Ben Whishaw on playing Norman Scott: 'A Very English Scandal rips along like a bizarre comedy!’

A very English scandal Hugh Grant Ben Whishaw
(Image credit: BBC/Blueprint Television Ltd)

Ben Whishaw plays wronged lover Norman Scott in BBC1’s A Very English Scandal, alongside Hugh Grant…

Having starred as gadget king Q in the Bond films and lent his gentle voice to Paddington Bear in the movies, Ben Whishaw is about to give TV viewers a masterly portrayal of a spurned lover who rocked the political establishment to its core...

If you were around in the 1970s, it was difficult to miss the biggest scandal in British political history when Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe MP, was accused of trying to have his former gay lover Norman Scott murdered, leading to an infamous trial at the Old Bailey in 1979. The bizarre affair plays out in BBC1’s three-part drama A Very English Scandal (starts BBC1, Sunday 20 May, 9pm).

What’s On TV caught up with Ben Whishaw on the set of A Very English Scandal. He was covered in fake blood as he’d just finished filming an infamous incident in the story - when a hapless hitman Andrew Newton killed Norman’s Great Dane dog instead of him...


WOTV: What did you know about the Jeremy Thorpe scandal? Ben Whishaw: I’d never heard of Jeremy Thorpe as it was all before I was born. But the story was delicious and exciting, and there’s the ridiculousness of it, the weird random twists and turns that fate took for these two people. There are awful and tragic elements in the story but it also rips along like a bizarre comedy.


WOTV: How do you view the relationship between Jeremy Thorpe and Norman Scott? Ben Whishaw: Jeremy liked taking risks but Norman probably liked the same thing. Norman was constantly on the edge of everything falling to pieces and lurches from one disaster to another. Both leave a trail of miserable people around them.


WOTV: What research did you d to play Norman Scott? Ben Whishaw: Norman and I had a lunch together and it was really interesting and helpful. You just sort of ask Norman a question and you just set him off telling loads of stories. He’s one of the very few people from the story who is left alive and he’s a very flirty, silly, attractive 70-something-year-old, but as you’ll see in the drama back in the 1960s and 1970s he’s quite damaged.


Ben Whishaw as the lover of MP Jeremy Thorpe (played by Hugh Grant) in a Very English Scandal, which is on Sunday 20th May

Ben as Norman, the spurned lover of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe MP, played by Hugh Grant (Image credit: BBC/Blueprint/Amazon/Sony)


WOTV: How was it filming with Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe? Funnily enought, I didn't meet Hugh on the set of Paddington 2, but got to know him well for this project. It's been brilliant working with him.


WOTV: Were there any big challenges while filming? Ben Whishaw: Norman had a lot of dogs. He was a great lover of all animals. It’s quite difficult to act with dogs however because they don’t really act. They just didn’t want to cooperate, so that was probably the most difficult bit of filming.


What did you come away learning from this whole sorry saga? Ben Whishaw: It’s deliciously savage, bleak and absurd what happened and when you read the cold facts, you almost can’t believe it, it seems so odd. What these people did to each other was savage. Jeremy wanted Norman killed but they were obsessed with each other for a long time.

A Very English Scandal starts on BBC1, Sunday 20 May, 9pm



Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.