Unreported scandals

The power of personality and legal bluster

Authored by: Judith Townend

The routledge companion to media and scandal

Print publication date:  April  2019
Online publication date:  March  2019

Print ISBN: 9780815387596
eBook ISBN: 9781351173001
Adobe ISBN:


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In the summer of 2018, a twentieth-century scandal recaptured the British public’s imagination, prompted by a new television dramatisation of events that took place 40 years earlier. The BBC mini-series, and the book on which it was based, portrayed the political downfall of Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976, who was prosecuted and acquitted of the gravest charge ever brought against an active Member of Parliament: conspiracy to murder. The BBC also used the opportunity to air, for the first time, a Panorama documentary made in 1979 about the scandal. This investigation, updated with new material, questioned the protection of Thorpe by ‘powerful political forces’ before and after the trial. The ‘protection’ included not only members of government and police, but also the media: why were the mass media reticent to report allegations in the early stages of the scandal? Why did the BBC decide not to air its documentary contemporaneously? Why did ITV, which had prepared its own programme to broadcast post-trial, also refuse to air its account and lock away all its copies and source material (Crick 2018)?

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