The Unbelievable True Story Behind A Very English Scandal

BBC
BBC

A Very English Scandal announces what it’s about right in the title. The three-episode BBC drama, which premieres on Amazon on June 29, is indeed English to its core. But what's in it for American viewers? They probably don’t know the true story that inspired the show, but they’d do well to find out.

Set in part during the late 1960s, just after homosexuality had been decriminalized in the UK but long before it would become widely accepted, the show dramatizes the real-life story of politician Jeremy Thorpe, who, in 1979, became the first member of parliament (MP) to stand trial on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder. The target was Norman Scott, Thorpe's supposed former male lover. A Very English Scandal was written by Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who) and directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), with Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw playing Thorpe and Scott, respectively.

It’s hard to resist the delicious scenery chewing of both Grant and Whishaw in the trailer (“I was rude, I was vile, I was queer, I was myself,” Whishaw’s Scott says with panache), but the facts are even more outrageous. Though Thorpe was eventually acquitted, the events depicted in A Very English Scandal ended his political career.

RISE TO POWER

As the MP for North Devon from 1959 to 1979, Thorpe helped the Liberal party gain standing during his tenure and accumulated considerable power. In 1967, at the age of 37, he became the youngest leader of any British political party in a century—but the events that would lead to Thorpe's downfall began several years before he was elected to this position.

The controversy surrounding Thorpe resulted from Scott’s assertions that the two had an intimate relationship between 1961 and 1964. According to Scott, their affair began shortly after the stable boy-turned-aspiring model, who had a history of severe depression, was released from a psychiatric hospital following a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt. Though rumors swirled about the politician's sexual liaisons, Thorpe was able to use his influence to keep the affair mostly under wraps for more than a decade. But the game unraveled once Thorpe and his associates began to see the unpredictable Scott—whom the political leader is said to have nicknamed "Bunnies"—as a threat.

Ex leader of the Liberal party and ex MP, Jeremy Thorpe arriving at the Old Bailey where he is being tried on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder. In the background are gay rights supporters who object to the way homosexuality has been treated
Jeremy Thorpe arrives at the Old Bailey, where he was being tried on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder, while gay rights supporters protest in the background.
Aubrey Hart, Getty Images

While Thorpe always denied the claims, according to a biography by author Michael Bloch, published in 2014, the politician was bisexual and relished illicit sex for both “the immediate excitement, and the later thrill of being able to extricate himself from any potential scandal.” The book also describes Thorpe as an opportunist who saw himself as above the normal rules.

"THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH"

Attempts to silence Scott with money were apparently rebuffed, and the full story came to light in 1975, when Andrew Newton—an airplane pilot who had reportedly been hired to kill Scott—shot Scott’s Great Dane, Rinka, in what was assumed to be a hit-gone-wrong. The story was front page news, and though Thorpe denied that any intimate relationship existed, he was forced to step down as party leader. He eventually faced trial at the Old Bailey court in London, with the prosecution arguing that he had hired Newton to shoot his ex-lover. The story dominated tabloids and became known as “the greatest show on Earth.”

Thorpe lost his Parliamentary seat on May 3, 1979. Just five days later, his trial began; on June 22, 1979, Thorpe was acquitted of all charges. Marion Stein, Thorpe’s second wife—who, as played by Monica Dolan, is seen in A Very English Scandal confronting her husband with the affair and his desires for men—nursed him through his battle with Parkinson's disease until her own death in March 2014. She stood by him even as the foundation of their marriage and his career were rocked. Thorpe died less than a year later, on December 4, 2014 at the age of 85.

Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw star in 'A Very English Scandal' (2018)
Amazon

But the craziest twist of all is that British authorities may not have still entirely figured out the facts of the case. In 2014, a BBC investigative documentary team spoke with firearms collector Dennis Meighan, who admitted that he had been offered money to kill Scott by a man who "represented a Mr. Big in the Liberal Party." Though Meighan did provide the gun that eventually killed Scott's beloved Great Dane, he passed the job onto Newton, who was an old school friend. Newton ended up spending two years in jail for shooting Scott's dog, but Meighan—who confessed his part in the crime to the police—was never called to testify. Instead, police handed him a prepared statement to sign.

"I read the statement, which did me no end of favors, but it did Jeremy Thorpe no end of favors as well, because it left him completely out of it," Meighan said. "So I thought, 'Well, I've got to sign this.' It just virtually left everything out that was incriminating, but at the same time everything I said about the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, etc., was left out as well."

JUSTICE INTERRUPTED

Scott, who is still alive, maintains his story that the gunman tried to take him down after his dog, but the gun jammed. Parts of the new series, he told the Mirror, still make him cry. “I was so upset by the shooting of Rinka that I tried to give her the kiss of life,” he said. “I was covered in her blood.”

