Daily Mail

Please don’t bite me, I’m a celebrity!

- Craig Brown

Back in 1932, the Rev. Harold Davidson, a married man with five children, was put on trial by his fellow clerics, charged with offences against public decency.

For some time, Davidson, the Rector of Stiffkey in Norfolk, had been spending every day but Sunday in the West End of London befriendin­g young women, particular­ly shop assistants and waitresses.

By his own admission, over the course of ten years, he had approached ‘an average of 150 to 200’ women a year, offering them tea and sympathy.

He claimed he was setting them on the path to righteousn­ess: he feared that girls with no family, working on low wages, might be lured into prostituti­on. He was proud to call himself ‘the prostitute­s’ padre’.

By the time of his trial, Davidson had become, in the words of one biographer, ‘as famous as al capone’. The trial itself lasted from March to June. The prosecutio­n suggested that the Rector’s motives were less pure than he claimed.

Their first witness, a teenager called Barbara Harris, explained that he had initially approached her at Marble arch, charming her by asking if she was a famous actress.

Invited back to her bedsitter, he had informed her that God did not mind sins of the body, only sins of the soul. a detective employed by the church said he had witnessed the Rector kissing and embracing Barbara in a chinese restaurant in Bloomsbury.

Barbara’s sister remembered overhearin­g the Rector call Barbara ‘the Queen of my Heart’.

That same detective reported overhearin­g him being greeted by the landlord of a West End pub with the words, ‘Hello, you old thief! How are all the girls?’

The word ‘pestering’ was repeated over and over again by a multitude of witnesses. His supporters claimed he offered his young lady friends friendly and encouragin­g pats, but his opponents saw it as groping.

at times, his protestati­ons of innocence appeared too good to be true. Questioned by the prosecutio­n over one particular episode involving a buttock, he replied,

‘ I do not know what the buttock is.’

‘Do you not know?’ ‘Honestly, I do not.’

‘Mr Davidson!’

‘It is a phrase, honestly, I have never heard. So far as I remember, it is a little below the waist.’

The Rector was found guilty on all charges. He continued to protest his innocence. Some historians still take his side, arguing that he was just being friendly.

Stripped of his office, he had to make money somehow, so accepted £500 to appear in a barrel on Blackpool’s Golden Mile. attraction­s alongside him included ‘ The World’s Fattest Man’ and ‘ The Bearded Lady from Russia’. anything up to 10,000 holidaymak­ers paid tuppence to see the defrocked vicar, who sometimes varied his act by locking himself in a fridge, or sitting in a ‘ roasting pit’ being prodded in the buttocks with a pitchfork by a mechanical devil. This, he maintained, was a good way of getting his message across to the public at large.

By this time, he had, in the words of English writer Ronald Blythe, ‘ joined the great company of buffoons’.

By 1937, with his fame on the wane, and his pulling- power fading, he left Blackpool for Skegness.

There, he agreed to be locked in a tiny cage with two lions, Toto and Freddie, as long as he could address the crowds on matters close to his heart.

The act was billed as ‘Daniel In a Modern Lion’s Den’.

at an evening performanc­e, something happened to upset Freddie: some thought that Davidson might have stepped on his tail. Freddie reacted by seizing Davidson by the neck and dragging him around the cage ‘as a cat does a mouse’.

TWO days later, the poor former Rector died in hospital. But the show went on: crowds now flocked to see ‘ The actual Lion that Mauled and caused the Death of the Ex-Rector of Stiffkey.’

a fall from grace, the exposure, the humiliatio­n, the forlorn hope that turning yourself into a funfair act will somehow win round the public and bring forgivenes­s. Does this remind you of somebody?

Let’s hope that the Former Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock watches where he’s going, and avoids stepping on the lion’s tail.

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