In May 1998 Channel 4’s Secret History documentary series broadcast : The Porn King, the Stripper and the Bent Coppers (Season 6, Episode 2) looking at the story of Jim Humphreys and the corruption scandal of the Soho police administration featuring Major Matt Oliver, Private Investigator as himself. Sadly the episode isn’t available to view online but London history blog Nickel In the Machine covers the whole episode in a 2008 post ‘Soho and the fall of the dirty squad’
On 21 April 1971 Lord Longford had announced his motion in the House of Lords to form a Committee to inquire into Pornography. I’ve often wondered over the past two or so years what his purpose was in doing so. It may be that the Soho police clean-up was not just the unintended, almost ancillary, benefit Longford in his autobiography tries to pass it off as. What motivated the celebrities and public figures volunteering to join his inquiry into Porn?
“Our committee, if over-large included many notable figures. The Archbishop of Canterbury regretfully told me that he was unsympathetic. He thought we were calling undue attention to a secondary issue. But the Archbishop of York, Dr Coggan, later Archbishop of Canterbury, joined us on his own initiative. So did one of the leading law lords. So did TV stars like Cliff Richard and Jimmy Savile. So did Kingsley Amis and his then wife Elizabeth Jane Howard, though they attached their own reservations to he report. Most valuable of all, perhaps, was Professor Norman Anderson, equally eminent in legal and theological studies. My great friend Malcolm Muggeridge joined us, partly, I think, as a kindness to me. He detested pornography but he detested government interference, censorship, just as much. He produced a sub-committee report which tried to reconcile his two detestations.”[p.153, ‘Avowed Intent’ Lord Longford’s autobiography]
However much Muggeridge ‘detested pornography’, his mask of puritanical indignance slipped frequently, often targeting the wives, and in one case the child, of his friends:
Then there was the 1963 dinner party at Boulestin, the famous Covent Garden French restaurant.
Kitty was laid up in St Bartholomew’s hospital and, after visiting her there, Malcolm went on to Boulestin to join up with an old journalistic colleague, post-war foreign correspondent Rene MacColl, who was there with his wife Hermione and their two children.
Richard Ingrams records: ‘Malcolm became very drunk and began fumbling under the table, not only with Mrs MacColl but with her daughter as well, ‘Such behaviour on Malcolm’s part was by no means unusual at the time, but Rene MacColl was outraged, got to his feet, slapped Malcolm’s face and stormed out of the restaurant along with his family.’ [The BBC ‘saint’ who pounced on any woman in reach: New book exposes unholy truth about moralist Malcolm Muggeridge, Daily Mail, 27 February 2015]
During April 1971 dark clouds were gathering over Savile’s head. On 29th March Clair Ufland, a 15 year old Top of the Pops dancer had committed suicide leaving behind a diary, quickly lost by the investigating authorities. The Payola inquiry into the BBC had begun with Brian Neill QC leading it. Savile had ridiculed a solicitor who’d dared to ask him questions. Bluff and arrogance would get him quite far but a more daring smokescreen was necessary.
Savile’s volunteering for Longford’s porn report was a useful piece of legerdemain. Others were in need of a convincing smokescreen too. In May 1973 the Prime Minister’s Chief Reporter of Public Inquiries David Anderson MP (b. 1916 – d.1995) who’d also been Heath’s Solicitor General for Scotland was convicted for asking two under-age girls to walk on him in stilettos, a request David Steel’s wife would recognise years later watching a play based on Anderson’s trial. Playland Amusement Arcade in Piccadilly Circus was already under surveillance with a prosecution in March 1972 – Playland Trial No 1 – taking place.
“I must not forget to mention one unlooked-for benefit that followed our inquiry. The best friend that I have made since the war – Major Matthew Oliver, war hero – joined us as an investigator of the criminal aspects of pornography. He uncovered a distressing amount of corruption in the police who were supposed to be prosecuting pornography. Some of them paid a penalty. Matthew and his wife Vivienne have entertained me many times since at St Leonard’s. I have described Matt as the most severe critic of my books.” [p.155 Avowed Intent]
Was it unlooked-for as Longford stated? Or was there a more pressing need to free the Obscene Publications’ Squad’s grip over the Soho porn shops?
