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William Hone is the forgotten hero of the British Press. In 1817 he was compelled to defend himself against a government determined to enforce censorship. His fellow journalists, opposition MPs and the ministers believed that a verdict against Hone would silence all critical voices.
It was a show trial, and Hone - a self-educated and obscure Fleet Street journalist who had to defend himself against the Lord Chief Justice and the Attorney General and in front of a jury hand-picked by the ministry - was the underdog, a supposedly easy victim for the state.
Hone's crime was ridiculing the government. He was a noted satirist, who used laughter as a weapon to destroy censorship. His humour captured the imagination of the public; his satires sold in the hundreds of thousands. They were symbols of resistance for an angry public and were genuinely feared by his enemies.
The Laughter of Triumph looks at the history of the struggle for free expression against repressive laws through the life of William Hone. Could the state push the law so far that humour was a crime? Or was it the only way to subvert censorship? As Hone implored his jury on the second day of his trials, 'Is a laugh treason? Surely not.'