Freudian Slip: The secrets that rocked a dynasty
Donal Lynch psychoanalyses the Clement Freud scandal and wonders whether the seeds of it weren't sown by the patriarch, Sigmund, more than 130 years ago
One hundred and thirty years ago Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, presented his "seduction theory" at a major forum in Vienna. His idea was that most neuroses - female neuroses particularly - could be traced back to repressed memories of sexual interference on the part of fathers. The proposition was met with widespread outrage - the idea that fathers would sexually molest their daughters was shocking at the time - and Freud later shifted away from it, instead claiming that most of the memories of abuse, which he heard from patients, were false, with their subconscious unable to discern between fantasy and reality. Freud believed that Victorian men should be allowed indulge in forbidden sex (indeed he thought that incest was important to civilisation) with one caveat: that it must be "discreet".
It was a word, with all of its dark undertones, that seemed to echo down the ages this week with the revelation that Clement Freud, grandson of Sigmund, had sexually abused girls, including one whom he brought up as a daughter. Sylvia Woosley said Freud befriended her family in 1948, when he was working at a hotel in the South of France, and started abusing her when she was 10. Another woman told ITV that Freud started abusing her in the 1970s, when she was 11, and eventually raped her when she was 18, by which time he was a Liberal MP.
The rape was so violent and brutal she said, that she bled for a week afterward. It has been suggested that there may be more revelations and more victims still to tell their stories. The allegations are being investigated by British police and in the meantime have caused enormous embarrassment to one of the most storied families in Britain. Whether art, media, politics, fashion or high finance, the Freuds have their fingers in every pie.
For renown though, none of them quite eclipsed the patriarch of the family. Clement, was, in his own account, in awe of his grandfather. He was beaten at school, he once said, because Sigmund had written somewhere that corporal punishment was damaging to children - the masters had their own theories of psychoanalysis apparently - but he forgave the old man because from Sigmund he had his own black sense of humour. "He took me for a walk once," Clement told an American TV anchor before he died. "I must have been seven or eight years old and a man had an epileptic fit in the street and he was holding my hand. And I was of an age where when anybody had, I mean, caught a finger, my nanny would say, 'Look away, it's not nice.' But my grandfather stood there with me watching the man have an epileptic fit. And the man was writhing on the pavement and foaming at the mouth and his hat had fallen off and people were watching and some people with sympathy put some money in his hat."
Did Sigmund follow suit, the interviewer asked. "He didn't, and we walked away and I said, 'Why didn't you put money in his hat?', Clement recalled. "And my grandfather said, 'He didn't do it well enough.'"
This wry, mocking wit became as much part of Clement as it had been a part of Sigmund and indeed it became the cornerstone of the younger man's career. Born in Berlin, he became a naturalised British citizen four days before the outbreak of World War II and after the War ended worked as an officer in the Nuremburg trials. He would go on to train as a chef, a profession which allowed him to keep his finger on the pulse of London society. Freud was one of Britain's first celebrity chefs and while still in his twenties ran his own restaurant and club in Sloane Square, where he gave a young Rolf Harris his first break (a fact that seemed to gain sinister significance this week). He became one of the first stars of advertising, after appearing in a series of dog food ads with a bloodhound called Henry.
For 42 years his acerbic, funereal manner made him what Gordon Brown once called "not only an icon, but an institution" on the radio. On Just A Minute, the series that made his legend, Clement came over like a waggish aristocrat with blood at least as blue (read: German) as any royal and with a preternatural gift for weaving afternoon spells of nostalgia. He had an unforgettable, curmudgeonly charisma. He appeared on the Late Late Show "four or five times", remembers broadcaster Gay Byrne, and usually his appearance was connected to a talk he gave to universities here. "The attraction with him as a guest was his wit and lugubrious style of speaking" Gay recalls.
He parleyed his media work into a career in politics and in the 1980s rescued the no-hope constituency on the Isle of Ely for the Liberal Democrats. While an MP he shared an office with Cyril Smith, the Liberal MP for Rochdale, against whom a number of accusations of sexual abuse were subsequently made, causing much murmuring this week as people speculated on what else the two men may have shared.
In politics, Clement's charisma was allied to an association with the armed forces which made him beyond reproach. To a Tory MP accusing him of weakness over the Falklands War, he replied: "I don't think that you worked directly and personally under Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. During the Second World War. I did."
Freud was awarded a knighthood in 1987 for his services to the nation. It marked the high point, perhaps, of a remarkable journey from wartime refugee to the heart of British society. And even with this honour Clement always seemed remarkably sensitive about his place in the pecking order. During his time as an MP, he visited China with a delegation of MPs, including Winston Churchill, the grandson of the wartime British prime minister. When Churchill was given the best room in the hotel, on account of his illustrious lineage, Freud, in a typically winking reference to his own famous forebear, remarked that it was the first time in his life that he had been "out-grandfathered".
Out-grandfathered, perhaps, but few families could match the Freuds for sheer breadth and depth of luminaries.
Clement was married for most of his life to Jill, who is said to have been CS Lewis's inspiration for the character of Lucy in the Narnia stories - during World War II, Jill was evacuated to Oxford and was taken in by Lewis and his lover Jane Moore. Jill made headlines a few years ago when author Jonathan 'Joss' Self, a friend of the Freuds and brother of the writer and intellectual Will Self, revealed in a memoir, Self Harm, that he was only 16 when he started an affair with a married woman who was 30 years his senior. He named her only as 'June' and it went on for five years until he met his first wife. June is the real first name of Jill Freud, and it soon emerged that she was the married women involved. Self wrote about "the impossibility of the situation" and added that Clement had known all along about him - the Freuds apparently had an open relationship.
