Former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies has written a drama about the true story of Jeremy Thorpe, the first British politician to stand trial for conspiracy and incitement to murder.

The three-part BBC1 drama A Very English Scandal will be directed by Stephen Frears (Florence Foster Jenkins, Philomena) and tells the story of Thorpe (pictured), the former leader of the Liberal Party whose career was ended by claims he had hired someone to kill a former male lover who was threatening to reveal their relationship.

"It is the late 1960s, homosexuality has only just been decriminalised, and Jeremy Thorpe, the leader of the Liberal party and the youngest leader of any British political party in a hundred years, has a secret he's desperate to hide," the BBC's preview of the drama says.

Thorpe repeatedly denied the relationship with Norman Scott, and he was acquitted in a trial in 1979, but his political career was finished by the scandal.

Based on the book A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by journalist John Preston, the drama will tell the story of the plot and Thorpe's sensational trial at the Old Bailey in 1979.

A Very English Scandal writer Russell T Davies

“The trial of Jeremy Thorpe changed society forever, illuminating the darkest secrets of the Establishment,” the BBC said. “The Thorpe affair revealed such breath-taking deceit and corruption that, at the time, hardly anyone dared believe it could be true."

Writer Davies added, “I’ve wanted to write this story for years, ever since I was 16 and saw it unfold on the news. It’s probably the first gay story I ever heard. John Preston’s brilliant book illuminates a vital and fascinating piece of British history.”

Stephen Frears added, “Telly’s where the good stuff is – hooray!”

A Very English Scandal is expected to air on BBC1 next year with casting details to be announced shortly.

News of the commission was announced by the BBC at a drama reception on Thursday night, where the Corporation's controller of BBC Drama, Piers Wenger announced more than 47 hours of new drama commissions.

Director-General Tony Hall said, “Delivering high quality drama that engages and excites the public is a priority for the BBC.  The commissions we have announced will continue to deliver just that. It's an exciting time ahead for fans of great drama. 

Wenger said, “I want us to be less bound by conventions of genre, slot and channel even when considering new work. We know that the biggest risks deliver the biggest hits and in a landscape which is so fast changing, ideas need to be well ahead of the curve. And that means giving ourselves maximum creative headroom to allow ideas to develop and grow.

“I also want a strong streak of Britishness to run through the centre of everything we do. It gives us distinctiveness in a crowded landscape and a strong identity internationally. I think that it’s the individuality, chutzpah, determined vision and tireless curiosity at the heart of Britain’s creative community which has played a huge part in turning drama from the UK into such a valuable cultural export and so I’d like the next five years of drama from the BBC to be a celebration of British authorship, identity and life in all its most diverse forms.”