Simanaitis Says

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AN ENGLISH ECCENTRIC PART 3

WE’VE heard of Noel Pemberton-Billing setting his headmaster’s office ablaze, designing a combined cabin cruiser/aeroplane and other inventive ideas, some successful, others less so. Today in the concluding Part 3, we find he could be something of a right-wing wacko, and a successful one at that.

Noel Pemberton Billing, aka Pemberton-Billing, 1881–1948, British aviator, inventor, publisher, Member of Parliament, and conspiracy theorist. Studio portrait, 1916.

A World War I Conspiracy Theory. It was back in World War I that Pemberton-Billing’s right-wing wacko streak emerged. While a Member of Parliament, he claimed that the German high command was filled with homosexuals, their avowed purpose being to infiltrate Britain, seduce young men through a secret society called The Unseen Hand, thus lessening the country’s military prowess.

Pemberton-Billing founded a journal called The Imperialist, part-funded by Lord Beaverbrook, sort of that era’s Rupert Murdoch. Another right-wing wacko, Wisconsin-born Brit Harold S. Spencer, became Pemberton-Billing’s assistant editor. Spencer claimed the existence of a Black Book containing the names of some 47,000 British sexual perverts being blackmailed by Germany.

Pemberton-Billing, left, with Harold S. Spencer, 1918. Image from spartacus-educational.com.

The Imperialist, January 26, 1918, wrote about “German agents who have infested this country for the past twenty years, agents so vile and spreading such debauchery and such lasciviousness as only German minds can conceive and only German bodies execute.”

The Cult of the Clitoris. In February 1918, The Imperialist became The Vigilante and, on February 16, 1918, it published “The Cult of the Clitoris.”

Talk about lasciviousness! To quote John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row 27 years later, “Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford coil than about the clitoris.…” And, apart from medical types, British men of 1918 were no more knowledgable.

According to the Black Book, this cult of perverts included Margot Asquith, wife of former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, and her alleged lover Canadian actress Maud Allan. Allan was to portray Salome in a private performance of Oscar Wilde’s play, prohibited in public because the Lord Chamberlain had declared it blasphemous.

Maud Allan, in her self-sewn Salome costume. Postcard image from headstuff.org.

The Vigilante even went so far as to suggest “To be a member of Maud Allan’s private performance in Oscar Wilde’s Salome, one has to apply to a Miss Valetta, of 9 Duke Street, Adelphi, W.C. If Scotland Yard were to seize the list of those members I have no doubt they would secure the names of several of the first 47,000.”

The Libel Suit. Upon hearing of this, Maud Allan brought suit in March 1918 against Pemberton-Billing for obscene, criminal, and defamatory libel. What’s more, according to Toni Bentley’s Sisters of Salome, the government hired a woman to lure Pemberton-Billing into being photographed in a male brothel.

Sisters of Salome, by Toni Bentley, Yale University Press, 2002.

The chosen agent-provacateur was Eileen Villiers-Stuart, an attractive 25-year-old bigamist. Notes Bentley, “By the end of the afternoon, mesmerized by him, she flipped her allegiance, slept with him, and … agreed to testify as a star witness in her new lover’s libel case.”

Eileen Villiers-Stuart and Pemberton-Billing. Image from headstuff.org.

The Trial. Pemberton-Billing conducted his own defense and led off with witness Eileen Villiers-Stuart. She claimed that, indeed, she had seen the Black Book and that Herbert and Margot Asquith were listed among those 47,000 perverts. In the ensuing uproar, Judge Charles Darling ordered her to leave the witness box. She retaliated by claiming Darling’s name was also in the Black Book.

Pemberton-Billing’s next witness was his assistant editor Harold S. Spencer, who said the play Salome “… which has been described by competent critics as an essay in lust, madness and sadism… must bring people who are seeking unusual excitement, erotic entertainment; and to gather these people together… would open these people to possible German blackmail…”

“It was to prevent this,” Spencer said, “that the article was written.”

The Verdict. On June 4, 1918, Pemberton-Billing was acquitted of all charges. People in the crowded gallery sprang up and cheered. As John Simkin notes in Spartacus Educational, September 1997 (updated January 2020), “On leaving the court in company with Eileen Villiers-Stuart and his wife, Billing received a second thunderous ovation from the crowd outside, where his path was strewn with flowers.”

Mendacity Triumphs. Spartacus Educational notes that Eileen Villiers-Stuart later admitted the evidence she had given “was entirely fictitious, and that she had rehearsed it with Billing and Harold S. Spencer.”

I am unsure what Mrs. P.-B. thought of it all.

In 1948, Noel Pemberton-Billing died, age 67, on his motor yacht Commodore at Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, one of Britain’s favorite yachting venues. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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