The Labour MP who faked his own death: Scandalous life of John Stonehouse is turned into ITV drama

As spy thrillers go, the story of John Stonehouse, the British political leader who disappeared while swimming in the sea off Miami in the early 1970 s, is up there with the very best of them.

The only trace left by the Labour MP for Walsall North was a stack of nicely folded clothing in a beachside cabana beside his high-end hotel.

Theories quickly was plentiful about what had actually occurred to the married father-of-three; it was stated he had actually suffered a cardiovascular disease and drowned or been consumed by a shark or, even, been abducted by the Mafia.

As the rumour mill ground on, dirty information appeared about his company interests and personal life. — as would end up being clear when he was found alive and well 5 weeks later on– Stonehouse, a high-flying minister in Harold Wilson’s federal government, had actually fabricated his own death on November 20, 1974, coming ashore even more along the Florida coast and altering into clothing he had actually left previously at another hotel prior to getting away to Australia under an incorrect identity.

A three-part ITV drama starring Matthew Macfadyen as Stonehouse and his real-life other half Keeley Hawes as his onscreen partner will retell the story of the late MP’s disappearance

His unlucky effort to begin a brand-new life with his girlfriend, while leaving his partner and kids to think he was dead was, without a doubt, among the most surreal chapters in British political history and one which, almost half a century on, has actually returned to haunt them.

For, next week, a brand-new three-part ITV drama starring Matthew Macfadyen as Stonehouse and his real-life better half Keeley Hawes as his onscreen partner will retell the remarkable story of the late MP’s Reggie Perrin-style disappearance. With 3 various books composed about Stonehouse in current years, consisting of one by his own child, recollections around this jaw-dropping legend– as the stating now goes– differ.

Was Stonehouse, as is now mostly accepted by historians, a spy for the Czech Secret Service?

Or did he merely disappear in the middle of some type of worried breakdown after a series of suspicious service offers and an affair with his secretary?

The Mail spoke with those who have intimate understanding of the scandal and it appears not everybody mores than happy with the variation of occasions due to be played out on our screens from Monday– especially among his children. ‘I’m disgusted with ITV,’ states 71- year-old Julia Stonehouse, the author of John Stonehouse, My Father: The True Story Of The Runaway MP.

Theories quickly was plentiful about what had actually taken place to the married father-of-three; it was stated he had actually suffered a cardiac arrest and drowned or been consumed by a shark or, even, been abducted by the Mafia

Despite early conferences with scriptwriter John Preston, the author of the book A Very English Scandal, about disgraced Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, which was adjusted for a well-known 2018 television drama, starring Hugh Grant, she has actually not worked together on the ITV production about her dad.

She explains the upcoming Stonehouse drama as ‘exploitative’, stating it has actually left her long-suffering 91- year-old mom– the MP’s ex-wife Barbara– ‘furious’.

She includes: ‘It’s mentally harmful to us. It’s mentally violent to the household. It’s constantly had to do with cash. I’m definitely furious. Is my mom. Is my whole household.

‘ I hope Keeley [Hawes] which chap she’s wed to are pleased with themselves.’

Julia rejects that her ‘terrific’ dad was a spy and is determined a psychological breakdown, quickened by his dependency to prescription drugs for stress and anxiety and sleeping disorders, lay behind his efforts to start a brand-new life abroad with his much more youthful secretary, Sheila Buckley.

‘ Nobody understood however inside his head he was calmly blowing up’, composes Julia in her book. Tossing a spanner into the literary works, nevertheless, is Stonehouse’s great-nephew, Julian Hayes, who informs a rather various story.

His book, Stonehouse: Cabinet Minister, Fraudster, Spy, paints a photo of Stonehouse as a ‘callous’ and comprehending person who fabricated his own death after a string of disastrous and deceitful company failures.

Hayes’s dad Michael, an impressionable student lawyer at the time of the scandal, was unsuspectingly dragged into the fray by his uncle after helping him with his company affairs and later on provided proof versus him in court.