Clement's son, Matthew Freud, was formerly married to Caroline Hutton, who became the second wife of Earl Spencer, brother of Princess Diana; Matthew then married media mogul Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth.
While married to Elisabeth, with whom he has a son and a daughter, he had another child with one of her close friends. Elisabeth once even held the child in her arms, not knowing the father was her husband.
Clement's daughter Emma, a noted broadcaster, is the partner of Richard Curtis, the legendary scriptwriter of Blackadder and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Clement's nieces (by his painter brother Lucian) are fashion designer Bella Freud and writer Esther Freud. His brother, Stephen Freud, has closely guarded his privacy, with the exception of an interview he gave to The Daily Telegraph. Freud died without resolving a feud with his brother Lucian, thought to have dated back over 70 years, over which of them was the rightful winner of a boyhood race. "I was offered a knighthood, but turned it down," the celebrated artist once sniffed in an interview. "My younger brother has one of those. That's all that needs to be said on the matter."
On the matter of Clement he had slightly more to say, however: "Why on earth would I want to speak to him or see him again?" Lucian said. "Do you know, Clement put it about years ago that I was illegitimate, which is a bit odd as I was the middle child. I am not, by the way. Family is not important to me," he added. "It doesn't bother me in the slightest."
If the Cyril Smith connection sent a chill down the spine this week then the association with the family of Madeleine McCann seemed too macabre to be true. Clement had a villa in the Algarve resort where Madeleine disappeared nine years ago. After the little girl vanished, and the press and British police descended on southern Portugal, he invited her parents around to his villa. Freud had written the McCanns a letter saying he was "ashamed of the intrusion into your lives by our media". He also told them: "If you would care to come to lunch/dinner at any time before Wednesday next, do ring and let me know. I cook decent meals."
In her book, Kate recalled his "razor-sharp intellect" and said he treated them to a strawberry vodka followed by chicken and mushroom risotto. He wore "so many hats" that he was hard to pin down, she wrote, and was "incredibly warm, funny and instantly likeable", cheering the couple up with his "lugubrious wit". Clement kept in touch with the couple by email after his return to England, and called them again when he was back in Portugal the following August.
When the McCanns were named as suspects in the disappearance of their daughter, he joked with them about the ineptitude of the Portuguese investigators. Offering Kate a brandy, he also teased her about the press coverage, saying: "So, Kate, which of the devout Catholic, alcoholic, depressed, nymphomaniac parts is correct?" she wrote in her book, Madeleine.
Several British publications wrote that the McCanns were "horrified" by the revelations this week and former murder squad detective Colin Sutton told the Telegraph: "If this is something that investigators had not been aware of then it would be certainly a potential line of inquiry that would be worth pursuing."
He added: "It is not something that ought to be taken lightly and you would also want to look at any connections he may have had in the area at the time."
One of Clement's alleged victims this week told reporters that she had warned police about his links to the McCanns, but nothing was done.
During this past week, Vicky Hayes, who is now 64 and grew up in Lincoln, described to ITV News how the former Liberal MP took a liking to her during a visit to her father's restaurant in the 1960s, when she was aged just 14.
After becoming friends of the family, he showered her with attention and then one night, when she was 17, plied her with alcohol and raped her. Hayes, who is now 64, said he "forced himself on me" and subsequently stripped the bedsheets because she had bled. Hayes said Freud's "parting words to me were, 'If you are pregnant, ring me.' That was it... As if he had done this before," she added.
Her story echoed that of Sylvia Woosley, whose social-climbing parents met Freud while they were living in Cannes, and invited him to a party. He became close to the family and took Sylvia on day trips. This week, she said: "He'd stroke me, and he'd kiss me at the back of the bus on the mouth, he put his tongue in my mouth and it was wet. It was horrible and I didn't like it. I was disgusted and helpless."
When Sylvia's parents' marriage broke up her mother sent her to live with Freud. "He used to sort of touch me a lot, quite a lot," she said. She recalled one occasion, when she was 14, when Freud pulled up her nightdress and molested her. He told her: "You feel just like your mother."
She eventually told a nanny about what was happening and managed to move out and got a job. The truth seemed to be out there. But her mother got wind of the allegation and forced Sylvia to phone Jill Freud and recant.
And this, apparently, was accepted. Sylvia this week described a morning when she was 14 when she joined the couple for breakfast in their bed. When Jill got up to make the breakfast, Sylvia offered to help, but Jill allegedly told her to "stay where you are with Clay". The allegations have all fed into speculation about how much Jill Freud knew about her husband's predilections.
In the ITV programme, Jill makes no protest of innocence on her deceased husband's behalf. Instead she apologises "for what has happened to these women", expressing her shock, and her deep sorrow, while warmly remembering the man she had loved for 50 years or more.
She was hardly alone in this. Freud died a hero in 2009 with the great and good of British society attending his funeral. Clement's many friends - including the luminaries who attended his funeral - Stephen Fry, Bono and Gordon Brown amongst them - have thus far stayed silent on the scandal.
The dead cannot be prosecuted of course, but as the case of Jimmy Savile showed when historical child abuse accusations are proven, the public needs some way to vent its rage. It seems likely, therefore, that Clement will soon, at the very least, be stripped of his knighthood.
Whether the scandal has repercussions for the wider Freud dynasty remains to be seen. Across the generations they might look back to Sigmund, the patriarch, for guidance on how to deal with this catastrophe.
In his revised theory of neurosis and sexual abuse, discerned mostly from private letters, the elder Freud wrote that fantasy and 'impulse control' in victims, rather than shame, were the cause of psychological pain in sexual abuse survivors.
He could hardly have predicted that the grandson he once held by the hand would one day make a mockery of these ideas, and tarnish forever the family name.
Sunday Indo Living