoned British politician who served as Member of Parliament for North Devon for two-decades and as Leader of the Liberal Party for almost ten years. Although his father and maternal-grandfather were British Conservative politicians, Thorpe joined the ailing Liberal Party and with time gained ground within the party. He was elected MP at 30 and soon thrived in making a mark. As party leader, Thorpe contributed considerably in regaining Liberals the status of a major third force in British politics. The party under him went through a period of significant electoral success which included winning by-elections in 1972 and 1973; and securing 6 million votes during the February 1974 general election. A hung parliament following the latter led incumbent Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath to negotiate with Thorpe to form coalition government. Thorpe was offered a cabinet post, however the major electoral reforms that he demanded in exchange were rejected by Heath who then resigned and Harold Wilson of Labour Party became Prime Minister. Thorpe’s otherwise rising political career was however marred amidst the Thorpe affair, a political and sex scandal that surfaced after English former model Norman Scott alleged that he had a homosexual relationship with Thorpe during the early 1960s, and Thorpe later conspired to murder him. Thorpe and three others were charged following police investigations. Thorpe lost his parliamentary seat during the 1979 general election, just before his trial, and although he was acquitted on all charges, the alleged affair and the case damaged his public reputation irreparably ending his political career.
Also Known As: John Jeremy Thorpe
Died At Age: 85
Spouse/Ex-: Marion Stein (m. 1973), Caroline Allpass (m. 1968–1970)
father: John Henry Thorpe
mother: Ursula Norton-Griffiths
children: Rupert Thorpe
Born Country: England
place of death: London, England, United Kingdom
Cause of Death: Parkinson's Disease
education: Trinity College, Oxford
John Jeremy Thorpe was born on April 29, 1929, in South Kensington, London, to British lawyer and politician John Henry Thorpe and Ursula Norton-Griffiths. His father served as Conservative MP for Manchester Rusholme (1919-23) and his maternal-grandfather Sir John Norton-Griffiths served as Conservative MP for Wednesbury in Staffordshire (1910-18) and then for Wandsworth Central in London (1918-24). Thorpe had two elder sisters.
Thorpe started studying at the Wagner's day school in Queen's Gate in 1935. He learnt to play the violin well and performed during school concerts. His father’s political contacts, even after the latter’s tenure as MP, saw several leading politicians including former Prime Minister David Lloyd George visiting his home. Thorpe looked up to Lloyd George as his political role model. Lloyd George’s daughter, Megan, a close friend of Ursula, became Thorpe’s godmother
Thorpe joined Cothill House in January 1938. His family relocated from London to the Surrey village of Limpsfield few months before onset of the Second World War in September 1939. There Thorpe studied at the Hazelwood School. In June 1940, Thorpe and his siblings went to Boston and stayed with their American aunt, Kay Norton-Griffiths. There he attended Rectory School in Pomfret, Connecticut, and returned to England in 1943. He joined Eton in September that year. He lost his father in 1944. In March 1947, Thorpe left Eton after obtaining a place at Trinity College, Oxford. He started his 18-months National Service in September 1947, however while attempting an assault course he collapsed and was discharged on medical grounds within six weeks.
Thorpe was admitted to Trinity on October 8, 1948. He was reading Law there, however was more inclined towards political and social pursuits. He was elected to the committee of Oxford University Liberal Club (OULC) after his first term and became president of OULC in November 1949. He also contributed to the Liberal Party’s national election campaigns and in April 1950, after attaining 21 years of age, Thorpe applied to include his name in the party's list of possible parliamentary candidates. He became president of Oxford University Law Society; and served as president of Oxford Union for the Hilary term of 1951. He completed his law studies obtaining a third-class honours degree in the summer of 1952.
Thorpe remained steadfast in his support for the then small and rather ailing Liberal Party and gradually rose to prominence within the party. He co-founded Radical Reform Group in 1952 to campaign for social liberal and Keynesian economic approaches.
In February 1954, he was called to the bar in the Inner Temple. He commenced his career in law and in television journalism to sustain himself while continuing with his political endeavours. He joined Associated Rediffusion as chairman of the science discussion programme called The Scientist Replies. He later became presenter of This Week, the station's major weekly current affairs programme. His assignments for the latter led him to travel at different places which included covering Ghana’s independence celebrations in 1957 and reporting about assassination plot made against King Hussein from Jordan in 1958. He refused to become chief commentator of Associated Rediffusion in 1959 as it would have required him to give up his parliamentary candidature.
During the later 1950s, Thorpe worked relentlessly in building support for the Liberals in North Devon. He won the seat there during the October 8, 1959, held general election marking his first entry in the House of Commons. He was re-elected in 1964, 1966, 1970, and 1974. As an MP, he actively promoted issues pertaining to local matters and also expressed his anti-hanging, pro-Europe and pro-immigrant views. With time Thorpe, who emerged as an outstanding fund-raiser for the Liberal Party, bolstered his position within the party and became its treasurer in 1965.
