Theatre impresario, political fixer, and resident of Thames Ditton
John Arthur Maundy Gregory (1877-1941) was a controversial figure, described variously as a flamboyant homosexual, a first class pimp and the most mysterious character the police ever had to deal with.
Born in Southampton, the son of a clergyman, Gregory was a theatre impresario, magazine publisher and secret agent, best known for selling political honours for Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Gregory gained power and wealth through handling the sale of titles and alleged blackmail of prominent politicians.
He invested in several properties, including the Deepdene Hotel in Dorking. The hotel, run by his companion Peter Mazzina, gained the reputation as the biggest brothel in south east England.
In 1910, Gregory bought Vanity Fair, a bungalow on Thames Ditton Island which he shared with platonic friend and ageing actress, Edith Rosse; she later died in suspicious circumstances. In a further controversy, socialist MP, Victor Grayson, threatened to expose Gregory, and was last sighted at Vanity Fair before his disappearance in September 1920. His body was never found.
Following the outlawing of cash for honours in 1925, Gregory turned to the Catholic Church and began selling papal honours and dispensations. Amongst those he defrauded was the divorced John Farrow (father of Mia), who was promised an annulment to enable him to marry the Catholic actress Maureen O’Sullivan.
Murder most foul?
In 1930, Gregory was sued for 30,000 by the estate of a baronet who had died before receiving his peerage. Two years later, he persuaded Edith Rosse to change her will in his favour just days before she slipped into a coma and died. Having inherited 18,000, Gregory hastily arranged the burial of Mrs Rosse in an unsealed lead coffin in a shallow grave at Bisham churchyard, by the River Thames. Foul play was suspected but, upon exhumation, the coffin was found to be waterlogged and any trace of poisoning impossible to detect.
A sorry end
Having escaped a murder charge, Gregory was convicted of selling honours and jailed for 2 months in 1933. Upon release, he moved to France where he styled himself Sir Maundy Gregory. Following German occupation in 1940, he was arrested, sent to an internment camp, fell ill and died in the Val de Grace military hospital on 28 September 1941.
Gregory is an LGBT history icon.