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Crying All The Way To The Bank

By Revel Barker (Foreword by Vera Baird QC)

From the Guardian (edited):

How the Daily Mirror libelled Liberace

Fifty years ago one of the most extraordinary libel trials of all time took place in Britain. The flamboyant American entertainer Liberace had sued the Daily Mirror columnist William Connor (who wrote under the byline Cassandra) for implying that he was homosexual.

Connor wrote that Liberace was "...the summit of sex - the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want... a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love."

(Two important contextual facts: male homosexuality was then illegal; the word "gay" had not become an antonym for homosexual).

After a six-day hearing, during which Liberace denied being homosexual or ever having taken part in homosexual acts, the jury found for him. He was awarded a then-record £8,000 in damages (about £500,000 in today's money).

The whole trial has been resurrected by former Daily Mirror journalist, Revel Barker.

He and Vera Baird QC have done a fine job in selecting key passages of evidence, and it is eye-opening stuff in many respects. The most obvious factor is the Mirror's arrogance, as shown during the cross-examinations of Connor and the Mirror's editorial chief, Hugh Cudlipp.

Baird observes that the Mirror "didn't seem to have a plan for the trial." Cudlipp and Connor were going up against a man who was phenomenally popular with the public at the time. Their chances of victory were slim to start with and grew thinner with each passing day.

The case should have been settled, in Liberace's favour, well before it ever reached court. But Cudlipp was convinced, not least by the Mirror's rising popularity, that he could win a case largely based on hypocrisy (that Connor did not mean what it is obvious he did mean).

Liberace was also hypocritical because he was gay, though he always denied it. He died, aged 67 in 1987, of an Aids-related illness.

Barker's book has fascinating moments for journalists, not least the lengthy questioning of Cudlipp by Liberace's counsel, Gilbert Beyfus QC, in which he attempts to trap the Mirror supremo into admitting that his sensational, risk-taking paper was reckless.

The questions, including those from the judge, Mr Justice Salmon, reek with middle class distaste for popular journalism.

Publish Date: 2009

ISBN: 9780955823879

Format: Paperback

Pages: 372

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