In what is referred to as the ‘conclusive bio’, Hayes, 57, a criminal lawyer, information how he uncovered secret reports in archives in Prague which, he states, show beyond all affordable doubt that at the height of the Cold War, Stonehouse was a spy in the pay of the Czech security services.

‘ I can comprehend why Julia wishes to attempt to protect his memory,’ Hayes states. ‘She wishes to safeguard what she can. Sadly it blinds her to things that aren’t awfully tasty from her point of view.’

The Mail talked to those who have intimate understanding of the scandal and it appears not everybody mores than happy with the variation of occasions due to be played out on our screens from Monday

Adding more grist to the Stonehouse mill is a 3rd book, Agent Twister: John Stonehouse And The Scandal That Gripped The Nation, which depicts Stonehouse as a ‘serial betrayer’ and a Soviet Bloc ‘spy’. It is explained by its authors, Philip Augar and Keely Winstone, as the ‘just objective, completely investigated account of the entire Stonehouse story’.

‘ Stonehouse was a very charming and unsafe man,’ Keely Winstone informs me. ‘He revealed no regret. It will be odd if ITV have actually made this into a jaunty tale, as he wasn’t an extremely good guy.’

Meanwhile, Stonehouse’s widow, his previous secretary and girlfriend Sheila Buckley, has actually likewise offered the Mail her damning decision on the approaching ITV drama, comparing it to a ‘fairy tale’. Sheila, who was 21 years more youthful than Stonehouse, ultimately became his partner and the mom of his 4th kid.

‘ It’s simply a tissue of lies the majority of it, all the brand-new things. There’s barely any precision in it at all,’ she states, speaking from her separated home in a peaceful cul-de-sac near Southampton. Now 76, Sheila– who was simply 22 when she initially fulfilled Stonehouse– includes: ‘The guy’s been dead years. Let him rest in peace. It’s indecent. He isn’t here to safeguard himself. It’s terrible good manners however that’s society now, isn’t it?’

So which ‘variation’ of occasions will form the basis of the ITV drama? Above all, is it possible to get to the reality about the disgraced womanizer and previous Cabinet minister, about whom enthusiasms still run high almost half a century after he fabricated his death?

Stonehouse’s widow, his previous secretary and girlfriend Sheila Buckley, has actually likewise provided the Mail her damning decision on the approaching ITV drama, comparing it to a ‘fairy tale’

According to ITV, the drama will take in his affair with Sheila and his betrayal of his caring spouse in addition to his work for the Czech secret service in the 1960 s. (Julian Hayes states he has actually served as a specialist on the drama however that it is not based upon his book since ‘rather like Chinese whispers, the story and the truths have actually been perverted throughout the years.’)

Succession star Macfadyen, who plays Stonehouse, has actually offered an insight into the tone of the production, speaking about how the MP ‘enjoyed the glamour’ of his espionage double life: ‘In his mind’s eye he was Edward Fox, Roger Moore– among those people in a topcoat with the collar showed up,’ he states.

‘ A case of: ‘Well, if I’m going to be a spy, I may too enjoy it.’ I picture he produced his own James Bond soundtrack in his head.

‘ I believe it simply ended up being excessive. Everything unravelled. I played it as if he was on the brink of an anxious breakdown. As his better half later on points out as soon as he comes back, if he was having a breakdown, he prepared it all really well in advance.’

Keeley Hawes, on the other hand, explains the script as ‘an increased variation of the fact’ and ‘an awful story however it’s likewise both amusing and moving’. She includes: ‘We are handling a genuine individual and other individuals who are still alive.

‘ Everybody wished to be extremely considerate to the memory of John Stonehouse … however you are making a television program. A three-part drama not a documentary.’

In reality, there was a Stonehouse documentary, The Spy Who Died Twice, an hour-long program broadcast on Channel 4 in May this year, was based upon Augar and Winstone’s Agent Twister book. The title is the label Stonehouse was offered by the Czechs due to the fact that he was so undependable.

‘ There are aspects of the story that are funny or comi-tragic for sure,’ states Winstone, ‘however eventually he enjoyed for his household to believe him dead and to proceed with another life without them. That’s exceptionally dark.’

