You don’t get many knights and government ministers buried up in the north but here’s one in Manchester’s biggest cemetery. Wonderfully he had a fetish for being whipped senselessly while dressed in women's clothing (I'm a three-times-a-month man.) He lived his final years on a large vineyard estate in France and breathed his last breath in a Monte Carlo hospital. He was returned home to Manchester to be lowered into the family plot where I'm stood. If you've ever seen the films Scandal or The Bank Job you'll have seen characters based on him... allegedly.
He was born in a threadbare part of Manchester and rose almost to the top. A humble start with jobs as a miner and a postman didn’t throw light on any future success. Before the Second World War interrupted everyone’s lives Ernest enlisted in the Royal Artillery and rose to the rank of Captain before being medically discharged aged 37. Aged 44 he became Conservative MP for Wallasey and became a junior minister in the 1951-55 government. By 50 he was Postmaster General (seeing the introduction of Premium Bond scheme and postcodes.) By 52 he was near the very top and was Minister of Transport for five years. During this tenure he oversaw the introduction of lots of familiar things - parking meters, the driving licence, the MOT test and single/double yellow lines.
Away from the stiff grey world of government Ernest was a lively rogue. If you read books about the Profumo Affair your eyes will soon find his name. Lord Denning produced a report summarising his investigation into a possible breach of security but he omitted some salacious details. He learnt of sex parties attended by people in society's upper echelons. At some of these orgies drinks were served by a servile male. He was later known as "The Man In The Mask" and was fully naked except for an apron and a mask. If he made a mistake he didn't mind being whipped. This man was supposed to be Ernest.
Is there any truth in this? Stephen Ward around which The Profumo Affair span told two people privately it was Ernest. He was certainly a habitual user of prostitutes - rumours were corroborated by investigative journalist Tom Mangold who saw the diaries of Lord Denning's secretary. Even if Ernest wasn’t “The Man In The Mask” he enjoyed being dressed in women’s clothing and being whipped by a prostitute. One prostitute described Ernest's home and layout following visits to do some jolly good lashings.
Have you seen the film Scandal about the Profumo Affair? One scene features "The Man In The Mask". Is this Ernest? I hope so. Or have you seen The Bank Job? The MP Lord Drysdale is chained up wearing knickers and whipped. Is this based on Ernest? Hope so.
Aged 68 Ernest suddenly fled to Monte Carlo days before the end of the tax year fearing he would be prosecuted for a tax-avoidance fraud. He spent two years living on his 45-acre vineyard estate in Fleurie in France, dying in a hospital in Monte Carlo hospital. He left a hefty estate, his property alone valued at £388,166 (now about £2.4 million).
I took a few photos of the grave and saw there was another Ernest buried there, too. This man had probably worked hard. Not many MP's in the fifties were of poor working-class stock. He'd gone from nothing to founding his own building company (borrowing £20 to start it) and running an ever-expanding property empire. While doing that he'd moved up the political ladder and got near sniffing distance of the top. He did some good work: years ago if you ever made a long-range telephone phone call you had to go through an operator first. Ernest got rid of that. If you bought into the premium bond scheme and hoped the computer ERNIE pick one of numbers - Ernest implemented that. If you’ve ever walked down a pedestrianised shopping centre or been on an inner ring road - Ernest was partly responsible for those. He was a bit of a rogue but behind the chutzpah and sleek suits there was some substance.
“Bye Ernie,” I said as I left the grave but I’m sure he was always called "Sir Ernest". The lashing prostitutes probably called him "a naughty little school" or "a wicked weak wimp" who needed the wealth of the whip to punish his feebleness. At last - a bit of colour. I did a salute and left.