Crime plots of bent politicians and gangsters obtaining dubious planning permission for 'regeneration' schemes remain a mainstay of the genre. Even BBC's Hustle and new Minder on Channel 5 refer to civic corruption in scenes too close to home for some in Rochdale.
The fact a Conservative Lord was a “pervert” is hardly shocking, is it?
“Do bears shit in the woods”?
Picture a glass coffee table and you may be nearer the truth, according to the telly.
What does this have to do with Cyril Smith and Rochdale?
Our Cyril was never officially a Tory and no glass coffee table on Earth could accommodate the most morbidly obese MP Westminster has, rarely, ever seen.
M'Lord Boothby was the cousin of Ludovic Kennedy, the journalist and broadcaster who made history in 1958 by fighting the Rochdale constituency seat for the Liberal Party in Britain's first televised election.
There has been no love lost between Ludo and “lifelong Liberal” Cyril Smith. Under the blaze of the 1950's TV spotlights, Ludovic Kennedy lost to Labour's “Gentleman” Jack McCann. On the end credits of the historic live broadcast from Rochdale Town hall, could Cyril Smith's large gut be seen sporting a socialist rosette whilst heartily congratulating his boss - the new Labour MP?
Some annals of Lib Dem history have airbrushed out Cyril Smith's two long spells as a Labour politician:
Firstly, Cyril's early days as a young treasurer and the mystery of the Heywood & Royton Labour Party funds being quite a few shillings short.
Cyril's second stint in the Labour party saw him as Alderman and Mayor. Spanker Smith was also very close to local “businessman” Fred Ratcliffe- and even gained a minor criminal conviction whilst a fundraiser. In true “Get Carter” style Cyril also got the cash to roll in for Fred's football club and charidee empire by using an old (council acquired?) property for a Bingo Hall.
It was a boom time for some with the 'regeneration' of Rochdale in the 1960's and 70's. Compulsory purchase and large civil engineering schemes changed the face of Rochdale forever. The blight caused by the wholesale pouring of concrete still poison the Lancashire mill town so beloved of tabloids and GMTV and others as the sicknote and “shameless capital of Britain” and “a Place in the Slum”.
In the late 1960's when Cyril Smith was questioned at Rochdale Police Station regarding accusations of serious sexual abuse, his pleas to Jack McCann MP are legendary. Also in the mists of time are accounts of Labour Goverment's Home Secretary Jim Callaghan ordering Cyril's 'paedo' file to be taken by Special Branch from Lancashire Police's HQ in Preston to London.
By the end of the Wilson era, Jack McCann was dying of cancer. Cyril Smith stood as Liberal candidate against his old boss and confidante. He lost in 1970, but the determined conviction politician won the by-election for the Liberals following Jack McCann's death in 1972.
The investigations into Cyril Smith's repeated acts of sexual abuse to vulnerable lads at Cambridge House hostel in the 1960's were published by RAP (transcribed here) and Private Eye in 1979.
In an official response from the national Liberal Party, a young spokesman called David Steel dismissed the sexual abuse as:
“smacking a few bare bottoms”.
Sad irony is not lost on the fact the future First Speaker of the Scottish Parliament did nothing to help young Scottish Whipp & Bourne apprentices who accused Cyril Smith of sexually abusing them when they were so far from home all those years ago.
After Cyril's spanking and testicle squeezing abuse revelations became public, Smith continued as Rochdale's MP for another 13 years. Despite repeated, unchallenged, claims of him being a pervert he was never made a peer. Some old Freemasons would not give him house room. It has been suggested that the rotund Rotarian was 'blackballed' from the bench of Rochdale Magistrates. Thankfully, later generations of Rochdale youngsters were officially spared criminal 'punishment' from Spanker Smith.
What lessons can be learned from Channel 4's recent documentary?
Here are a few musings:
- Four decades do not diminish a public interest in investigations of historic sexual abuse.
- True tales of gangsters and politicians make avid viewing.
- The Establishment has a habit of covering things up, but eventually the truth can emerge.
- Boothby spoke in the House of Lords to ask helpful questions about the incarcerated Kray Twins- key 'regeneration experts' and 'businessmen' who employed many in the East End in their day. Politicians can abuse their position of influence to help gangsters. Cyril Smith spoke in the Commons on behalf of corporate asbestos mass killers Turner & Newall. He was so impressed by the product he even acquired shares in the cancerous company.
- Government files often remain censored if those involved in political scandal are still alive. Those who are dead are no longer protected. Reputations can be destroyed by the truth of investigative journalism.
- With some determination, justice can prevail- eventually.
As for unrepentant pervert Cyril Smith and his peers, gangsters and planning corruption: could history repeat itself?