Cover image of "A Very English Scandal," a novel about a political scandal

Look around carefully. Find three despicable human beings. Start with a confused and weak-willed young man, a male model with no other marketable skills who is helpless in the face of authority. Then find a lay preacher whose oratorical skills have gotten him a seat in Parliament despite a continuing string of failed business ventures and a willingness to sleep with every attractive woman he meets. Finally, pick up a wealthy, self-indulgent aristocrat with the charisma and charm that have carried him into a prominent role in Parliament despite his reckless habit of picking up young men for sex. Be sure that all three men are incorrigible liars. Now mix all three together, and you’ve got A Very English Scandal.

A political scandal at the heart of the British Establishment

This book is nonfiction, improbable though the story may seem. It’s subtitled Sex, Lies, and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment. The plot in question was at the heart of what some London newspapers were calling “the Trial of the Century” in the late 1970s. One of the three men — the head of the Liberal Party — faced off in court accused of conspiracy to murder and related crimes by the other two.

A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies, and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston (2016) 361 pages ★★★☆☆

If you have a long memory and an interest in English politics, you’re sure to know the name Jeremy Thorpe. For more than a decade, Thorpe was one of the most prominent and popular politicians in Britain. He rose to the head of the Liberal Party and, for a time, fantasized about reaching 10 Downing Street. A Very English Scandal is the story of his downfall, which his own reprehensible behavior had long foretold.

Gay sex, a litany of lies, and judicial misconduct

John Preston’s account of the Jeremy Thorpe scandal is minutely detailed. The book reveals far more about the lives and crimes of the three men at the center of the story than any casual reader outside the UK would ever want to read. Along the way, the author reveals the horrific price gay men paid in Britain before homosexuality was decriminalized. He also brings to light a jaw-dropping story of judicial misconduct at the heart of the English Establishment. If you admire British Parliamentary government, A Very English Scandal may make you wonder why.

About the author

John Preston is the arts editor and television critic of the Sunday Telegraph. A Londoner, he has written several novels. A Very English Scandal is his first nonfiction book.

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