Jeremy Thorpe – a life in pictures

There are a host of fantastic photographs of Jeremy Thorpe in the archives. He had a real sense of showmanship to which photographers responded. Here are a few images which reflect his life. Scroll down to view them. Hover your mouse, cursor or finger over the image to see the caption. All these pictures come from the remarkable Getty Images library, which you can access here.

There are a few photographs which I would have liked to have included here but which licensing rights prevented me from doing. Those photos are:

1. Possibly the best photograph ever taken of a politician – Jeremy Thorpe tries out Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. An absolute gem of a photo!
2. For me, the most iconic photo of Jeremy Thorpe is this one where he vaults over a North Devon ditch.
3. This astonishing photo of Jeremy Thorpe as violinist circa 1965.
4. This photo of him with a “youthful liberal”.
5. This one of him laughing at a “livestock market”. It looks like South Molton market to me, but I would welcome any more authoritative views on the location.
6. This one which shows him echoing the pose of his own photograph.
7. This one of him while signing copies of his auto-biography.
8. Lastly, as a real bonus, this extraordinary photograph of Jeremy Thorpe dressed in full sou’-westers from the BBC. The occasion was the summer of 1974, when Jeremy toured the south-west’s tourist spots to campaign. At one point the weather turned nasty, hence the photo of the great man with the sou’ westers on. As a 15 year-old, I witnessed Jeremy Thorpe’s visit to Summerleaze beach, Bude that summer. I remember seeing him being interviewed there by Angela Rippon, who was a reporter with Westward Television, the ITV franchise for the South-West at the time. In 2007 I recalled the occasion on my blog:

I witnessed one of these events at Bude, Cornwall. It was absolutely bizarre. Jeremy Thorpe’s hovercraft arrived from the sea and landed on busy Summerleaze beach, on which hordes of tourists were sunbathing in their swimming trunks/bikinis. Thorpe then came out of the hovercraft and addressed the populace from the running board of his craft. He stood there in a three-piece suit and trilby hat, in the blazing sunshine. I remember that Angela Rippon, the broadcaster, was standing beside him with a film crew for Westward Television.

You couldn’t make it up.

Paul Tyler added a comment on my aforementioned blog post as follows:

I recall this hovercraft tour as well – for another reason. I saw the hovercraft wrecked on the south coast after it was caught by a rather nasty wave. There were suggestions at the time that it wasn’t helped by the heavyweight Cyril Smith MP being on board at one stage – I couldn’t possibly comment, but see here for a photo.

Memory lane indeed. To my enduring embarrassment I was reponsible for the original idea of a campaign tour around the traditional seaside resorts during the traditional off-season of August. We (correctly) anticipated an early autumn Election (familiar?). Thorpe planned the logistics (down to party colour gumboots) in characteristic detail, but failed to lead on the campaign message. When challenged by Pardoe he said “I leave that to you, John”. The hovercraft was a huge media and campaign succcess in Cornwall, but was hit by a rogue wave when (without me) it returned to Devon/England.

Tomorrow I will post a selection of YouTube videos of Jeremy Thorpe.

The featured image at the top of the Liberal Democrat Voice website, used to publicise this post, is by Walter Bird, and was taken on December 16th 1965 © National Portrait Gallery, London. Some rights reserved.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Obituaries.


  • My memories of Jeremy Thorpe are from the 1974 General Election.

    I was ten years old and just becoming aware of politics.

    My parents were Liberal voters who put one of the few orange posters in their window in a largely Tory voting village.

    However there was a lady who lived opposite the recreation ground, who had a giant poster up which was a photograph of Jeremy Thorpe making a speech!

  • Thanks for this excellent collection of photographs.

    Politics from a very different era.
    It also reminds me how we lived in black and white until I was twenty.

  • Is the wisest thing to do? I worked hard for the party in the 1974 elections, but he is now controversial.

  • Paul Walter has put together a good collection of photographs. They speak for themselves and they are an excellent representaion of the times. The idea that he would not have made them available because Thorpe is “now” controversial is just daft.

    As I have mentioned in a previous thread, Thorpe was never universally popular within the party but nobody is suggesting that he be nominated for saint of the century.

  • I liked him, and we’d do well to remember how many votes the party still got, even in the middle of a sensation seeking media storm. Undoubtedly the horror that engulfed him had the unintended effect of opening up modern Britain.

  • Tony Greaves 6th Dec '14 - 8:56pm

    Interesting how the party history of the early 1970s is being rewritten.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tsar Nicolas 6th Dec '14 - 10:07pm

    I disagree that he was on trial for being gay. He was on trial for an alleged murder plot. Prosecutions then as now will bring up whatever they think will sway the jury, and in this case it was the gay undercurrent. People should not be deceived into thinking that being prosecuted in 2014 is any more pleasant than it was in 1979. The stuff they will smear you with is different, that’s all.

