In Review

Book of the week: An Accidental Icon by Norman Scott

Scott’s memoirs tell the story of his disturbed upbringing and traumatic adult life

“Ten years ago it was the Profumo case,” said Quentin Letts in The Times. “Today’s hot retro scandal is the Jeremy Thorpe trial.” The story of how the prominent Liberal MP stood trial for conspiring to murder his former lover, Norman Scott, has inspired both Michael Bloch’s “authoritative biography” of Thorpe, and more recently John Preston’s A Very English Scandal, which became a TV drama.

Now it’s the turn of Scott himself, the stablehand and male model whom the then leader of the Liberal party allegedly tried to have killed in 1975. In these memoirs, Scott, now 82, tells the story of his disturbed, dysfunctional upbringing and his traumatic adult life. While many of the book’s details strain credibility, the story has a “mesmeric impetus as Scott’s life staggers from one mishap to the next”.

For much of his life, Scott was a “punchbag”, said Richard Davenport-Hines in Literary Review, and his memoir is “a brisk reminder of the callousness” of late-20th century English life. Born in 1940, he was, he says, sexually abused by his mother and never knew his father. He was accused – unfairly, he asserts – of stealing, and sent to a remand centre aged 14.

Discovering a love for horses, Scott started working in stables. He was working at one in the Cotswolds in 1961 when a “lean dapper figure in a homburg hat” turned up, said Craig Brown in The Mail on Sunday. This was the “rising Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe”, an “inveterate predator” who invited him to get in touch if he ever needed help. Later that year, Scott was sacked and, after a spell in a psychiatric hospital, turned up at the House of Commons. Thorpe greeted him warmly, whisked him off to his mother’s house in Surrey and forced him to have sex.

This set the pattern of their affair, which was always about “quick sex” for Thorpe, said Lynn Barber in The Daily Telegraph. The relationship soon soured and Scott’s life “became increasingly rackety”. He moved to Thorpe’s constituency in north Devon and told “anyone who would listen” about their affair.

This led to the infamous “bungled murder attempt on Exmoor”, when Andrew Newton, the would-be assassin, succeeded only in shooting Scott’s dog, said Roger Lewis in The Spectator. Thorpe was acquitted at his subsequent trial, one of the great “miscarriages of justice of modern times”. It’s fitting, then, that Scott should have the last word in this very strange book, notable for its “commingling of horror and farce” and for the remarkable number of mishaps it describes. A tragic figure he may be, but Scott “deserves a medal for resilience”.

Hodder & Stoughton 328pp £22; The Week Bookshop £17.99

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