Norman Scott makes his way to court at the Old Bailey in London, during the trial of former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, 21st May 1979. Scott has accused Thorpe and three other men of conspiracy to murder him
Norman Scott makes his way to court at the Old Bailey in London, during the trial of Jeremy Thorpe on May 21, 1979.
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While Meighan's admission shed new light on the crime, and possible conspiracy, no further action was taken as police believed that Newton was dead. But earlier this month, a police inquiry found that Newton, who now goes by the name Hann Redwin, is still very much alive. However, authorities ultimately decided not to reopen the investigation, stating that Newton, a.k.a. Redwin, had no additional information to offer. According to a police statement:

“Having confirmed his status and whereabouts, officers from Gwent Police spoke to Mr. Redwin who is unable to provide any additional evidence to that which has already been obtained in the original inquiry.

“As Mr. Redwin’s evidence has already been considered by the CPS prior to this matter being closed, Gwent Police is satisfied that there is no basis to re-refer the matter to the CPS and the investigation remains closed.”

Though many questions still remain, given how much time has passed and that many of the key players are no longer with us, it seems that the new miniseries is the closest we may get to closure.

A Very English Scandal premieres on Amazon on June 29, 2018.

9 Surprising Facts About James McAvoy

Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Whether you know James McAvoy from the X-Men movies or have been a fan since his early gigs on British television, there's no denying that 2019 has already been a very good year for the Scottish actor. In addition to his starring role in M. Night Shyamalan's Glass, McAvoy is set to star in June's Dark Phoenix, will be taking on the role of an adult Bill Denbrough in It: Chapter 2 in October, and will appear in the upcoming TV version of His Dark Materials later this year. And to top it all off, he’s turning 40 on April 21.

In celebration of McAvoy's big day—and even bigger year—here are some things you might not know about the Golden Globe-nominated actor.

1. He was raised by his grandparents.

James McAvoy was born in Glasgow, Scotland, to a psychiatric nurse and a builder. However, his parents split when he was seven, and because his mother was in poor health, McAvoy and his sister went to live with their maternal grandparents. While his mother lived with them on and off throughout his childhood, McAvoy hasn’t spoken to his father since he was a kid.

2. He considered becoming a priest.

McAvoy was brought up in the Roman Catholic church, but that wasn’t the reason he considered becoming a priest. Long before he decided to go the drama school route, he considered entering the priesthood because he thought it would give him an excuse to travel the world.

"I wanted to be a missionary, but it was only because I wanted a free ticket to go and explore the world," McAvoy told The Telegraph in 2006. "I realized I was using God and religion to get my kicks so I knocked that on the head."

3. He married his on-screen love interest.

Anne-Marie Duff and James McAvoy attends the Suffragette Premiere during the Opening Night Gala during the BFI London Film Festival at Leicester Square on October 7, 2015 in London, England
John Phillips, Getty Images for BFI

While working on the UK version of Shameless in the early 2000s, McAvoy met his on-screen love interest and future wife, Anne-Marie Duff. The pair started a relationship that they kept very private, and married in 2006. They went on to also star in 2009’s The Last Station together, but McAvoy later announced he would no longer be working with his then-wife.

"You have to weigh it up against how much of a headache it would be. It exposes you to a lot of questions," he told USA Today in 2011. "I'm very big in saying that I don't agree that if you put yourself in the spotlight, you have to accept it. I do think that if you work together as husband and wife, you're kind of asking for it." Ultimately, the couple split in 2016.

4. Acting was never his plan.

In addition to the priesthood, McAvoy considered a few others careers before he settled on acting. In fact, acting kind of happened by accident. While speaking to The Guardian in 2006, McAvoy explained that it wasn’t until director David Hayman came to his school to speak about the entertainment business that he knew he wanted to give it a go. He was so sure, in fact, that he reportedly approached Hayman after the talk and asked him for some work. (McAvoy's first credited role was in 1995's The Near Room, which Hayman directed.)

“I always believed that I never wanted to be an actor; I only did it because I was allowed to do it and I had to do something,” McAvoy explained. “I felt as if my career just happened to me. I hadn't actually engaged in it. I suppose I felt totally disempowered, just by this fate thing.”

5. Band of Brothers was his big break.

McAvoy’s big break came in HBO’s 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The actor played character James W. Miller in just one episode, but that’s all it took for his phone to start ringing; shortly thereafter, McAvoy scored notable roles on BBC’s Shameless (2004), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), and The Last King of Scotland (2006). He wasn't the only up-and-comer who made a name for himself with Band of Brothers: Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, and Dominic Cooper were among his co-stars.

