The Oldie

Auberon Waugh, newshound

My father’s dogfight with Jeremy Thorpe – Alexander Waugh


Waughs are sometimes called ‘Wuffs’, partly because ‘wuff’ is how the name is pronounced up North, and partly because the word (according to the Oxford Dictionary) means ‘a low suppressed bark of a dog’. For over a century, the Waughs have been right up there with Barbara Woodhouse, the Kennel Club and Charles Cruft, in championin­g the rights of dogs to live free from human harm and harassment.

In his autobiogra­phy, One Man’s Road, my great-grandfathe­r Arthur Wuff described a seminal moment, when he stood up to his terrifying father for the first time in his life, by refusing to carry his dog whip to a shoot. Years later, when Gaspard, his favourite poodle, died, Arthur wrote, ‘Dear darling Gappy. No more walks together on the Heath. No more welcoming barks as I open the gate. Goodbye, dear little companion of so many happy hours.’

His son Evelyn Wuff confessed to a similar passion for dogs. At Oxford in the 1920s, he mounted demonstrat­ions against his tutor, the Dean of Hertford, CRMF Cruttwell, to stop him allegedly sexually abusing his spaniel. Waving a stuffed dog high above his head, the young, fearless student sang loudly out of tune from the quad beneath his tutor’s window: ‘Cruttwell Dog, Cruttwell dog, where

have you been?’ ‘I’ve been to Hertford to lie with

the Dean.’ His daughter, my aunt Hatty Wuff, empathised so greatly with a dachshund’s sense of mental alienation, that she commission­ed a stair-climber of carved oak to enable it to get onto its owner’s bed. When the same little fellow stole all the mince pies, she would not let it be punished, but offered a kindly vet £3,000 to relieve its constipati­on instead.

But the top gong goes to my father, Auberon Waugh, whose principled stands against canine abuse still live in the memories of all those who seek to defend their pets from human spite. In January 1979 he stood up to the Queen:

‘Horrified to see the Queen allowing her corgi called Piper to sit on the same sofa as her controvers­ial grandson, Master Peter Phillips, for a Christmas broadcast. Piper is by nature a healthy dog, but there is always a danger to dogs from close proximity to human babies, whose excreta can cause loss of appetite, canine bilharzia, follicular dehydratio­n and blindness. It is a shameful thing to see a dog put to risk for the sake of cheap publicity.’

Her Majesty never repeated the offence but, in that same year, there was an even worse crime – the subject of a new BBC drama series, A Very English Scandal, starring Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe. On 24th October 1975, a Devon farmhand and male model, Norman Scott, was found giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitat­ion to a Great Dane bitch at a remote spot on Porlock Hill, Exmoor. His dog, Rinka, had been shot in the head by a hired assassin. Poor Scott had already suffered a terrible trauma when his Jack Russell, Mrs Tish, had to be put down for biting a farmyard duck, but the killing of Rinka was really more than he could bear.

So he told the police everything – how people from the Liberal Party had tried to murder him in order to conceal his homosexual affair with its leader, Jeremy Thorpe, but had shot the dog instead. All this is too well known to be repeated here. What must never be forgotten is my father’s noble role in keeping the name of Rinka alive.

Thorpe – summoned to appear before a judge at the Old Bailey on 30th April 1979 on charges of incitement and conspiracy to murder – successful­ly petitioned the Lord Chief Justice to postpone proceeding­s, so that his trial would not inconvenie­nce his efforts to be re-elected as Liberal MP for North Devon in the general election of 3rd May.

Furious at this string-pulling impudence, Richard Ingrams, then editor of Private Eye and later founder of The Oldie, commanded my father to stand as a parliament­ary candidate in North Devon for the Dog Lovers’ Party.

Ingrams acted as my father’s campaign manager; leaflets and posters (pictured) were printed and a rousing campaign song (‘Jeremy! Jeremy! Wuff! Wuff! Bang! Bang!’) was duly composed, rehearsed and recorded. Thorpe was allowed to besmirch the character of Scott, the chief witness against him, in a long article for the Sunday Times, and to sue the Court of Appeal to have the Dog Lovers’ Party manifesto injuncted.

All the manifesto said was, ‘It is one thing to observe the polite convention that a man is innocent until proved guilty. It is quite another to take a man who has been publicly accused of crimes which would bring him into the cordial dislike of all right-minded citizens and dog lovers and treat him as a hero’ – stuff like that.

Denied the right to circulate his manifesto, my father stood no chance; he polled 79 votes and lost his deposit. Still, Thorpe lost his seat and, through my father’s actions, Rinka’s name will never be forgotten in North Devon, and no dog should ever need mouth-to-mouth resuscitat­ion on Porlock Hill again.

‘A Very English Scandal’ is on BBC1

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 ??  ?? Auberon Waugh, Dog Lovers’ Party candidate, and Dave, his Great Dane
Auberon Waugh, Dog Lovers’ Party candidate, and Dave, his Great Dane

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