She mentions that in order to acquire phony passports and open savings account as he prepared his disappearance, Stonehouse took the identities of 2 of his dead constituents, visiting their widows in the house under the guise of helping one-parent households prior to taking the males’s birth certificates. He had actually been motivated after checking out Frederick Forsyth’s unique The Day Of The Jackal.

It took 6 months to extradite them to the UK where he was remanded in custody at Brixton Prison till August 1975

Julia acknowledges her daddy’s behaviour was ‘dreadful’ however states ‘it was just produced by horrible tension and the impacts of mind-twisting recommended drugs’.

She argues the spying accusations were produced by a Czech defector called Frolik and taken upon by ‘Right-wing components within MI5’. Winstone, on the other hand, states: ‘I do not purchase the concept that his actions were the outcome of a worried breakdown and neither did the judge. There was excessive approach for it to be insanity.

‘ He may have had psychological health concerns, or perhaps what we ‘d now call a character condition, however the only breakdown as such appeared to be after he was captured.’

The entire plan deciphered within weeks thanks to an eagle-eyed bank teller in Australia who ended up being suspicious when Stonehouse began moving large amounts of cash in between accounts utilizing various, phony names. It was presumed Stonehouse might be Lord Lucan, who had actually vanished 2 weeks previously.

Sheila Buckley ended up being involved in the rip-off after he called her from Hawaii, on his method to Australia, swearing her to secrecy. She flew out to join him months later on after he ‘d been jailed and was on bail.

It took 6 months to extradite them to the UK where he was remanded in custody at Brixton Prison up until August1975 Extremely, he continued to function as an MP for another year, mostly since Labour’s Parliamentary bulk was so narrow then.

Sheila was along with him at the Old Bailey in 1976 when he was imprisoned for 7 years for scams, theft and deceptiveness while she was condemned of theft and handed a two-year suspended sentence.

The judge informed her: ‘I believe you were very regrettable that you satisfied this convincing, sly and enthusiastic guy.’

Nevertheless, she remained by him. After Stonehouse was launched from prison in 1979 on the premises of great behaviour and illness, they wed in 1981, set up house in Hampshire and had a boy. He was just 62 when he passed away after a cardiac arrest in 1988.

Despite his remarkable fall from political grace, he had actually mostly got away with his spying activities for which he is thought to have actually been paid in between ₤70,000 and ₤80,000 in today’s cash.

In the ins 2015 of his life, Stonehouse had the ability to transform himself as the author of political and espionage thrillers, brazenly appearing on Russell Harty’s chat program to unmask, light-heartedly the ‘horrible story’ that he was a Czech spy.

The spy declares versus him are certainly the most dissentious element of this story. According to Keely Winstone: ‘History is constantly a matter of analysis however 500 pages of Czech files assembled by 4 different representatives over a ten-year duration reveal Stonehouse remained in the pay of a Soviet satellit e state, initially as an MP and after that as minister. He stays the only serving minister understood to have actually remained in the pay of any opponent power. And this remained in the Cold War.’

Julian Hayes states: ‘He was a Jekyll and Hyde character. One side of him wished to be excellent, the general public servant and married man however his failure was his ego, which the Czechs rubbed, and his aspiration.’

The assertion that her dad was a spy still outrages Julia Stonehouse, especially an accusation– which the 3 other authors state is unproven however will include in the ITV drama– that Stonehouse was captured in a honey trap.

She grumbled to Ofcom about this year’s Channel 4 documentary and corresponded of grievance about Hayes’ book to his publisher. Now she states her mom ‘may take legal action against’ over ITV’s brand-new drama.

‘ Every word of it is going to provide my mom a cardiovascular disease,’ she states. ‘It’s simply a headache, an utter, utter problem.’

Just how far the television series explores Stonehouse’s spying activities stays to be seen. What is beyond doubt is that John Stonehouse was a skillful manipulator, an experienced phony and dissembler.

For beyond the claims that he was a traitor to his nation and his constituents, is the method he callously betrayed those who liked him most.

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