Arthur John Maundy Gregory (1877-1941), from Southampton, was a British theatre producer and political fixer. Gregory gained power and wealth through handling the sale of titles and the alleged blackmail of prominent politicians.

Described as “a monocled dandy”, he wore jewellery including a green scarab ring he claimed had been Oscar Wilde’s. He also carried a rose-coloured diamond in his waistcoat pocket which supposedly had belonged to Catherine the Great.

He was the second son of Francis Maundy Gregory, vicar of St. Michael’s Church, and his wife, Elizabeth and was born at 9 Portland Terrace, Southampton on July 1, 1877. Gregory attended Banister Court school then Oxford University but left before graduation.

In 1901 he briefly became the manager of the Prince of Wales Theatre in Ogle Road. By 1914 he had become a private detective, and during the First World War he is said to have worked for the Secret Service.

In 1918 the Prime Minister Lloyd George needed money to fight an election and sold honours for contributions to his party. He needed an intermediary and Gregory, with his society contacts, fitted the bill perfectly.

Daily Echo: An old picture of Portland Terrace.

At the time, prices for honours ranged from £10,000 (about £0.5 million today) for a knighthood to £40,000 (£2 million) for a baronetcy.

Estimates are that Gregory received a commission of around £3 million a year. He is said to have suggested the new award of the OBE as he got a payment each time. The ensuing scandal led to the downfall of David Lloyd George and the sale of honours was made illegal in 1925.

Gregory used his money to buy property including the Ambassador Club in Soho and the Deepdene Hotel in Dorking. This became a well-known meeting place for politicians, society figures, artists and even royalty.

He published society magazines Mayfair and the Whitehall Gazette and bought Burke’s Landed Gentry guide.

Daily Echo: Maundy Gregory.

Gregory gathered incriminating gossip about the private lives of those who stayed at the two properties. He made many friends who were prominent members of British society, including the Duke of York, later King George VI, father of the late Queen Elizabeth. He was a steward at the future king’s wedding and later received a gold cigarette case from him.

In 1927, he began selling non-British honours, such as noble titles from Ukraine, papal honours and dispensations.

Among his victims was the Catholic father of actor Mia Farrow, to whom he had promised a marriage annulment so he could marry the Catholic Hollywood star Maureen O’Sullivan.

By 1932 Gregory had to repay £30,000 to the executors of the estate of Sir George Watson who had paid the money for a baronetcy he never received before his death.

Also in 1932 his long time friend, actor Edith Rosse, died in suspicious circumstances leaving him £18,000. He leased a house to Rosse and her husband in 1920 and moved in with them the following year. After Rosse separated from her husband in 1923, she and Gregory continued to live under the same roof in a platonic relationship as Gregory was homosexual.

The couple moved to the nine bedroom Abbey Lodge. The house was later converted into the EMI recording studios at Abbey Road where the Beatles famously recorded.

Daily Echo: Abbey Road Studios.

Rosse was persuaded to change her will only a few days before her death. It was written on the back of a Carlton Hotel menu and Gregory inherited £18,000.

Gregory was alleged to have delayed Rosse’s burial until a location that frequently flooded became available in order to prevent evidence from being recovered at a later date.

After a short prison term he went to live in Paris on a £2,000 annual pension provide by influential friends. Following the German occupation in 1940, he was arrested, sent to an internment camp, fell ill and died in the Val de Grace military hospital on September 28, 1941.

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Martin Brisland is a tour guide with