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Why hit BBC show A Very English Scandal is flawed and unfair - former MP

By Toby Neal | Welshpool | Politics | Published:

With murder, sex and politics it's been the BBC's hit of the summer. But today A Very English Scandal was attacked as a huge misrepresentation.

Hugh Grant has won plaudits as Jeremy Thorpe, but friends of former MP Emlyn Hooson are unhappy at how he is portrayed

In the latest episode of the current television sensation A Very English Scandal, which has received rave reviews from critics, the portrayal of Montgomeryshire MP Emlyn Hooson isn't exactly flattering.

He is depicted as a weasely Welshman – conniving, devious, and insincere.

And when he gets wind of a claim by former male model Norman Scott that he had a gay relationship with party leader Jeremy Thorpe, which in the atmosphere of the times would have killed Thorpe's political career, Hooson is quick to seize on it to further his own leadership ambitions, and triggers a party inquiry – albeit one which Thorpe survives.

Actor Jason Watkins, who portrays Liberal MP Emlyn Hooson

However, for those who really knew Lord Hooson, the series gives a deeply unfair and inaccurate portrayal of a distinguished and long serving MP, barrister, and judge.

Lord Hooson, who died aged 86 in 2012, was Liberal MP for Montgomeryshire between 1962 and 1979, and leader of the Welsh party. His widow Lady Hooson died only last month, aged 91.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, a QC who as Alex Carlile was Montgomeryshire's Liberal Democrat MP from 1983 to 1997, is scathing.

"I have watched it because I know about what happened and therefore I feel I must watch it. I think it's one of the poorest television historical dramas of the 20th century I have seen. I think it's a very poor script," he said.

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Praise for Hugh Grant

"The one thing that deserves rave reviews is Hugh Grant's portrayal of Jeremy Thorpe.

"He has the likeness and mannerisms as I remember Jeremy Thorpe, but otherwise the script lets down some very good actors, not least Jason Watkins.

"I know Jason Watkins, who plays Emlyn Hooson, slightly. He is an exceptional actor.

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Former Montgomeryshire MP Lord Alex Carlile, who was a good friend of Emlyn Hooson

"I happen to know, as I did have some contact, that he was determined to play the real Emlyn Hooson.

"He has the right appearance, he looks pretty like Emlyn Hooson in general ways, but the personality that has been written for him is not Emlyn Hooson.

"I knew Emlyn Hooson extremely well, both as a politician and as a lawyer.

'Warm and generous'

"I appeared in many cases as his junior counsel in my early years at the Bar and after I regained the Montgomeryshire Parliamentary seat for the Liberal Party was very close to him in political life.

"Emlyn was a warm, generous and disarmingly straightforward person. He and I spoke in detail of his relationship to Jeremy Thorpe and the Norman Scott affair.

Emlyn Hooson being carried shoulder high by supporters in Welshpool after being re-elected as Liberal MP in October 1974

"Jason Watkins is an extremely good actor but I thought that the portrayal that he was forced to give by the script was rather unfair to Emlyn.

"He was portrayed as devious and conniving whereas in reality he was extremely frank and never underhand.

"His relationship with Thorpe was not good and I thought that, if anything, the exchanges between Thorpe and Hooson on the programme were much too generous to Thorpe.

"However, this is merely a television drama and we shouldn't take its contents too seriously."

'Significant inaccuracies'

Of the general depiction of those events, he said: "It was all entirely familiar to me. Although I will not go into detail, I saw all Lord Hooson's private papers about the case, which were kept.

"I know that the portrayal of the events shown on television is inaccurate in many significant ways.

WATCH the trailer for A Very English Scandal:

A Very English Scandal: EXCLUSIVE TRAILER (UK) | Hugh Grant | Ben Whishaw - BBC

"What you have to remember, which was not portrayed on the TV, is that Emlyn was a very distinguished QC.

"He was also a senior part time judge and he had certain ethical duties which when the allegations were reported to him meant that he could not cover anything up, and nor would he have done.

"It's my judgment that Jeremy Thorpe resented the straightforward and honourable way in which Emlyn dealt with those serious allegations."

Praise from critics

A Very English Scandal is written by Dr Who writer Russell T Davies and directed by Stephen Frears. It has been widely praised by critics and tipped for future Bafta success.

But, while the series is said to be based on real events, there has been criticism about the dramatic licence shown in some areas.

Jeremy Thorpe’s lover this week accused the BBC of blaming him for the death of the Liberal politician’s wife in the show's second episode.

The drama suggested that Caroline Thorpe became emotionally troubled after learning in a telephone call from Norman Scott that he had been her husband’s lover. Mrs Thorpe died when her car crashed into oncoming traffic in 1970.

Mr Scott, now 78, insisted that the call was never made and that Mrs Thorpe knew of the gay fling before she married. He said the BBC drama was a "terrible slur".

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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