Thursday, February 21, 2008


Strange Story of the Lord Haw Haw of the Conservative Establishment

Having written my PhD thesis on the second world war period I thought I was quite clued up on it, so I was astonished to discover last Sunday a juicy bit of its history of which I knew nothing. It concerned the son of Leo Amery, right-wing Conservative Cabinet minister and mate of Winston, famous for calling out to Arthur Henderson in the 1939 pre-war debate 'Speak for England, Arthur!'. I was aware also of his gravel voiced son, Julian, who served in Tory Cabinets and seemed intent on believing he was Churchill reincarnated. What I had not realised was that Leo had another son, John(see frontispiece of the book by David Faber, left).

Vanessa Thorpe wrote the story in the Observer about this 'disappeared' son- I can't raise a link but the wikipedia entry is here. It seems Ronald Harwood has written a play about Amery junior called An English Tragedy. And an apt title this would appear to be. John went to Harrow-and other schools from which he was also expelled- and became an affected dandy who carried around a teddy bear. He moved to France in the thirties and became a follower the French fascist, Jacques Doriot; from there he translated into Germany once the war was in progress. He met Hitler and was clearly a propaganda gift to the Nazis. Along with 'Lord Haw Haw' he made hundreds of broadcasts from Berlin, seeking to spread the word of fascism.

The impact of a scion of the Conservative establishment working for the hated Nazis, must have been considerable; in his Who's Who entry Amery acknowledged only one son. Eventually John was captured in Italy and tried for treason. He pleaded guilty, was condemned in 8 minutes and then hanged in Wandsworth prison 19th December 1945, after allegedly joking with his hangman, Albert Pierrepoint. Harwood thinks Leo's suppression of his (half) Jewish ancestry, for fear his career would be damaged in those anti-semitic times, helps explain John's rebellious behaviour. So far I haven't read anything about his sexual preferences, but I wonder if John Amery was just simply gay and that this caused the same renunciation of his social and patriotic background as it did the spies Burgess, Maclean and others?

Interesting theory - I'd have fucked the lot of them.
I can't see mention of Julian Amery's name without thinking of a leftie history teacher who, mentioning Leo Amery in passing during a lesson on WW2, added that he was "the father of Julian Amery, who went on to become the self-appointed leader of the imperialist wing of the Conservative Party." Classic.
Just a minor point - Julian Amery never actually served in any Tory cabinets, although he held several junior posts. The one post that he WAS given that theoretically carried cabinet rank, Secretary of State for Air/Minister for Aviation, was left outside the cabinet while (because?) he held it. The fact that he was never in the cabinet always irked him. Check him out in DNB.

He was also Joseph Chamberlain's official biographer after the death of J. L. Garvin. Not sure what that says about either of them.
John Amery was certainly sexually prolific - he married two prostitutes (and not in succession) and continued to engage in homosexual sex, often for money. Indeed, it is speculated that he contracted syphilis from a homosexual relationship in which, he claimed, he played the passive partner and earned good money from it. This, however, is trivia, in a book that really draws one in to a tragic life.
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