An Accidental Icon: How I Dodged a Bullet, Spoke Truth to Power, and Lived to Tell the Tale by Norman Scott - review by Richard Davenport-Hines

Richard Davenport-Hines

My Lovers and Other Animals

An Accidental Icon: How I Dodged a Bullet, Spoke Truth to Power, and Lived to Tell the Tale

By

Hodder & Stoughton 336pp £22 order from our bookshop
 

Norman Scott’s memoirs shame me. I remember a game of charades, played in a Devon country house on Christmas Eve in 1979, and the hilarity that greeted my brother-in-law biting a pillow and shaking it in his teeth like a wild puppy. ‘Norman Scott!’ we shouted in glee, as we remembered Scott’s testimony earlier that year in a criminal trial of his attempt to ease the pain of being buggered by the Liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe. Derision of Scott, with his over-expressive face and lissom gestures, was a cruel national sport at that time.

An Accidental Icon is a brisk reminder of the callousness of English people in the late 20th century. Family life, workplaces, public spaces, relations with teachers, classmates and neighbours – they were all characterised by mutual disrespect, by bullying and humiliation, by mean insults, by spiteful triumphs over the vulnerable. Aggression, malice and subjugation were the way of life. The moment, described in the book, when Scott unwraps a Christmas present from his mother-in-law and finds that it is a tea mug labelled ‘Strychnine’ encapsulates the mean spirit of the times.

For most of his life Norman Scott has been a punchbag. He was born in Bexleyheath in 1940, the son of an Irish widow who never divulged his paternity. When he was a small boy, his mother, who worked as a telephonist, began burying his face in her lap

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