Friday, June 23, 2017

Nuts have been with us, always

I am on the email list for Literary Review, but they mostly now just contain links to old reviews from their archive.  This one, though, by the late John Mortimer in 1997, talking about a sensational defamation trial in England in 1918, is very amusing.  Not sure that I have heard of the Pemberton Billing trial before.  Some extracts:
Reference was made throughout the proceedings to a mysterious German ‘Black Book’, which was said to contain the names of 47,000 prominent British homosexuals, lesbians and secret agents working for the enemy. The names included, it was said, Asquith, Margot Asquith, Lord Haldane and many others of the great and good. When a Mrs Villiers-Stuart (later imprisoned for bigamy) shouted, from the witness box, that the judge’s name was in the book, the proceedings reached a level of insanity beyond anything achieved by Mr Justice Cocklecarrot....

....Decadence, however that pejorative word is defined, is by no means synonymous with homosexuality.

Noel Pemberton Billing MP, of course, was sure that it was. He had been an actor, a barrister, the inventor of a ‘self-calculating pencil’ and a ‘flying boat’ which failed to take off. He had founded the Vigilante Society with an Admiral’s son called Henry Hamilton Beamish who believed that Britain was ruined by ‘Jewalisation’ and that the Jews were responsible for a quarter of the casualties in the war. The Vigilantes published a paper called the Imperialist, which announced ‘the existence in the “Cabinet Noir” of a certain German prince, a book which contains reports from the agents ‘who have infested this country for over twenty years’, agents spreading such debauchery and such lasciviousness as only German minds can conceive and only German bodies execute’.

Billing was anxious to spread his beliefs, not only to Parliament and the Press, but in the Courts of Law. His opportunity came when a private production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, a play banned from the public by the Lord Chamberlain, was proposed. The Vigilante carried a paragraph mysteriously worded ‘The Cult of the Clitoris’ and went on: ‘To be a member of Maud Allan’s performances of Salome one has to apply to a Miss Valetta of 9, Duke Street, Adelphi, WC. If Scotland Yard were to seize the list of members, I have no doubt they would secure the names of several of the first 47,000 [in the Black Book].’ Maud Allan charged Billing with criminal libel and he decided to defend himself at the Old Bailey.

Mr Justice Darling, a small, dandified figure, much given to flippant little jokes at which the Court was expected to laugh heartily, was caricatured by Max Beerbohm wearing a black cap with bells on it. He allowed the loud-voiced Billing, who stood with his monocle fixed in his eye and his arms crossed, to dominate the proceedings. Hours were spent discussing the contents of the Black Book which probably only existed in the fertile imaginations of Billing, his mistress Mrs Villiers-Stuart, and some other dubious witnesses....
The tone of the trial was further lowered by the evidence of the loathsome Lord Alfred Douglas, who attacked Wilde in general and Salome in particular. He also said that prime ministers, judges and ‘greasy advocates’ all conspired to ‘support perverts’. The judge and lawyers seemed too innocent for any such task. They had great difficulty in understanding the word ‘clitoris’ and the QC for the dancer-actress Maud Allan, apparently hearing the word ‘orgasm’ for the first time, asked if it meant some sort of unnatural vice.

I am reminded somewhat of one Graeme Bird, too.  

Update:  Something else has occurred to me:   our current nutty Right wing conspiracists are decidedly lacking in numerical specificity, compared to their predecessors.  Joe McCarthy's list of subversives was either 57 or 205, but it was a very specific either way.  These days, we just have to wonder how many are in Washington's Deep State: wingnuts don't cite a number, as far as I know.  Disappointing.

3 comments:

not trampis said...

What a gem. I think it was a trial as well not a trail although...

Steve said...

Fixed.

Anonymous said...

Paxton

Any relatives at the trial you know of?