137. Sniffer

Tapehead no 137 

“If I told the whole story of my private life, I’d probably make half a million pounds, but I’d have to spend the rest of my life in Tahiti, and I don’t really want to have to do that.”

So says the star of Secret History – Tory peer and PPS to Winston Churchill, Lord Boothby, during a ‘candid’ interview on the Tonight programme back in the 1960s.

An MP at only 24, Boothby was a high-flyer whose rogue charms and snappy sound-bites made him the first TV star of British politics.

But, as Ludovic Kennedy suggests, “he did have one or two flaws.”

Although we learn he was cavalier with both his money and his affections, a gambler, playboy, adulterer, and an inveterate liar, we never learn what his flaw were.

Besides being a gambler and liar, the narrator tells us darkly, Boothby “was marred by a third flaw.”

Known by the name The Palladium (on the grounds, that he was twice-nightly), he was beset by “an uncontrollable urge for sexual adventure.”

Openly bisexual, he was married twice, and had a long-standing affair with Harold MacMillan’s wife, which was surprising, Ludo remembers rather ungallantly, not because he still rose so high (as it were). But as “she was rather horse-like. Huge hands, like hams.”

What (finally) threatened to derail his career was a set of photos, taken in 1964, showing Boothby with Leslie Holt (East End boxer, cat-burglar and Boothby’s lover), Reggie Kray, and another London gangster, Teddy Smith (Mad Teddy Smith, to give him his full name), who was also what the programme calls “an active homosexual” – as opposed to one who sits around all day watching the telly doing nothing.

Reggie Kray, states another villain (perhaps rather unwisely considering Ronnie Kray’s imminent release), was also “a raving poof”, exchanging “prospects” with Boothby, corrupting young boxers, and “importuning young men at dog tracks.”

When the secret service leaked the photos, Mirror proprietor Cecil King thought if he had another Profumo scandal on his hands to help him suck up to Labour leader, Harold Wilson.

Tune in to find out how Boothby ended up not only winning a printed apology but a whopping sum of cash from the Mirror – thanks to the fourth man in the picture, who was also “a voracious homosexual” (like, a really hungry one ?).

Thanks partly to these pictures, the press, the politicians, and even the police laid off the Krays, resulting not only in criminal carnage across London but endless claptrap in the press about the golden-hearted/diamond-geezer “Twins” and, even worse, Gary Kemp’s film career.

Harold Wilson pops up on Breaking The News in some behind-the-scenes footage of his Barney with David Dimbleby. A rather rushed compilation of UK and US TV news in the sixties, it chucks in some from the Soviet Union for good (or bad) measure.

Footage from the first televised presidential debate in 1960 shows Kennedy arriving looking “tanned, handsome and well-tailored” while Nixon was suffering from what they ambiguously call “an infection”, “looking green and sallow.”

The debate takes place in what seems to be an enormous padded cell. Don’t miss Cliff Michel more outdoing Chris Morris opening The Tonight Show by blasting a shotgun into the camera.

Alf, one of the prisoners on Banged Up’s Drugs, Dogs And D-Wing, was sent down for life in the sixties, a time when, according to Alf, “there was no drug problem in prisons.”

It’s the same today. Say the word “drugs” and someone else will instantly say “no problem.”

Prison officers at HM Prison Preston deploy random strip searches, mandatory drug test (“take this drug, you bastard !”) and sniffer dogs like Zak the German shepherd.

The service relies on donations from the public – not of money, but actual dogs – “dogs that are a bit difficult to control.”

When he first arrived, Jon Stringer’s dog would not go anywhere near humans. As he had pneumonia, fleas, sores, conjunctivitis, an worms (“heavy worm infestation”), the feeling was probably mutual.

The brilliant bit is that to train them to sniff out drugs, they reward the dogs by letting them play with their favourite toy – a cracker packed full of …drugs (to reinforce the smell).

Tapehead would search for drugs himself to play with that cracker.

See you in Tahiti.


Secret History: Mon, 9pm, C4

Breaking The News: Sun, 7.50pm, BBC2

Banged Up – Drugs, Dogs And D-Wing: Sat, 7.30pm, C4