6. He’s a Golden Globe nominee.

In 2007, McAvoy played Keira Knightley's love interest in Joe Wright’s period drama Atonement, based on the Ian McEwan novel. The role was one of the actor’s most moving performances to date, and scored him a Golden Globe nomination. Although he has wowed audiences in numerous parts since, such as the man with 23 different personalities in 2016’s Split (and 2019’s Glass), his role in Atonement has earned him the most critical acclaim. McAvoy, too, is a fan.

"[T]o find a film that was so epic, sweeping and romantic, yet be intelligent, was nice to me," McAvoy said. "Also the fact that it’s a very classic story, but it’s told in a very contemporary and modern way."

7. He was slightly tipsy the first time he met M. Night Shyamalan.

M. Night Shyamalan and James McAvoy attend the “Glass” Paris Gala Screening at la Cinematheque Francaise on January 07, 2019 in Paris, France
Kristy Sparow, Getty Images for Disney Studios

Speaking of Split and Glass: McAvoy was definitely in the right place at the right time—and in the right frame of mind—when he first met director M. Night Shyamalan. In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, McAvoy shared how he and Shyamalan just happened to cross paths at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015. "There was a big party, you couldn’t turn around without bumping into somebody off the telly," he said. "My mate Jesse was playing miniature golf in the middle of it. We were getting particularly drunk, and then I saw M. Night Shyamalan. He goes: ‘You’re James McAvoy!’ And I said: ‘You’re M Night Shyamalan! What do I call you?’ I was very drunk.”

Inebriated or not, Shyamalan saw something he liked. One month later, he was on the set of Split (in a role that Joaquin Phoenix was originally set to play, but dropped out of at the last minute).

8. He admires Samuel L. Jackson's no-nonsense attitude.

While promoting Glass, McAvoy participated in a lot of press events with Samuel L. Jackson, and was impressed by what he saw. "I saw examples of what I might be able to do when I got the balls he’s got,” McAvoy said. "That guy does not suffer fools, which is a positive quality. If he gets any kind of question that is in any way not thought out properly, he just drops the F-bomb and is like, ‘What are you talking about? What? What?’ He calls out [the journalist] so hard, and it’s the funniest thing."

9. He credits his success to a lot of luck.

When asked about the secret to his success, McAvoy doesn't mince words: "I got lucky," he told The Talks. "I got so f***ing lucky that I fell into the lap of a director when I was 16 and he gave me a part in a film and my horizons immediately exploded wide with all the weird people in it and all these crazy f***ing actors and directors and artistic people who were from all over the world. Through that one job I met people from England, I met people from America, and I met people from all over the place with challenging points of view and sympathetic points of view to mine. And then I went to a youth theater for six months as well, and that expanded my mind massively. It gave me so much more confidence to find out who I was and not be afraid of who I was simply because I’m in a scenario that I don’t understand ... I got really lucky. I got really, really lucky. It’s been a good ride for me."

Game of Thrones Star Sophie Turner Opened Up About Her Struggles With Depression

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

Playing one of the main characters on the most popular show currently on television isn't always as glamorous as it seems. Sometimes, the pressures of fame can be too much. Sophie Turner realized this while playing Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, and has recently revealed how being in the public eye took a toll on her mental health.

Turner took on the role of Sansa Stark in 2011, when she was just a teenager, and she quickly became a household name. Now, at 23, she's come forward to Dr. Phil on his podcast Phil in the Blanks to explain how negative comments on social media affected her self-image and mental health.

"I would just believe it. I would say, ‘Yeah, I am spotty. I am fat. I am a bad actress.' I would just believe it," Turned explained. "I would get [the costume department] to tighten my corset a lot. I just got very, very self-conscious."

Later on, these feelings led to major depression. Turner developed a sense of isolation after she realized that all of her friends and family were going off to colleege while she was pursuing a sometimes-lonely acting career.

"I had no motivation to do anything or go out. Even with my best friends, I wouldn't want to see them, I wouldn't want to go out and eat with them," Turner explained. "I just would cry and cry and cry over just getting changed and putting on clothes and be like, 'I can't do this. I can't go outside. I have nothing that I want to do.'"

The feelings of depression stayed with Turner for most of the time she was filming Game of Thrones, and it's a battle she's still fighting. "I've suffered with my depression for five or six years now. The biggest challenge for me is getting out of bed and getting out of the house. Learning to love yourself is the biggest challenge," she continued.

The actress shared that she goes to a therapist and takes medication for her depression—two things that have helped her feel better.

Between Game of Thrones ending and planning her wedding to fiancé Joe Jonas, Turner may not have the time to take on many new acting roles in the near future. However, we'll continue to see her as Sansa Stark in the final season of Game of Thrones, and as Jean Grey in Dark Phoenix, which hits theaters on June 7.

[h/t: E! News]

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