Robert Lyon, 1894 - 1978
Portrait of the Rt Hon Jeremy Thorpe PC, 1929-2014
Rt Hon Jeremy Thorpe PC
1st May 1974

and dated "1974", by the artist and further signed by Jeremy Thorpe

pencil black and white chalk
38.10 x 30.48 cm. (15 x 12 in.)


This portrait was drawn in 1974 an Election year which saw 2 general elections and a  year that Jeremy Thorpe reached his ultimate popular appeal to the electorate. But even with over six million votes, only14 Liberal MPs were elected, polling the most votes (~432,823) ever collected by a party for each MP elected in a general election.The United Kingdom's general election of February 1974 was held on the 28th of that month. It was the first of two United Kingdom general elections held that year, and the first election since the Second World War not to produce an overall majority in the House of Commons for the winning party. Instead there was a hung parliament, even though many people had expected a Conservative victory for Edward Heath. Labour won the most seats (301, which was 17 seats short of an overall majority) with the Conservatives on 297 seats, although the Conservatives had a larger share of the popular vote.This election saw Northern Ireland diverging heavily from the rest of the United Kingdom, with all twelve MPs elected being from local parties (eleven of them representing unionist parties), following the decision of the Ulster Unionists to withdraw support from the Conservative Party in protest over the Sunningdale Agreement. In contrast the Scottish National Party achieved significant success in this election. They increased their share of the popular vote in Scotland from 11% to 22% and their number of MPs rose from 1 to 7.

There were also the first Plaid Cymru MPs to be elected in a general election in Wales (they had previously won a by-election).Although the incumbent Conservative government of Edward Heath polled the most votes by a small margin, the Conservatives were overtaken in terms of Commons seats by Harold Wilson's Labour Party due to a more efficiently-distributed Labour vote, and the decision by Ulster Unionist MPs not to take the Conservative whip.The two largest parties both lost a considerable share of the popular vote, largely to the Liberals under Jeremy Thorpe who polled two and a half times the share of the national vote that they had achieved in the previous election. But even with over six million votes, only 14 Liberal MPs were elected, polling the most votes (~432,823) ever collected by a party for each MP elected in a general election. There had been some media expectation that the Liberals could take twice as many seats.

 Heath did not resign immediately as Prime Minister. Assuming that Northern Ireland's Unionist MPs could be persuaded to support a Conservative government on confidence matters over one led by Wilson, he entered into negotiations with Thorpe to form a coalition government. Thorpe, never enthusiastic about supporting the Conservatives, demanded major electoral reforms in exchange for such an agreement. Unwilling to accept such terms, Heath resigned and Wilson returned for his second spell as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The Liberals did not have enough seats to combine with another party to achieve an overall majority. This made the formation of a stable government in this parliament a practical impossibility. Wilson called another election in October of the same year.

John Jeremy Thorpe, PC (29 April 1929 – 4 December 2014) was a British politician who served as leader of the Liberal Party from

1967 to 1976 and as Member of Parliament for North Devon from 1959 to 1979. His political career collapsed when an acquaintance, Norman Scott, claimed to have had an affair with him in the early 1960s, when homosexual acts were illegal in Britain. In 1976, the scandal forced him to resign as Liberal leader. He denied any affair with Scott, whom he was charged with conspiring to murder. He was acquitted in 1979, shortly after losing his parliamentary seat in the general election. Thorpe was born in Surrey, England, the son of John Henry Thorpe, a maternal grandson of Sir John Norton-Griffiths (both Conservative MPs), and a descendant of Thomas Thorpe, Speaker of the House of Commons from 1452 to 1453.Thorpe was educated at Hazelwood School in Limpsfield, Surrey, Eton and Trinity College, Oxford, where he read Law. He was politically and socially active at Oxford and was president of the Liberal Club and the Law Society before becoming president of the Oxford Union in 1951.He was called to the bar in 1954, whilst working as a TV interviewer.Thorpe was selected as Liberal candidate for Conservative-held North Devon in 1952. In the 1955 general election he halved the Conservative majority. In the 1959 election, he won narrowly. He remained MP for North Devon for the next 20 years, until defeated by a Conservative in the 1979 election.

 In 1965, he became Liberal Party Treasurer and, following Jo Grimond's resignation as leader in 1967, he won the resulting party leadership election with the support of 6 of the 12 Liberal MPs.

Thorpe's style, in contrast to Grimond's intellectualism, was youthful and dynamic, and was sometimes ridiculed as too gimmicky, as when, for example, he called for Rhodesia to be bombed after the country's Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. He was a staunch defender of human rights as exemplified by his prominent role in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. He was also a key figure in the campaign for Britain to join the Common Market. A colourful character, Thorpe was renowned for his assortment of Edwardian suits, silk waistcoats and trilby hats, and was noted as a raconteur and impressionist.

 His leadership of the party was not immediately successful. The 1970 general election was calamitous for the Liberals; they fell from 13 seats to 6 (winning three, including Thorpe's, by tiny majorities).Between 1972 and 1974, Thorpe led the Liberals to an impressive string of by-election victories, at Rochdale, Sutton and Cheam, Ripon, the Isle of Ely and Berwick. In the February 1974 general election, the Liberals gained 19.3% of the vote. During the campaign, some opinion polls at times placed the party as high as 30%. This was a great improvement over the 8.5% the Liberals attracted in the 1966 General Election before Thorpe's election as leader.


