The first episode of A Very English Scandal aired last night, starring Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw – but who was Jeremy Thorpe?

Last night (Sunday) the first in the three-part BBC drama A Very English Scandal about former North Devon MP Jeremy Thorpe was aired.

Mr Thorpe was hailed as a ‘colossal force’ in British politics by former North Devon MP Nick Harvey, and many had thought he was on-track to become prime minister.

But his political career was shattered when he stood trial in May 1979 for conspiracy to murder his former lover Norman Scott, only a few years after homosexuality was decriminalised.

The programme portrays this scandalous aspect of Mr Thorpe’s life, with Hugh Grant playing Thorpe and Ben Whishaw playing Scott.

The late MP Jeremy Thorpe. Picture: Johnny Green/PA WireThe late MP Jeremy Thorpe. Picture: Johnny Green/PA Wire

It was adapted from the ‘non fiction novel’ of the same name by John Preston, which was published in 2016.

Who was Jeremy Thorpe?

Mr Thorpe was the North Devon MP from 1959-1979 and leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 until 1976.

Born in 1929, Mr Thorpe was married twice, first to Caroline, who died in 1970 in a car crash, and then to Marion, who died in March 2014.

Former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe. Picture: PA/PA WireFormer Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe. Picture: PA/PA Wire

The year after Caroline’s death, Mr Thorpe set up the Caroline Thorpe Children’s Fund.

The Caroline Thorpe Ward was also named after her in North Devon District Hospital and Mr Thorpe also installed a memorial to her on Codden Hill.

Mr Thorpe, who has a son called Rupert, spent the last 30 years of his life battling Parkinson’s, and died aged 85 in December 2014, just nine months after Marion’s death.

Jeremy Thorpe’s political career

Hugh Grant will play Jeremy Thorpe in A Very English Scandal. Picture: BBC/Blueprint Television LtdHugh Grant will play Jeremy Thorpe in A Very English Scandal. Picture: BBC/Blueprint Television Ltd

During his time as North Devon MP, Mr Thorpe was hailed as being ‘much respected’ and achieving a lot for the region.

Mr Thorpe was responsible for some of North Devon’s modern landmarks – he campaigned for North Devon District Hospital, which opened in 1979, and for the North Devon Link Road.

He also embraced an electoral boundary change, which saw Mr Thorpe ‘adopt’ Bideford and the surrounding villages.

In October last year, his former assistant agent Peter Bray told the Gazette: “North Devon has not changed a tremendous amount over the years but it’s a lot better than it was when Jeremy was first elected and I am sure it gained a lot from him being the MP.”

File photo dated 21/09/72 of former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe. Picture: PA/PA WireFile photo dated 21/09/72 of former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe. Picture: PA/PA Wire

The Thorpe Affair

During his trial at the Old Bailey, the prosecution alleged Mr Thorpe had conspired to persuade his colleague Peter Bessell and friend David Holmes to kill Mr Scott.

In October 1975, it was alleged the men tracked down an airline pilot, Andrew Newton, who agreed to kill Mr Scott for £10,000.

But the hit went wrong when Mr Scott insisted on bringing along his dog; the hound jumped from the car at the predetermined spot, and Newton shot her instead.

Hugh Grant on the set of A Very English Scandal in Chittlehampton. Picture: Matt SmartHugh Grant on the set of A Very English Scandal in Chittlehampton. Picture: Matt Smart

Mr Scott managed to get away and while the gunman was sent to prison for a couple of years, Mr Thorpe was acquitted of his involvement.

Despite this, the scandal of the trial and his homosexual relations marked the end of his political career.

Filmed in North Devon

Scenes from A Very English Scandal were filmed in North Devon last year, which saw Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw visit the region.

File photo dated 21/05/79 of Norman Scott who has criticised the way he is portrayed in the BBC's new drama about his former lover, disgraced MP Jeremy Thorpe. Picture: PA/PA WireFile photo dated 21/05/79 of Norman Scott who has criticised the way he is portrayed in the BBC's new drama about his former lover, disgraced MP Jeremy Thorpe. Picture: PA/PA Wire

Chittlehampton – close to where Mr Thorpe lived with his first wife Caroline – was brought to a standstill in October when the cast and crew set up.

There was also some filming at Saunton Sands.

When is A Very English Scandal on next?

Set over three episodes, A Very English Scandal will next be aired on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday.