By Andrew Walker
Lord Longford's efforts to secure the release of Moors murderer Myra Hindley are recounted in a new Channel 4 film. Was the deeply religious Labour peer a naive dupe or a visionary humanitarian?
Friends or nuisance to Hindley?
Francis Aungier Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford - universally known as Frank - was a member of that exclusive band of people, the mere mention of whose name provokes visceral debate.
To the popular press he was "Lord Porn" or "Lord Wrongford". He was caricatured as both a reactionary, who sought to undermine freedom of speech by banning pornography, or as a misguided and dangerous liberal, set upon flooding the UK with newly freed mass murderers and rapists.
Others - like Peter Stanford who wrote Longford's biography, The Outcast's Outcast - take a different view.
"I like the film," he says. "It puts over Lord Longford's message of forgiveness and his belief that no human being is beyond redemption. He was the Elizabeth Fry of the 20th Century, a great prison reformer."
The urge for transformation was seemingly hard-wired into Lord Longford's being. Originally a Conservative, he became a socialist.
A member of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, whose family title went back to the 17th Century, he later proved to be a committed Irish nationalist and was considered a class traitor by many of his fellow aristocrats.
And the man who was by birth a Protestant spent most of his life as a devout and practically minded Roman Catholic.
Born in 1905, Lord Longford took a double First at Oxford before becoming an Oxford don.
After having a nervous breakdown while in the Army during World War II, he served as the lead assistant to Sir William Beveridge, the creator of the framework for the modern welfare state.
He was ennobled by the then Prime Minister Clement Atlee in 1946 and joined the Labour government as a junior minister.
Longford was made a Garter knight
Even then he courted controversy. As Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Lord Longford had responsibility for post-war Germany.
His decision to "forgive" the German people, went down badly with his ministerial colleagues.
Even so, Longford enjoyed a close relationship with the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who called him "the founder of modern Germany". He went on to serve in a number of ministerial posts up to 1968.
Though he was chairman of the National Bank - a large Irish financial institution - and was effective in loosening the Republic's dependence on the City of London, there were times when Lord Longford's idealism could be seen as other-worldly.
For instance, his commission into pornography - inspired by Mary Whitehouse's campaign to "clean up" the British media. Lord Longford formed his own committee of the great and good, which visited sex clubs in Denmark in a quest for greater understanding.
One member of the commission was broadcaster Gyles Brandreth. "At the time the proceedings of the committee - and the media circus that surrounded its activities - were indeed ludicrous," he says.
"But, 30 years on, it's intriguing to find that most people would agree with the thrust of what Lord Longford was saying. His line was that pornography was degrading - to its users and to those who worked in the trade, especially women."
Channel 4's news presenter Jon Snow recalls a stroll through Soho with Lord Longford at the time.
Lord Longford died in 2001
"We would pass enormous lurid breasts hanging out of doorways and he wouldn't even notice," he says.
"I felt we could probably have run into a naked woman in the street and he wouldn't have noticed."
But it was his campaign to free Hindley which still most divides opinion on Lord Longford.
He first met her in May 1969, four years after she and Ian Brady were jailed for life for murdering three children. She would later admit two more killings.
The man whose 1963 report had paved the way for the parole system fervently believed that Hindley - just one among numerous prisoners befriended by Longford over the years - would be a prime candidate for early release.
"He knew what he was talking about," says Mr Stanford. "He set the system up."
For more than 30 years he consistently put his reputation on the line in an attempt to convince successive governments and the public, that Hindley was a reformed and remorseful character. He described Brady as "bonkers".
The two became close and, until recently, it was believed that Hindley saw Lord Longford as her best chance of freedom.
But in a newly-published letter to Duncan Staff - whose book on the Moors Murders comes out next year - Hindley wrote: "Frank has been a pestilential pain in the neck over the years with his 'campaigning' and he glories in the publicity himself."
Stanford: Longford wanted more compassion
In the end Hindley, who died in prison in November 2002, distanced herself from the peer, relying increasingly on others to speak out on her behalf.
Seen in this light, Lord Longford - who died 15 months before Hindley - might appear to be the dupe of a calculating and highly intelligent woman. But this would to be to under-estimate both the complexity and certainty of his beliefs.
Jim Broadbent, who portrays him in the Channel 4 film, says: "His moral certainty was attractive and frustrating."
To Gyles Brandreth, he was "a man with enormous heart - human, human. I was grateful to know the man".
For Peter Stanford, it is Lord Longford's belief in forgiveness and redemption which lies at the heart of his hugely relevant message.
"Redemption is something we, as a society, are very bad at," he says. "Eight-out-of-10 juvenile prisoners currently re-offend, and seven-out-of-10 over-21s do the same.
"Lord Longford's argument for a different, more compassionate, approach, to prison is more important than ever."