The February 1974 election resulted in a "hung parliament" with no party having a majority. The Conservatives won 297 seats, Labour 301 (despite having fewer votes than the Conservatives), the Liberals 14, and the remaining 22 went to minor parties. Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath proposed a coalition government with the Liberals, and Thorpe was offered the post of Home Secretary. Thorpe asked for significant commitments toward electoral reform, but Heath could not give them. As a Conservative-Liberal coalition would still have been seven seats short of a majority, its survival would have depended on the attitudes of the Scottish and Welsh nationalists and the Northern Irish parties. The Liberal Party, and many who had voted for it, were not enthusiastic about keeping Heath in office and Thorpe declined the offer, fearing a coalition with the Conservatives would split his party. On 4 March the talks to form a coalition collapsed, paving the way for Harold Wilson and Labour to return to power as a minority government, after four years in opposition.

 Thorpe married interior decorator Caroline Allpass (1938–70), daughter of Warwick Allpass and Marcell William, in May 1968. Their son Rupert was born in 1969. Caroline Thorpe was killed in a car crash in June 1970.Thorpe married Marion Stein in 1973. A distinguished concert pianist, she had previously married the 7th Earl of Harewood, a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II. She died in March 2014. Following Thorpe's death, his son Rupert referred to him as "a devoted husband to my two mothers, Caroline, who died tragically in 1970, and Marion who passed away in March and had raised me and stood by him through everything."

Rumours about Thorpe's sexuality dogged his political career when homosexual acts were illegal in Britain. In 1961, Norman Scott (b. 12 February 1940), a former model, met Thorpe while working as a stable lad. He claimed that he and Thorpe had a sexual relationship between

1961 and 1963. Scott's airing of these claims led to an inquiry in the Liberal Party in 1971, which exonerated Thorpe. Scott continued to make the allegations. Attempts were made to contain or silence him, but to no avail, until the fallout following the shooting of Scott's dog Rinka by a hired gunman brought the matter into the open.

After further newspaper revelations, Thorpe was forced to resign the Liberal leadership, which did not end public or police interest in the affair. Enquiries led to Thorpe and three others being charged with conspiracy to murder Scott. During the investigation, an antique firearms collector, Dennis Meighan, admitted to providing the gun used to shoot the dog and confessed he had been hired by a representative of a person called "a Mr Big in the Liberal Party" to kill Scott for £13,500.Meighan has claimed that his 1975 oral confession had been significantly abridged by the authorities when it was offered to him in written form: "I read the statement, which did me no end of favours, but it did Jeremy Thorpe no end of favours as well, because it left him completely out of it. So I thought, 'Well, I've got to sign this'. It just virtually left everything out that was incriminating, but at the same time everything I said about the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, etcetera, was left out as well."

 The trial was scheduled for a week before the general election of 1979, but Thorpe obtained a fortnight's delay to fight the election, in which he lost his seat. One of the chief prosecution witnesses was former Liberal MP and failed businessman Peter Bessell, who claimed to have been present while the murder plot was discussed in the Liberal Party. One alleged plan had been to shoot Scott in Cornwall and dispose of the body down a disused tin mine shaft.Thorpe did not give evidence. His counsel, led by George Carman QC, argued that, although Thorpe and Scott had been friends, there had been no sexual relationship. Carman claimed that Scott had sought to blackmail Thorpe and that, although Thorpe and his friends had discussed "frightening" Scott into silence, they had never conspired to kill him. Mr Justice Cantley's summing-up was widely criticised for an alleged pro-establishment bias,and it made headlines when he described Scott as "a crook, an accomplished liar ... a fraud". The four defendants were all acquitted on 22 June 1979. Dennis Meighan was never called to give evidence and remained silent until 2014, when he acknowledged his involvement and commented: "It was a cover-up, no question, but it suited me fine".

 Not long after the trial, Thorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and retired from public life. For many years, the disease was at an advanced stage. In 1997 he visited the Liberal Democrat party conference, where he was given a standing ovation, and he attended the funeral of Roy Jenkins in 2003. in 1999, Thorpe published his memoirs, In My Own Time, describing key episodes in his political life. He did not shed any light on the Norman Scott affair and never made any public statements regarding his sexual orientation.On 4 December 2014, Thorpe died at his home in London of Parkinson's disease, aged 85. David Steel, who succeeded him as party leader, said: "He had a genuine sympathy for the underprivileged – whether in his beloved North Devon where his first campaign was for 'mains, drains and a little bit of light' or in Africa, where he was a resolute fighter against apartheid and became a respected friend of people like President Kaunda of Zambia."

Artist biography

Robert Lyon was an artist, mural painter and teacher. Born in Liverpool, he studied art at the Royal College of Art and the British School at Rome, 1924. He became lecturer in fine art and master of painting at King's College, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1932. For eight years from 1934 Lyon was tutor to the Ashington Group of spare-time Northumberland miner artists, one of the most remarkable of such groups to emerge in the inter-war years. From 1942-6o Lyon was principal of Edinburgh College of Art. He exhibited RA, RBA, RP and in the provinces. Also painted murals for Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, and King's College Hospital dental department. Lived at Rushlake Green, Sussex.  Robert Lyon trained at the Royal College of Art in the early 1920's before going on to win a scholarship to the British School at Rome.  For eight years from 1934 Lyon was tutor to the Ashington Group of spare-time Northumberland miner artists, one of the most remarkable of such groups to emerge in the inter-war years.  This woodcut, which appears to have never been printed as an edition, is clearly inspired by Gertler's iconic Merry-Go-Round, 1916.  The figures on the carousel are here replaced by miners, adding resonance to an already politicized image.