In July 1965, Thorpe visited Zambia and Rhodesia following end of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. He thereafter advised then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, that if not warned with threat of armed intervention, the Rhodesian government would by the end of that year adopt a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) announcing that Rhodesia, a British territory in southern Africa, would consider itself as an independent sovereign state. The UDI happened on November 11 that year and on September the following year, while delivering a speech to the Liberal Assembly Thorpe censured Wilson, who rejected the use of troops in the matter. Thorpe asserted use of UN aircraft in bombing the rail link used by post-UDI Rhodesian government to garner its oil supplies
He succeeded Jo Grimond as Leader of the Liberal Party on January 18, 1967. He supported UK’s accession to the European Economic Community and thus helped in passing then British Prime Minister Edward Heath’s European Communities Bill in the House of Commons in February 1972 amidst opposition from Labour and by some Conservatives. The bill eventually became law.
During the February 28, 1974, held general election, the Liberals under Thorpe won 14 seats garnering 6 million votes, marking their highest national vote ever. The hung parliament with both Labour and the Conservatives falling short of an overall majority, led Heath to enter into negotiations with Thorpe on March 2 to form a coalition government. Heath offered Thorpe a cabinet post in return, however Thorpe’s demand for major electoral reforms was rejected by Heath who then resigned and Wilson became Prime Minister again. Wilson called a snap election in October that year and this time secured an overall majority. The election in which the Liberals won 13 seats, marked the climax of Thorpe's career, and gradual decline of fortunes of both Thorpe and his party, most notably from late 1975 after rumours started doing the rounds that Thorpe was involved in a plot to murder his ex-boyfriend Norman Scott.
Thorpe led a secret homosexual life throughout the 1950s. Its disclosure would have finished his political career right away as homosexual acts were not yet legalised in the UK during such time and were subject to heavy penalties. Although such activities of Thorpe drew attention of the authorities several times leading to police investigations, no action was taken against him. These included a party inquiry that was carried out in 1971 after riding instructor and would-be model Norman Scott made a complaint against him. According to Scott, he had a homosexual relationship with Thorpe during the early 1960s, and Thorpe mistreated him later. The allegations were dismissed following the inquiry.
Scott first met Thorpe in 1961 while working as a groom for the latter’s friend Brecht Van de Vater. In a turn of events, Scott became a homeless destitute and went to the House of Commons on November 8, 1961, to meet and seek help from Thorpe who promised to help. According to Scott, Thorpe seduced him on the same night. Their relationship was alleged to have started during this time. In the ensuing years, Thorpe tried to help Scott in finding work and accommodation, however Scott became more and more indignant towards Thorpe and threatened the latter to expose their affair.
Scott’s threat posed a constant danger not only for Thorpe but also for the Liberal Party that was by the mid-1970s regaining its popularity and status as a major third political party in Britain. The matter worsened after attempts were made to buy or frighten Scott to silence him.
Although Thorpe later admitted that he developed a friendship with Scott, he denied that he had any physical relationship with Scott. Rumours of misconduct against Thorpe went unreported for over a decade, thanks to his political and press connections. Their relationship was revealed and the political and sex scandal, better-known as the Thorpe affair, that literally ended Thorpe’s career, arose after Scott reported to the police that Thorpe had made a conspiracy to murder him. Accusations made by Scott against Thorpe became public after a possible murder attempt was made on Scott in October 1975 by a hired gunman Andrew Newton leading to death of Scott’s Great Dane Rinka. The scandal led Thorpe to lose his popular support and was eventually compelled to resign as Labour Party leader on May 10, 1976. Investigations were conducted by police following which Thorpe along with three others was charged with conspiracy to murder Scott.
Thorpe lost his parliamentary seat in North Devon to the Conservatives during the May 3, 1979, held general election while the Thorpe affair led to a fall in his party’s vote. The case came to trial on May 8 that year and lasted for six weeks. Thorpe chose not to testify or give evidence at the trial thus leaving many questions unanswered. Although Thorpe and the other three defendants were acquitted, the case and public outcry surrounding it damaged Thorpe’s public reputation. After making unsuccessful attempts in regaining his foothold in politics or restarting a career in television, Thorpe eventually retired into private life. Meanwhile, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1979 which gradually worsened with time leading Thorpe to considerably lessen his public activity. He was later made honorary president of the North Devon Liberal Democrat constituency party in 1988 and held the position till his death in 2014. He made his last public appearance during unveiling of his own bust in 2009 in the Grimond Room at the House of Commons.
Thorpe married Caroline Allpass on May 31, 1968. Their son Rupert was born in April 1969. Caroline died in a car crash on June 29, 1970.
He married concert pianist Marion Stein, former wife of George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood, on March 14, 1973. Thorpe had three stepchildren through Marion namely David Lascelles, James Lascelles and Jeremy Lascelles. Marion died on March 6, 2014, and Thorpe died from complications of Parkinson's disease after nine months on December 4. His funeral was held on December 17 that year at St Margaret's, Westminster.
Thorpe published an anecdotal memoir in 1999 titled In My Own Time.
The May 5, 2016, published true crime non-fiction novel A Very English Scandal authored by John Preston covered details of the Thorpe affair. A three-part television miniseries based on the novel and bearing same title was aired on BBC One from May 20 to June 3 in 2018, with Hugh Grant starring as Thorpe.
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