The current spectacle of a UK Cabinet drowning in a mire of sleaze of its own making has brought back memories of confidence tricksters and charlatans of one's own experience. They may not have been at the pinnacles of power but they managed to extract considerable sums of other folks' money into their private coffers.
My first charlatan was Gorgeous George Pottinger who I met at the elbow of the late Lord Fraser of Allander. Lord Fraser had been asked by the then Secretary of State for Scotland to survey the tourist resources of the Highlands. Pottinger, a very high-flying civil servant in the Scottish Office, had been seconded to do the work. Their survey came up with the thoroughly bright idea of the creation of a winter sports complex at Aviemore. Unfortunately, it also led to the recruitment of John Poulson as the 'only person with the vision' to turn the idea into reality.
Poulson was a Pontefract-born architectural designer and businessman whose company had revolutionised the way architects worked. Instead of coming up with a design and then handing on to others to cost, plan and build, Poulson offered an all-in-one service integrating the separate teams. By the 1960s, his was one of the largest practices in Europe. He had also created a monster that needed more work than was available. So he began to bribe and corrupt councillors, officials and civil servants to keep the contracts flowing.
At Aviemore, Pottinger was delegated to work closely with him. Their closeness led to a one-way exchange of gifts that gave George a brand new house, plus central heating, alongside Muirfield Golf Course. Ironically, it was during a black tie dinner at the venerable club that the fraud squad arrested him. He was sent to prison for four years for corruption in the award of building contracts. Very sadly, George was a hugely talented person whose greed outpaced his common sense.
Charlatan number two was a cad who, amongst larger sins, put my name into Hansard. Dennis Loraine was a wildly handsome and charismatic ex-actor turned pathological fantasist who turned his dreams into financial nightmares. He hit Scotland in 1963 with a glamour-laden project to create 2,000 jobs at Glenrothes with a massive piggery to service his Royal Victoria Sausage company which was burgeoning with orders. Glenrothes New Town general manager Paddy Doyle asked me to organise the press launch. On paper, it was a great story. George Sanders, a world renowned film star, and his glamorous wife, Benita Hume, were amongst the backers of the plan which was to be carried out by Sanders' Cadco business. Other names including Graham Green and Charlie Chaplin were suggested to be involved.
As the MP Willie Hamilton subsequently told the House of Commons, the press release I had written (thanks for naming me specifically Willie) was not worth the paper it was printed on. The Royal Victoria Sausage company was basically a shop drowning in debt. Loraine used monies raised for the Glenrothes project to fund a lavish international lifestyle that included penthouses in Rome and a fleet of fancy cars. Public money and bank loans were smoothly diverted worldwide while local businesses in Fife were left with unpaid bills. The heiress to the Airfix fortune (a celebrated model kit company) joined the list of unpaid creditors and a long line of beautiful women who funded his bogus enterprises. Loraine left a multitude of bad debts worldwide – and a staggering number of children, few within wedlock.
Loraine, Sanders, and Roe (an international lawyer who was heavily involved) never faced British justice. Loraine got involved with international counterfeit money and ended up working in the US for the FBI in a sting that ruined a massive criminal undertaking... and saved Loraine's skin.
Two charlatans who fooled much better brains than mine but shared one characteristic: they were very likeable. Even full of bonhomie. Now there's a possible line of thought for all those watching the current Cabinet quagmire.
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