On November 20, 1974, a man left his clothes in a neat heap on a Miami beach, walked into the sea and never returned. Later that day, a waiter at a nearby hotel found the man’s clothes and police were alerted. A search began but the man could not be found. That man was John Stonehouse, Labor MP for Walsall North and former Postmaster-General in Harold Wilson’s government.
Stonehouse had been a rising star in Wilson’s 1964 administration, aiming for high office. But things did not go as well as he had hoped and within a few years he was financially ruined, his marriage ended, he was questioned by MI5 on suspicion of being a spy for Czech intelligence and he ended up faking his own death in Miami.
In the new ITV drama stone house, written by John Preston, stars real-life couple Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes as the politician and his wife, Barbara. The show chronicles the congressman’s steep rise and fall and his outlandish escape plan.
There are many conflicting stories about what Stonehouse was really up to in the years leading up to his disappearance, and his daughter Julia has already condemned the drama.
“ITV has told me they looked at various sources and that it is a fictional report. Because the main character, my father, is dead, no one can complain,” she said The guard earlier this year. “The rest of us are just tubes of paint to paint any story that comes to mind. And no one will know what’s really behind it. I call it a false statement. That’s polite.”
She is certain that his disappearance was related to his mental health. “He was insane. Bonkers,” she said. “We knew that. He had poor mental health combined with the effects of Mandrax, [a sedative] aka Quaaludes, which he took with him as government minister in 1966 and flew everywhere.”
What we do know is that for more than a decade before he disappeared, Stonehouse met regularly with “diplomats” at the Czech Embassy in London at the height of the Cold War. According to the Czechs, he was paid around £5,000 for his services, which was a lot of money at the time.
His daughter has claimed his relationship with the Czechs was kosher and none of the payments ever reached him, while others suspect he was selling secrets.
Stonehouse denied to MI5 that he was the Czechs’ “agent Kolon” and that he had done anything wrong, but that cloud of suspicion created a stench and his political career was doomed thereafter.
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Seeking success outside of politics, Stonehouse started various companies to make money. By 1974, most of them were in financial difficulties, and he caught the attention of the Department of Trade and Industry.
Then, in 1974, he flew to Miami, faked his own death, and fled to Australia under an assumed name. It was believed he was having an affair with his secretary, Sheila Buckley, and that he had fled to start a new life with her, leaving his wife and three children in Britain to mourn his death.
It wasn’t long before police received reports of an unusual Englishman conducting suspicious transactions in banks across Melbourne. When they arrested and questioned him, they asked if he was the runaway peer Lord Lucan, who was wanted in London for the murder of his nanny and has never been found to this day.
Stonehouse was found to be carrying a false passport in the name of Joseph Markham – a voter’s dead husband. He is believed to have had the idea of stealing his identity from the 1973 film The Day of the Jackal.
But police found out he was the missing MP and Stonehouse was sent back to the UK, declared bankrupt and convicted of fraud. He received a seven-year sentence but was released after three years.
In 1981, Stonehouse married his former secretary, Buckley, and the couple had a son, James William John.
Stonehouse died of a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 62.
stone house will first be shown on ITV on Monday 2 January 2023 at 9pm and will be available in full on ITVX thereafter.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/stonehouse-matthew-macfadyen-true-story-itv-b2247083.html Stonehouse: The true story that inspired ITV drama starring Matthew Macfadyen