Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Coming Face To Face With Victor Grayson

Last night I saw Victor Grayson. It was in the upstairs room at Marsden Socialist Club. I was killing a few moments during the Beer Break of the Marsden Jazz Festival Committee Meeting. Victor was doing nothing other than smiling at me from an old photograph on the wall. I'm not sure how our meeting affected him, but for me it made me go home and re-read the very strange and very mysterious story of British socialism's lost leader.

Grayson was born in Liverpool, the son of a carpenter, in 1881. Like many great orators, he had a bad stammer as a child, but overcame this and became active in the nineteenth century trade union and socialist movement. In January 1907 the Colne Valley Branch of the Independent Labour Party - more than likely meeting in the very room in Marsden where his picture now hangs - adopted him as their candidate for the forthcoming elections. The leadership of the Labour Party tried to pressure the local ILP branch to drop their support for his candidacy (there was an informal electoral pact with the Liberal Party) but they refused and against all the odds, Grayson was elected. Politically, he stood on the extreme left wing of the Party and openly preached the need for revolution and the overthrow of capitalism. Angry at their opposition to his candidacy, Grayson refused to join the official Labour Group in Parliament, and sat as an independent socialist. He quickly fell foul of the rules and conventions of Parliament and was removed from the House on several occasions.

However, just as frequently, he removed himself from the House. He attended few debates, preferring to concentrate on lecture tours and increasingly frequent bouts of heavy drinking. Stories of his drunkenness and luxurious lifestyle quickly spread and in the 1910 election he lost his parliamentary seat. In the years that followed, there were episodes of heavy drinking and several attempts to re-launch his political career, all of which failed. He surprised many of his socialist supporters by becoming a ardent supporter of the First World War. In 1915 he left Britain to go to New Zealand, but immediately joined the New Zealand army and returned to the Western Front where, in 1917, he was badly wounded.

After the war he returned to Britain where he became involved in a bitter campaign against the then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. He claimed to have proof that Lloyd George was involved in selling political honours and the involvement of an MI5 agent, Arthur Maundy Gregory, in this corrupt practice. In September 1920, Grayson was beaten up in The Strand. He claimed that it was an attempt to silence him and stop him naming the "monocled dandy" (Gregory) as a key player in the sale of honours. A few days later he received a telephone call whilst out drinking with friends. He told his friends that he would be back shortly and left them. Later that evening he was seen entering a house down by the River Thames. After that, he was never seen again.

No body was ever discovered, no trial ever took place. But there were rumours and sightings and theories and speculation. Many claim that he was murdered to silence him. Some claim he fled the country and lived under an assumed name in Australia. Nobody knows. What is known, however, is that Gregory continued to have a somewhat shady involvement in British politics (he was one of the people behind the forged Zinoviev Letter that helped defeat the Labour Party in the 1924 election) before finally being imprisoned in 1932 for attempting to sell political honours.

So many aspects of the story have a contemporary feel about them. I would have happily sat down with Grayson for an hour or two and attempted to find out what he knew and why he vanished. But Victor Grayson wasn't talking. He was just looking at me from his spot on the wall in the upstairs committee room. Smiling knowingly.

14 comments:

  1. How absolutely fascinating! Has anybody written The Book?

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  2. Not yet, although Mikron Theatre did a play about him a few years ago.

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  3. Do it! I really do think it would make a fascinating story. You could even pitch it to a publisher before actually writing it.

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  4. There is no evidence that Gregory was connected with the Zinoviev Letter forgery or circulation however the ex-MI5 officer who organised Gregory's exile from England in 1933 and arranged for a mixture of Conservative and Secret Service funds (Major Sir Joseph Ball) to live the high hog in pre-war Paris on a substancial pension, also arranged the cover-up of the Zinoviev Letter deception which was proved in the 1999 FCO Bennett Report to have been carried out by a group of rogue MI5 and MI6 officers possibly with official collusion.

    I have researched Ball's unpublished private papers at the Bodelian Library which link him to Gregory. I suspect that as the senior MI5 officer in 1920 at the time of Grayson's disappearance he may have been involved. There is a long list of people that fell foul of Ball and met suspicious accidents and deaths including Peter Mazzina (Gregory's London Representative,founded hanged in 1943, Donald Im Thurn the man who got the Zinoviev Letter published in 1930 possible poisoning and Italian Maltese Lawyer Adrian Dingli who shot himself in 1945 following MI5 seizure of his expose of Ball's clandestine backchannel to Mussolini.

    See my research blog : The Truth is back there.

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  5. Anonymous8:20 PM

    To my knowledge at least 2 books have been written about Victor:
    The Strange Case of Victor Grayson: Reg Groves, Pluto press.
    Victor Grayson: Labour's Lost Leader: David Clark

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  6. Great Article.I first heard about Victor Grayson when I was sudying politics and History at Manchester Polytechnic from 1976 to 79. I found his story inspiring and intriguing. I joined the ILP thanks to Geoff Hodgson one of the Poly lecturers./ I was in thwe Labour Party and a Labout Councillor in Rochdale Met Borough. I found most other LP members had never heard of Grayson.

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  7. Victor Grayson was my great uncle. I'm located in Canada. I know that Victor's sister (Augusta Grayson)spent some time in London looking for him after he disappeared. I'm not sure if that was before or after she came to Canada. I travelled to London two years ago and visited all the places he had been such as squares, pubs and Whitehall. Sadly, I couldn't find anyone who had heard of him. I'm glad to see there is still interest in him here on the internet.

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    1. Hi David,
      I'm a radio producer making a programme about your great uncle, Victor Grayson. It would be very interesting to talk to you. Could you please make contact via neil.mccarthy@bbc.co.uk
      best regards

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    2. Hi David,
      I'm making a radio programme about your great uncle, Victor Grayson. It would be very interesting to talk to you. Could you please make contact? neil.mccarthy@bbc.co.uk

      Delete
  8. Thanks for this. Maundy Gregory I've been looking into a bit. As far as the Zinoviev affair, one J.D. Gregory had a more active involvement and the two (no relation) are often confused. The story of Grayson's last seen appearance down by the Thames is a tale by doubtable historian Donald MaCormack, which Andrew Cook (2008) explores as a concocted fiction. Grayson had a hard life of it.

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  9. Tom Slemen is his grandson.

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  10. Lots on Maundy Gregory and Victor Grayson in my new book - Churchill's Secret Enemy (2012)

    http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/churchillsenemy
    £14.99 (Paperback) £6.32 (ebook)

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  11. Maundy Gregory is linked to our present Queen by way of his financial support for her father George VI who accepted gifts from him in 1925 and claimed to have loaned him £100,000. A very seamy affair involving Joseph Ball,Harry Preston,an Italian Fascist banker and Pro-Nazi Germans centred around Gregory's Ambassadors Club. Churchill's Secret Enemy (2012)
    http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/churchillsenemy

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  12. Anonymous3:44 PM

    How little has changed in the case of "Honours" through history, or would Mr Blair disagree?

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