Required reading for Johnny Depp: a short history of dogs in politics | Catherine Shoard

The A-lister isnt the first to find that canines can complicate public life and he wont be the last

By and large, reaction to Johnny Depps video apology for smuggling puppies into Australia has been bafflement. Why would he agree to such degradation? Why was he so stilted? So strained? So ill-lit?

The answer lies in Depps motivation for committing the crime in the first place. Never underestimate how far people will go for their dogs. Canine affection accounts for much that might be written off as inexplicable.

The public view of Mitt Romney plummeted after he consigned his diarrhoea-stricken Irish setter, Seamus, to a kennel on his car roof for a 12-hour journey. Relations between Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel got a lot frostier after the former allowed his black labrador, Konni, into a meeting, despite Merkels discomfort.

The ripple effect of dogs in politics is hammered home in John Prestons very funny and endlessly extraordinary new book about the Jeremy Thorpe affair, A Very English Scandal. You may recall that a Great Dane called Rinka was the sole victim of the plot by the then Liberal leader to murder his one-time lover, Norman Scott. This bitch, which Scott was minding for a lady called Edna Friendship, was assassinated on Exmoor in an incident weird enough for it to finally bring the case to public attention.

But Rinka was not alone in affecting this history. A great pack of other mutts also played a part in Thorpes downfall. There was Mrs Tish, Scotts jack russell, to whom Thorpe made fond reference in some incriminating letters; Emma, the whippet Scott once dressed in a bonnet, put in a pram and pretended was his son; and Thurston, the arthritic dachshund that belonged to the girlfriend of the Liberal MP Peter Bessell. Bessell killed time ahead of the court case making Thurston a special mobility chariot. This trial was to spell the end for him, as well as for Thorpe.

The domino effect of these dogs makes for amazing reading. As Preston explains, it is usually the irrational, rather than the planned, which finally decides the fate of people – and even parliaments. Thorpes argument for murdering Scott was that it was no worse than shooting a sick dog. As Thorpe and Bessell and even Johnny Depp show, there is nothing worse than killing a dog, sick or otherwise.

A plug for plugs

Florence Foster Jenkins a new movie about the famously appalling singer. Photograph: Nick Wall Photography

Earlier this week, one of the jammiest jobs out there got a bit less well-buttered. It involves being one of the 89 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, an enigmatic body of entertainment correspondents who have a vote at the Golden Globe awards. This makes them some 67 times more powerful than the 6,000-odd Bafta and Oscar voters. Publicists respond accordingly and lavish them with freebies. But such practices have been clamped down on, with wining and dining now banned for the month between nominations and final vote. Maybe its the Guardians fearsome reputation, but Ive always been surprised how little substantial bribery has been dangled at me. As Florence Foster Jenkins a new movie about the famously appalling singer shows, attempts to buy good reviews are not new, and in less estimable publications not always unsuccessful. Incidentally, its a genuinely great film, well worth catching and that has nothing to do with the promotional earplugs.

Enter through the window

Heres a top travel tip: take a tour round The Kilns, CS Lewiss old home in Headington, Oxford. You climb the stairs and suddenly youre in the attic, in the room for evacuees, in Lewiss study, where he wrote the Narnia books.

Lewis slept in a room at the end of the floor, accessed by means of a ladder into the garden; the only other way in being through the adjoining bedroom. The house is lived in today by scholars sympathetic to Lewis; were it in private ownership, such a layout would doubtless be tut-tutted eaves guttedand adequate halls installed, wardrobes chucked and closets constructed. But I like it. Entry to another world feels a lot less likely via an en suite.

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