Agnes Chapman-Wills gives us a preview of Adam Macqueen’s upcoming book, ‘Between the Streets’.
Today, we find ourselves following a range of political scandals in the press. From Rory Stewart’s opium use and Theresa May’s scandalous wheat field frolicking, to Diane Abbot’s tinny on the tube and Boris Johnson’s Brexit baby, political scandals are certainly nothing new. However, in the world of British politics, there are few stories as shocking and unbelievable as the Thorpe affair.
Jeremy Thorpe was the MP for North Devon between 1959 and 1979, and was the leader of the Liberal Party between 1967 and 1976. He was a major public figure in the 70s and his personal life gradually became of great interest to the media when allegations arose regarding his life behind closed doors. Norman Josiffe – better known as Norman Scott – stated that he and Thorpe had had a homosexual relationship in the early ‘60s. As Norman’s threats to publicise the story grew, so too did Thorpe’s anxiety in regards to his career and the image of the Liberal Party. No amount of hush money or threats seemed to work. Eventually, the attempt to keep his homosexual relationship a secret spiralled out of control when Thorpe hired an assassin (with a down payment of £10,000) to kill Norman in 1975. However, the assassin failed to kill Norman and, instead, shot his dog – a Great Dane called Rinka. Naturally, the media went mad. Thorpe was forced to resign as leader of the Liberal Party and he was charged with the conspiracy to murder Norman Scott. As a result, he lost his seat in the 1979 election. Despite never actually being convicted for the attempted murder of his ex-lover, Thorpe’s reputation was ruined. He never spoke out about the allegations and he faded out of the public eye despite the success he had achieved within the Liberal Party.
“Through the eyes of former rent boy Tommy Wildeblood, Macqueen tells the story of suspicious deaths, political cover-ups and homosexual shame and blackmail.”
Adam Macqueen writes about the infamous Thorpe Affair in his new novel Between The Streets, set to be released on 13 April. Macqueen is the official historian for Private Eye – the publication that initially broke the story in the ‘70s – and his novel, using original archival resources, re-imagines the narrative asking: ‘what would have happened if Thorpe’s hired assassin really had succeeded in killing Norman Scott’. Through the eyes of former rent boy Tommy Wildeblood, Macqueen tells the story of suspicious deaths, political cover-ups and homosexual shame and blackmail. Featuring important political figures like PM Harold Wilson and Labour MP Maureen Colquhoun, the novel takes this outrageous affair to the next level with Macqueen stating that ‘more than once as I was writing […] I heard that nagging voice at the back of my mind asking ‘is this a bit too far-fetched?’, only to recall that the plot point in question was something that actually happened’.
Between The Streets highlights the dangers of political ambition and the way in which a lust for power, and the fear of a bad reputation, can have devastating effects. Macqueen describes Thorpe writing: ‘He was hardly the most physically imposing of men, but […] there were all sorts of different ways of wielding power. He was leader of his party, for a start. And even if the party was small, […] it held the key to keeping the country running. You didn’t get much bigger than that’.
“Between The Streets highlights the dangers of political ambition and the way in which a lust for power, and the fear of a bad reputation, can have devastating effects.”
The novel also puts great emphasis on Thorpe’s connections to Devon, with the murder of Norman Scott taking place on Exmoor. Tommy travels to the South West in the hope of finding out more information about this suspicious death and runs into some interesting characters along the way, notably Mrs Friendship. Based on a real woman who ran the inn that Norman Scott stayed in, she (along with Rinka the dog who thankfully survives in Macqueen’s version of the story) is a warm figure who plays the role of rural God mother and helps Tommy in his investigation.
It is interesting to consider where this novel sits in today’s society and why the story is still important. Macqueen writes that ‘far from fading with time, the conspiracy theories about what was really going on beneath the surface of the 1970s and ‘80s have metastasised in recent years’ and ‘since few of those involved could actually agree on what those facts were, […] I decided to sit down and create my own version’. Between The Streets leaves its readers questioning those in the public eye and makes us consider the fact that, even in our social media age of constant surveillance and no secrets, there is always more going on than meets the eye. The truth in this novel is the most harrowing aspect of it; Macqueen certainly ‘reminds us that the truth can be just as chilling as fiction’.
Beneath the Streets is published by Lightning Books on 13 April. It is available to pre-order at 30% off with discount code RINKA (free UK p&p) from http://eye-books.com/books/beneath-the-streets