On Trial: Season 1, Episode 2

The Baccarat Scandal (17 Jul. 1960)

TV Episode  -  Crime
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Cast

Episode credited cast:
John Justin ...
Sir William Gordon-Cumming
Alan Webb ...
...
Georgina Cookson ...
Mrs. Wilson
Barry Lowe ...
Arthur Stanley Wilson
...
Lycett Green
...
Mr. C.F. Gill
Hugh Cross ...
Kevin Brennan ...
Redmond Phillips ...
Malcolm Watson ...
Usher
Gilbert Spurge ...
Foreman of the Jury
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Andrew Faulds ...
Narrator
James Laver ...
Commentator
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Genres:

Crime

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Release Date:

17 July 1960 (UK)  »

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User Reviews

A Friendly Evening's Game of Chance
4 November 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Again, as in the episode about Sir Roger Casement's trial, the episode of ON TRIAL about the Gordon-Cummings v. Wilson, etc. disaster is currently unavailable for review - if it still exists. But the story can be explained.

Imagine if Donald Trump (a good name in a card game) had a weekend party at his home, and invited the Vice President as a guest. Imagine if the state they were in at the time had anti-gambling statutes. Then imagine if Mr. Trump (who is not - as far as I know - into gambling on a personal level) brought out an expensive set of gambling material for a night's entertainment, and he and the guests all went into a really nice game of roulette or twenty one. And one of those involved was Mr. Cheney. Another guest is winning a bit above average, when several people noted odd actions (or apparently odd actions) by this guest in the course of the gambling - actions that could be construed as cheating. After the game is over, these guests confront this guest and force him to sign a pledge that he will never gamble again. Protesting he is innocent, the guest still signs the pledge. Soon word of his actions leak out, and ... facing legal and public ruin, the guest sues the parties who are responsible for defamation of character. And Mr. Trump and Dick Cheney are called to testify about the illegal gambling game they attended.

That crazy description of non-existent events is actually the events of the night that Sir William Gordon-Cumming's social ruin began. But it happened in August 1890 in Great Britain, near Hull, at the estate of Tranby-Croft owned by shipping tycoon Arthur Wilson. And the witness who reluctantly had to testify about the illegal game of baccarat was one of it's most popular players - H.R.H. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (and later King Edward VII).

The Prince of Wales, from what we know of him, was actually a decent figure but a man with big tastes that his mother and father (Queen Victorian and Prince Albert) tried to curtail throughout his upbringing and life. He rebelled and became something of a loose liver if not a rake. Like his ancestor George IV as son of King George III (see THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE), the Prince was determined to enjoy his social position. He had numerous affairs before and after his marriage to Alexandra of Denmark (later his Queen). In 1876 these came to a dreadful head when he was called as a witness (and an unwritten co-defendant) in the Mordaunt Divorce Case. It was a historical moment when Prince Bertie testified in that one - no royal family member had been so intimately connected to a trial since Charles I was tried for treason in 1649 (see CROMWELL).

But Bertie did not realize that he was due for a repeat performance in middle age - due to Tranby-Croft. He liked to travel with rich subjects and friends, and the Wilsons seemed to fit right in. So he attended a weekend party at their estate. With him were several members of his entourage, including his equerry Sir William Gordon-Cumming. A wealthy man, and Victorian war hero, Sir William had everything going for him - but he also had a vicious, nasty temper and tongue and made many enemies. Keeping this in mind we may really wonder if he did cheat that night at the baccarat table (it was said he manipulated his counter chips to increase his winnings). The people who witnessed this may have made it up to get even with Sir William. His fatal error was in caving in and signing the confession.

His barrister was the great English lawyer Sir Edward Clarke - the man who saved Adelaide Bartlett from the gallows in the 1886 poisoning case, and who would subsequently defend Oscar Wilde in the trials regarding the writer's relationships with Lord Alfred Douglas and post office delivery boys. Clarke realized that he had to fight that confession, and pulled out all the stops. He ripped into the personalities of the people who said they saw Sir William cheat. And he called H.R.H. to the stand for the second time. Bertie was not amused by this situation. Neither was his mother. But neither were the jurors convinced. Sir William lost his suit and his reputation.

In retrospect the "Baccarat" Case was a minor event of the history of the 1890s, which is colorful for the involvement of the heir to the British throne, and his repeat performance as a witness in court. But the fate of it's real victim, Sir William, is forgotten by most people. All that fate really teaches us is, no matter how much pressure is put on you never sign a written confession to shut people up!


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