    One thing I am puzzled at is this – if the security services helped bury police files on Cyril smith, why did this prosecution go ahead? Did Jeremy annoy people in high places? Was it revenge for not bailing out Ted Heath in 1974?

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Dec '14 - 10:22pm

    I remember him for his involvement in the anti-apartheid movement and I have always felt that he deserved great respect for that.

    For me, the outstanding photograph is the one where he gazes on his son with such love. One cannot fail to be moved by the expression on his face and the inner emotion that it betrays. It is a reminder that he was first and foremost a human being with a capacity to love intensely.

  • Ed Shepherd 7th Dec '14 - 8:04am

    “One thing I am puzzled at is this – if the security services helped bury police files on Cyril smith, why did this prosecution go ahead? Did Jeremy annoy people in high places? Was it revenge for not bailing out Ted Heath in 1974?”

    An intriguing point. I suppose the complaints about abuse by Cyril Smith were made by teenagers or children and it was easy for the authorities to ignore them or dismiss them as immature liars. In the Jeremy Thorpe case, the people involved were grown adults (some who had held positions of authority such as being an MP) and there were documents such as letters. It was much harder for anyone to ignore or downplay complaints or statements made by adults, some of whom had served in high places.

  • I am sorry, Paul Walter. I don’t understand your comment about Tony Greaves not being so keen on “due process”, perhaps partly because I don’t understand in what way Tony thinks early 1970s history is “being rewritten”. Is this a private conversation with a history between the two of you? Could the rest of us perhaps be told? Or am I just being thick? There has always been ambivalence about Thorpe, and particularly in the wider party since his partial re-emergence in the past 20 years. Paul, I am clear you come with North Devon associations, and having a Devon background myself, with several years working in Barnstaple, I am well aware of the aura he has still carried in North Devon.

    I do feel that quite a bit of the popular coverage of Thorpe’s death has omitted how he built on what Grimond (and others) put in place through the 60s – we did not suddenly arrive at 1974 GE 1 by magic because of Thorpe’s personal charisma – it may have helped, but it was just “another brick in the wall”.

  • David Rogers 7th Dec '14 - 9:20am

    I too remember the summer 1974 hovercraft tour; having moved to Brighton in May of that year, it was an early highlight of my time there. It was where I met Delia Venables, our Pavilion candidate in October 1974, with whom I was later to share many good years on East Sussex County Council. Three years later, I was first elected to ESCC for the Brighton St. Nicholas division – the start of 36 years as a county councillor.

  • Tsar Nicolas 7th Dec '14 - 9:30am

    Paul Walter

    “He was on trial for an alleged murder plot. ” I do realise that. I was echoing the point made by Dominic Carman:

    “When my father defended him in court, the great Liberal seemed to be on trial for his sexuality. Today it wouldn’t matter””

    I get that – I read also the article by George Carman’s son. My point is that Thorpe was actually on trial for having upset somebody in the upper reaches of the political establishment. The murder plot was the excuse, the gay smearing was an added extra, if you like, for the prosecution, and Carman played his hand well.

    If you think I am arguing an unreasonable conspiracy viewpoint, you should at least ask yourself why incriminating files on other figures (not just from the Liberal party) from the 1970s and the 1980s were lost, thrown in the bin or otherwise disappeared.

    Maybe now the major players have passed on, it’s time for some real historical research – a Phd perhaps – on what actually happened.

  • Roger Billins 7th Dec '14 - 12:15pm

    He was an outstanding man in many ways. I remember in 1976 as Chair of University College London Liberal and Radical Society intruducing him to over 200 students in a packed lecture theatre. He spoke on the rather dry subject of Scottish devolution and received a standing ovation. How many politicians of the era of identikit mould could do that ? On the way back to his car, he warned me that bad things would come. Two weeks later, I introduced Peter Hain to a similar audience. He told me privately that he was joining Labour. He later supported the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq. I know who I prefer.

  • nvelope2003 9th Dec '14 - 10:43am

    I remember Clement Davies and Jo Grimond , the latter almost single handedly changing the political climate, but Thorpe had much greater popular appeal and put the case for Liberalism in a way that inspired people to come out and vote. He often appeared on Any Questions, was always interesting and rarely failed to answer the question in a way that was very convincing. The subsequent scandal was immensely damaging for the party but things move on. Not many people would then have predicted it would get 62 MPs in a General Election (2005). I just hope it will not take that long to recover but of course there was a recovery in the 1980s just 5 years after the scandal.

  • nvelope2003 9th Dec '14 - 10:48am

    The main thing that has changed is that the sort of policies advocated by the Liberals from the 1960s until recently no longer have the same appeal to voters as they have become conventional . New ideas are needed which deal with current realities not the past.

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