Still another episode of ON TRIAL, which like the others I have never seen - hopefully if they exist they will be broadcast again one day.
The career of Horatio Bottomley (Harold Goldblatt in this episode) is one of the fascinating ones of the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods. In the series THE EDWARDIANS they had a special episode about him. In that period from 1890 to 1922 he was a first rank public figure in several fields: a corporate executive and company promoter of note; a member of Parliament (austensibly a Liberal but actually an independent); a newspaper editor of some originality and dash; and a leading speaker encouraging the war effort and the enlistments of volunteers in World War I. But there was a darker side to the man - his corporations were frequently massive swindles, his newspaper (JOHN BULL) was a model for the worst excesses of the British and American gutter press, and he sold his services in encouraging enlistments to the British Government under Asquith and then Lloyd George.
Yet Bottomley remains a figure that attracts our attention years after his final disaster and fall in 1922. The reason seems to be that whenever one is about to dismiss him as a charlatan or swindler (which he was) one notes something about him that was better - that had it been developed would have led to a major historical career that we'd recall fondly. Basically it is this: when his personal interest was involved he behaved abominably, but when he did not have anything personally to gain his intelligence reached out so that one could applaud his real public spirit.
Example: JOHN BULL's editorial policy towards the sinking of the "R.M.S. Titanic" in 1912. Even though the paper was selling better than normal (due to disaster coverage) Bottomley had no apparent personal interest in what was going on. All newspapers benefited by the tragedy's coverage. So he examined what the various American and British investigations uncovered. His spleen on this occasion was wonderful. On J. Bruce Ismay (White Star Line's head, who escaped in a lifeboat while 1500 others drowned or froze to death), he laced into him saying that the humblest member of the steerage had a better right to the seat in the lifeboat than Ismay did (which most people then and now still agree to). On Captain Lord of the "S.S. Californian" (which sighted the Titanic's emergency rockets in the distance but did nothing, and who did not have his wireless operator awoken and made to hear what was going on), Bottomley wondered if the fact that some of the crew had been singularly silent because Lord ordered them not to say anything publicly. See what I mean - when he did not stand to gain anything, Bottomley was actually first rate!
His trial in 1922 though shows him at his shabbiest. All through is career as a promoter he was able to use his abilities as an amateur barrister (he was a court reporter earlier) to successfully defend himself. His first trial judge, Sir Henry Hawkins, tried to convince him to become a barrister after his first court success (in 1893). But by 1922 good living had sapped his abilities. He needed frequent drinks of champagne to think clearly.
Bottomley had painted himself as the defender of the "little people" but his last major scam, the "Victory Bond" Scam, showed him at his most selfish at those "little people's" expense. The government had made a new bond issue that cost (in 1922 money) five pounds each. Few could afford that (especially as Britain's economy was weak). Bottomley promised that if everyone contributed a small amount, this would be recorded and the new bonds would be bought. As they came due the interest would be paid out to the public who helped purchase these bonds. But Bottomley did not keep good books, nor did he buy the bonds (he pocketed the huge contributions). When he failed to square one of his partners, Mr. Reuben Bigland, Bigland printed a pamphlet revealing Bottomley's hypocritical lifestyle. Bottomley made the error of suing Bigland (who declared bankruptcy), and this brought the pamphlet to the authorities' attention. Bottomley was arrested for fraud.
He made a public show of being a martyr to political enemies. He claimed the sword of justice would jump out of the statue on top of the Old Bailey to come to his defense. But the prosecution led by Sir Travers Humphrey (Raymond Huntley in the episode) was able to show the fraud and contempt Bottomley showed the people he supposedly protected. He was convicted and given a seven year sentence. Released in the late 1920s, he tried to start a new newspaper (which failed) and then tried a music hall turn describing his life. It failed as well. Impoverished, he died in 1933. A remarkable life - but remarkably wasted.
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