Smith is good on how newspapers work, and particularly good on the tabloids, with their mix of doltish sanctimony and breathless voyeurism. But, like Don Quixote, he appears to have been corrupted by his reading. Comparing Profumo and Boothby’s activities in the sheets, he describes the latter as “less vanilla and more tutti-frutti”. “The proudly left-leaning Sunday Mirror”, we are told, “was no friend of the Conservative Party”. Kray victims are “gunned down”, while their clubs are frequented by “fashionable icons like Lucian Freud… and Francis Bacon”. Still, there’s something appropriate about this in a book whose central message is the hackneyed but important one that we shouldn’t always trust what those in power tell us because – well, they would, wouldn’t they?
In this book, there is a sensational item or allegation on every page. When the Krays were in prison, they ran a bodyguard business on the outside; one of their clients was Frank Sinatra.
Boothby was the real father of Macmillan’s daughter Sarah, who committed suicide in 1970, her life blighted by alcoholism. Boothby’s lover at Oxford was Michael Llewelyn Davies, the inspiration for JM Barrie’s Peter Pan.
Boothby died in 1986 from a heart attack. By then he’d been married for nearly a decade to a ‘glamorous’ Sardinian lady, 34 years his junior. ‘Don’t you think I’m a lucky boy?’ he’d remarked on his wedding day.
Daniel Smith tells the story of Boothby, the Krays and Goodman in a rollicking tone that carries conviction and reads well. He has mastered his material and knows what he is talking about. He is trustworthy in tracing the intriguing connections between Kissin, Goodman, Boothby and Wilson... The implication that gay men grow jaded by having sex with other adult men and switch to adolescents or prepubescent boys is bigoted and foolish. Nearly as bad, Smith is lured into implausible, over-reaching speculations about establishment cover-ups. Elsewhere there are vague, prim and unsubstantiated suggestions of other “non-consensual and clearly inappropriate sexual actions”. Has Smith learnt nothing from the fiascos of Operation Conifer and Operation Yewtree?