BOOK OF THE WEEK
THE PEER AND THE GANGSTER
by Daniel Smith (History Press £ 20, 256 pages per minute)
When a Sunday newspaper, announced by Scotland Yard, printed a story in 1964 about the illegal relationship between a member of the House of Lords and a gangster in the East End, Sir Robert Boothby immediately sued, although names were not mentioned. He argued that he was "the prominent peer".
Arnold Goodman, the lawyer who committed, threatened and insisted on retreating, and Boothby received an out-of-court settlement of £ 40,000 (£ 800,000 in today's money).
When the Home Secretary and Chief Whip Boothby faced, he said about Ronnie Kray, who had actually visited his apartment on Eaton Square: “I didn't know anything about his background then and now. He seemed like a nice guy. "
Daniel Smith examines the conspiracy of silence around Sir Robert Boothby (pictured) in a fascinating new volume
Boothby also categorically assured his superiors that he was not an active homosexual (homosexuality was a crime at the time) and had never attended cheeky parties.
Boothby, says Daniel Smith, "had cast a web of lies."
For several years he had attended boxing matches and underground nightclubs for the Kray twins and was "exactly the gentleman who appealed to Ronnie Kray's sensitivity". What the men had in particular was "their shared love of sex with young men".
In 1959, Boothby met 17-year-old Robert Bevan in one of the Krays clubs, whom he dined in an expensive restaurant and then led to a "late performance of Gigi" before returning to his apartment on Eaton Square for the night.
Boothby accused the boy of stealing his watch. The case came before Magistrates Court. "Who was Bevan who raised doubts about portraying a colleague of the empire?" Daniel Smith asks rhetorically, capturing the time's deferential assumptions.
Another 17-year-old, James Buckley, was sent to Borstal for stealing Boothby's check book – although it was still locked in Boothby's desk later. Then there was Leslie Holt (pictured above with Boothby and Ronnie Kray), a young croupier who was supposed to die under anesthesia “during an operation to remove a verruca”. Boothby had bought him an E Jaguar and brought him to the opera.
So Boothby was a regular user of young male prostitutes who often manipulated the law to prevent squeaking, and also participated in orgies at the Krays House in Hackney.
All of this was monitored by MI5, who knew that Boothby was a liability.
Daniel asks if the government was silent about Sir Robert Boothby because they couldn't afford an embarrassing scandal. Pictured L-R: Lord Boothby, Ronnie Kray and Leslie Holt
The Krays had also been monitored, and despite a frightening increase in "lawlessness, extortion, extortion, and intimidation," police records were lost, witnesses disappeared, and they escaped unscathed.
The big question is: why was there such a conspiracy of silence between parliament, political parties, the press and security services?
Smith's theory is that just a few months after the Profumo affair (and Boothby even sat for a portrait of Stephen Ward), the government simply couldn't afford another embarrassing scandal.
For his part, Boothby knew that "his life could not be examined too closely" and that his existence was "a precarious house of cards". So the strategy of Goodman, the "puppet master", was not to defend and reject or speak to the story, but preventively to end it and slow down the discussion. For its part, the government pursued a policy of “passivity and denial”.
And why didn't the opposition stink? Harold Wilson actually worked with the cover-up because he didn't want his own relationship with Marcia Williams, who ran his office and who, according to Smith, was his "long-time lover" to be scrutinized. There were also issues with Labor MP Tom Driberg, who liked anonymous sex "in doors, public toilets, and phone boxes" and who was also protected by the authorities, including MI5.
Sir Robert Boothby, who was knighted in 1953, seduced the wife of his contemporary Harold Macmillan, Dorothy Cavendish, and took part in orgies in the Krays' house. Pictured: Boothby and Ronnie Kray
"Boothby and Driberg had gotten used to using their social contacts to smooth things out when their private lives threatened to cause problems."
Obviously, being a VIP or Grandee has brought them out of tight corners. The idea was that they had to be "saved from public shame" for the benefit of the party or the ruling class.
Boothby was even looked after by the police when he was blindly drunk in a gutter. "There was an unwritten rule: Boothby shouldn't be caught and arrested if he is found." Although the impression he liked to make was that of an "endearing older statesman of British politics", Boothby was indeed a "decadent, playful adulterer". which his cousin Ludovic Kennedy described as "at the highest level".
Boothby, born in 1900, knighted in 1953, life peer in 1958, liked chic restaurants and good wine. "His expensive taste spread to a passion for gambling," and he was often in debt. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, did not work, and was called "Palladium Boothby" because he liked a sexual performance twice a night.
At 24, he was a conservative MP for Aberdeen. His parliamentary contemporary was Harold Macmillan, whose wife Dorothy Cavendish, Boothby, was immediately seduced. "Dorothy had thighs like ham," he said gallantly. He also said she "reminded him of a caddy he had once desecrated on a golf course".
THE PEER AND THE GANGSTER by Daniel Smith (History Press £ 20, 256 pages)
They "did very little to disguise the nature of their relationship," and the press never breathed a word.
Boothby did his own part to silence the press and said to Beaverbrook, the newspaper baron, "Don't let your boys chase me. Because I won't let go of public life."
The lesson Boothby learned early was that when you are brazen, you can behave as you like. Despite all his sound and anger, he never achieved high office.
He was dismissed as junior minister because he had done cloudy business with Czechoslovak refugees looking for their assets frozen during the war: there was an "informal understanding" that Boothby would receive a percentage.
There is a sensational object or claim on every page in this book. When the Krays were in prison, they ran a bodyguard store outside; One of her customers was Frank Sinatra.
Boothby was the real father of Macmillan's daughter Sarah, who committed suicide in 1970. Her life was plagued by alcoholism. Boothby's lover in Oxford was Michael Llewelyn Davies, the inspiration for Peter Pan from JM Barrie.
Boothby died of a heart attack in 1986. Until then, he had been married to a “glamorous” Sardinian woman for almost a decade, 34 years his junior. "Don't you think I'm a happy boy?" He had noticed on his wedding day.
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