A splendid farce… and a few folk highlights…

I AM reading the BBC website’s review of the morning papers on my phone when the same item pops up on the Today programme. Word for word, the script is the same: what I am reading is being read out on the radio, too.

This isn’t, when you think of it, surprising. But it still feels like a discovery.

One of the stories read out on the radio from the script on my phone concerns the police search, 40 years after the event, for Jeremy Thorpe’s hitman. Andrew Newton was assumed to have died, until the Mail on Sunday tracked him down yesterday. Today’s Daily Mail has a photo of two police officers standing at the door of his Surrey home, looking up, and with the headline “A VERY ENGLISH FARCE!”

I hadn’t realised before the extent to which the police base their investigations on what’s been on the telly the night before. But there they were, setting off in search of Newton after the last episode of A Very English Scandal, the top-notch drama by Russell T Davies – only to find that he’d disappeared.

Rumours that officers have been sent out to investigate an ancient case of blinding after the chief constable’s wife suggested he watch King Lear can be discounted. Or at least I hope so, but you never know.

A Very English Scandal has been the drama delight of the year: stylish, funny and supremely confident, it didn’t waste a single minute or a single frame.

The great revelation was Hugh Grant’s unerringly convincing turn as Liberal leader Thorpe. Banished by this performance are all those stuttering upper-class Englishmen he used to play. Here, Grant unleashed something much darker, while also managing to look uncannily like Thorpe.

In last night’s closing episode, which recreated what was often referred to as the Trial of the Century, Thorpe was shown being acquitted of hiring a hitman to silence Norman Scott, his spurned homosexual lover.

Grant caught brilliantly Thorpe’s mixture of arrogance at being acquitted of something he’d done and his creeping realisation that he was doomed anyway, however much he insisted on that dubious innocence. The cheery waves, popping champagne corks and steadfast wife couldn’t hide this haunting knowledge.

Great stuff all round, with Ben Whishaw equally brilliant as Scott.

As an interesting coda to the drama and the whole affair, BBC4 ran an updated documentary from 1979 by Panorama reporter Tom Mangold.

The programme was made on the assumption that Thorpe would be found guilty. When he wasn’t, the BBC bosses ordered all copies to be destroyed, but Mangold kept one back – and that’s why his fascinating story could be told 40 years too late.

I popped out yesterday afternoon to spend an hour or so watching an act or two at the Black Swan Folk Weekend – a great three-day event in York. Three hours or so later, I wobbled back on my bike, having stayed longer than expected, and having drunk a little more beer than intended.

I could easily have stayed until the end, but that wouldn’t have left me in good shape for today.

Here’s who I caught: David Ward Maclean, Soundsphere, Bella Gaffney & Polly Bolton (pictured), and Union Jill.

All were wonderful, but two were new to me. I’d seen Soundsphere once before, Union Jill a couple of times – but had never caught up before with David Ward Maclean: fantastic voice, great guitar, splendidly gruff stage presence.

As for York duo Gaffney & Bolton, they are surely rising stars of the folk scene, a blistering young folk duo of great skill and much charm. Catch them while you can.


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