“Later development did, however, show that he was not quite so wrong or out of touch as was suggested at the time. The first direct result of the inquiry came quite soon after publication. Part of the investigation had focused on the organisation of the trade in pornography which was carried out, Frank began to suspect, with the connivance of senior figures in the police. At about the same time as he was going to Copenhagen, Frank employed the same private investigator, Major Matt Oliver, who had helped him with gathering information to clear Michael Davies of the Clapham Common murder back in the 1950s. Oliver compiled a dossier revealing malpractice by the police. Frank was unsure about how to proceed. When he consulted his committee they made it plain that it was not within the remit of the inquiry to tackle police corruption. Frank could not let the matter rest and he decided, in a private capacity, to hand over the information to Sir John Waldron, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who promised to investigate. Frank also encouraged Oliver to take his dossier to the Sunday People, which put a team of undercover reporters on the case. In February of the following year the paper ran an expose on police corruption and the pornography trade which in the summer of 1973 resulted in eighteen senior officers being tried and sentence to a total of 116 years in jail. Although the history of the pornography inquiry was largely one of journalists working against Frank, in this instance a successful partnership was forged.” [Peter Sanford’s biography The Outcast’s Outcast p.331 below]
It was in 1954 that Longford had first employed the services of Major Matthew Oliver to investigate the case of Michael Davies, a 21 year old sentenced to death for murder of a 17 year old on Clapham Common, involving a gang of Teddy Boys.
Gabrielle, Piers’ mother was one of four children of Major Matt Oliver
Gambling in the interests of national security/prestige?
In September 1952, the military assistant to three British Commandants in Berlin, a 34 year old Major Matthew Oliver, also with four children, had been demoted to Captain having been sentenced to four years in prison in Hanover, Germany. Six months before prosecution commenced in May 1952 Oliver had gone AWOL to London because ‘he intended to report personally to the War Office. He though it would be better if he was in Britain ‘when the storm broke’. According to the prosecuting officer Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Campbell ‘the storm’ involved: – 28 charges of fraudulent conversion (approx £5175 – in today’s money approx £145k) and 1 charge of Absence Without Leave
Oliver, in his role of trust had access to a top secret intelligence fund in Berlin with a turnover of approx £8,330 (£234k in today’s money). Acting in his own defence, he quoted letters from Major-General G Bourne (his 2nd boss British Commandant West Berlin 23.01.1949- 24.10.1951, later honoured with the role of Aide-de-Campe General to the Queen in 1959 – 1960) which stated:
“80% of secret and confidential matters in Berlin were shared with Oliver”
and praised Oliver’s help in incidents involving the Russians in Berlin. Oliver’s mitigation was a curious case of self-delusion and menace arguing his gambling had only been embarked upon in the interests of national ‘prestige’:
“To make this sum good and to preserve British prestige in Berlin and not to bring it up into the limelight I entered on a system of gambling.”
He said he then entered the ‘monetary vortex’ (sounds painful) of Berlin attending the “trotting tracks and casinos which abound in West Berlin.”
“He said that he had spent the money not for any personal benefit but purely for the sake of his country. Life in Berlin was very expensive and he received no grant for the entertainment of the “trail of general, Prime Ministers, their entourages and secretaries with whom I had to deal.”
The 4 year sentence and demotion to Captain, and being cashiered from the army, demonstrated the credulity with which the court greeted his mitigation plea.
The combined knowledge of Major Matthew 80% Oliver the Berlin intelligence funds gambler and Major Matthew Oliver Lord Longford’s Soho Dirty Squad P.I. would have been quite something when you think about how much power secrets can confer especially secrets about powerful people.