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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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Evil is always remembered but the best of humanity and the
heroes of war get forgotten

The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones — Marc Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

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Sadly there is no shortage of evil these days and the events in the Middle East have been almost impossible to follow, not because of their undoubted complexity but because of the sheer horror of it all. The leaders of Hamas will soon be dead we hope but then what? Others will follow and they may be worse, even more evil if that is possible.


Shakespeare understood that it is the terrible events and their perpetrators we remember when he gave that line to Marc Antony. We all know of the Holocaust and Hitler, 9-11 and Bin Laden, Stalin and his purges that sent millions to their death. Now it’s Hamas and their utter savagery. But will  we remember the best of humanity, the doctors and nurses now working with no medicines, power and water to save the dying? The aid agencies and charities risking their own lives desperately trying the get supplies to warzones?


So it has come as a surprise to me that The Reckoning, the story of the evil of Jimmy Savile, has come almost as a relief from the events of the past 10 days. The reason is simple, the vile Savile was hiding in plain sight all his adult life. He was the Great Pretender and he fooled the present King and the former prime minister Mrs Thatcher. Despite Queen Elizabeth telling her son to end his friendship with the bejewelled paedophile and Robert Armstrong, Thatcher’s cabinet secretary and closest advisor, telling her not to give a knighthood to her strange Christmas guest at Chequers.


Certainly Fleet Street was aware of the rumours since the 1970s and women at the Mirror Group gave him a wide berth when he came in to deliver his pop column to the Sunday People following the time he jumped on 23-year-old Jeanette Bishop, then working as secretary to the permanently frisky editor Bob Edwards. Jeanette has chronicled that particular incident previously in the Drone.


I know something of Great Pretenders and I blame the late David Benson,  our distinguished motoring editor. When I was features editor David, knowing my interest in fast motor cars, proposed that I join him for lunch with Louis Stanley, chairman of the BRM grand prix team and a leading light in making the deadly sport of Formula One safer. Just before we were due to set off for the Dorchester David rushed over to say he could no longer make it but he had told Stanley that I would come anyway.


The man I met was big in every way, rotund, florid and with an ego to match the size of the bank balance he purported to have. He told me he had a permanent suite at the Dorchester next to one Burton and Taylor took when they were in London. There were vivid tales of hearing shouting and breaking glass from the warring couple and I had no reason then to disbelieve them.


Later I met his wife Jean who was the sister of Sir Alfred Owen of the Rubery Owen conglomerate and who funded BRM. She was delightful and they made a very distinguished couple. We met often, noticeably without David Benson who obviously knew better, and the picture Louis Stanley wanted me to know, was  of a polymath, a king of motor racing, a virtual saint in making it safer, writer of a dozen coffee table books on the famous people he knew and a leading light in Cambridge where he lived in a beautiful house in Trumpington.


He asked me to speak at one of his book launches in front of guests who included Mr and Mrs Ronnie Corbett, the Bruce Forsythes and Stirling Moss. At another event, always at the Dorchester, I spoke in his praise in front of the great Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and the Bishop of London. An exceptionally over-refreshed Nigel Dempster was on my table.


Sadly Jean Stanley was not there, this decent woman was terminally ill in Cambridge and when she died Stanley asked me to speak at her funeral in Trumpington parish church. Now this did come as a surprise, after all I had known him for 20 years or so but I certainly couldn’t claim to have met Jean more than a few times. And that’s when the truth came out.


The first suspicions came when we arrived at the church to find Louis Stanley coming in a wheelchair to sit with nurses while his children were across the aisle. And when I got up to mouth the usual platitudes of this great long and happy marriage I was somewhat stopped in my tracks when the four middle-aged children were shaking their heads in unison in front of me.


I learned why at the drinks do which followed in the garden of the Stanley house, owned it turned out by Jean. She had been married before to an Anglican vicar and the children were all from that marriage. All the money was inherited by Jean and over the years Stanley had bled her dry living high on the hog. He had abused one of her daughters as a teenager, had tried to rape one of Jean’s nurses and had been selling off Owen family treasures without her knowledge.


There was worse, Jean’s wish was to be buried in her family vault in the Midlands and that was honoured. Until that is, unknown to the family, Louis Stanley arranged for her body to be moved (needless to say without the necessary permission from the Home Office which governs exhumations) and reburied in Trumpington. 


We got to know Jean’s eldest son Edward and the full horror story emerged over long lunches and phone calls. Louis Stanley was  the son of a cotton broker from the Wirral, not the illegitimate product of an affair prime minister HH Asquith had. Yes, he had helped to make motor sport safer but not to the extent he claimed. Most people in the pits and the paddock couldn’t stand the man who gave the impression of owning grand prix, not merely managing one ailing team.


When he died of a stroke aged 92 in 2004 we attended his funeral, more to make sure he really was dead. He was, the Great Pretender was no more.


19 October 2023