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Review: Scandal at Dolphin Square, A Notorious History.  A guest post by LH Member Stephen Hoare. 

dolphin square coverAt its grand opening in November 1936 Dolphin Square, a now notorious Thameside development of luxury rented apartments in Pimlico was described by its developer Costain in a promotional pamphlet as appealing to “Members of Parliament, people of title, Government Officials and Professional men” ….”by reason of its unique location and exceptional appointments”.

Written by former Labour MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk and journalist Daniel Smith, Scandal at Dolphin Square investigates why and how this bolthole for the rich and famous came to be associated with many of the major political and sex scandals of the past ten decades.

The proximity to Parliament and the West End and the privacy afforded by the complex attracted a cast of characters that included MPs of every political persuasion but also spies, actors, businessmen, prostitutes and con men.  This painstakingly researched history shines a light into some very murky corners and tells some entertaining and gripping stories in the process that shed light on the social history of our recent past.

The Swinging Sixties brought several of Dolphin Square’s rackety residents into sharp relief. The arrest of the outwardly respectable civil servant John Vassall on charges of spying laid bare Britain’s vulnerability to Soviet espionage. Christine Keeler who once entertained her lovers in Dolphin Square – an affair that entrapped Secretary of State for War, John Profumo and brought down a government – and the Kray brothers’ association with the bisexual peer Lord Boothby are just some of the highlights.  On the lighter side we learn about Sid James and Babs Windsor’s love nest!

Danczuk and Smith helpfully explain the site’s history from being the yards and offices of the Pimlico’s original developer Cubitt to its later use as an army clothing store to its eventual sale and purchase by builder Costain. The fourteen residential blocks each named after a British naval hero were serviced by an in-house restaurant, brasserie, fitness club, swimming pool, shops and formal gardens enabling the entire development to function as a self-contained urban village.

Dolphin Square was home to Bud Flanagan and members of the Crazy Gang, 40s screen siren Margaret Lockwood, Dina Dors and Peter Finch. It was also wartime HQ of Maxwell Knight, founder of MI5, the man who recruited Ian Fleming whose name is immortalised as ‘M’ in the James Bond films and novels.

Danczuk and Smith’s expertise as political commentators comes to the fore in their trawling of major political scandals and many pages are devoted to the story of leader of Westminster Council Dame Shirley Porter’s attempted gerrymandering by ensuring council homes were sold to potential Tory voters in the 1980s. Decades later the Square featured heavily in the “expenses scandal” exposed by the Daily Telegraph which found MPs who rented flats making false or exaggerated claims for reimbursement.

Finally, in 2014, the most recent and arguably the most disturbing scandal to have rocked the political class were the allegations of a paedophile ring of prominent MPs, statesmen and senior members of the armed forces made by a victim known as ‘Nick’.  Within eighteen months the police investigation known as Operation Midland was disbanded due to lack of credible evidence which ‘Nick’ himself was prosecuted under his real name of Carl Beech.

There is no smoke without fire as the saying goes and Danczuk and Smith’s investigations – they interviewed dozens of prominent residents and former ‘Dolphinites’ – hint at far more than the police were ever able to prove and appear to involve crimes going back decades.

Altogether this is a well-researched London history that focusses on the seamy side. But it is written with wit and verve. It is essential reading for anyone wanting to know more about the lives of the rich and infamous.
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Scandal at Dolphin Square A Notorious History (288pp) by Simon Danczuk and Daniel Smith , is published by The History Press 2022, cover price £20 ISBN 978 0 7509 9714 0

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