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a novella based on Christine Keeler & John Profumo
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Tara Hanks
Wicked Baby


Mr PROFUMO, Ms KEELER & Ms RICE-DAVIES


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Clive Irving, Jeremy Wallington, Ron Hall
Scandal '63
Mayflower, London, 1964
price: 4/-
230 pages

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Ludovic Kennedy
The Trial of Stephen Ward
Victor Gollancz, London, 1964
price: 25/-
256 pages + 5 pages b/w photos

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Christine Keeler with Sandy Fawkes
Nothing But...
New English Library, London, 1983
price: 1.50
170 pages + 16 pages b/w photos


In his invaluable repository of wisdom, Henry Root's World of Knowledge (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1982), the noted letter-writer Mr Root has this to say in his entry on John Profumo:

Profumo, John (b.1915): Do we have to be reminded yet again that Jack Profumo copulated with a tart, deceived his wife - the gracious and lovely Valerie Hobson - endangered the safety of the State and lied to the House of Commons? Surely the poor man has paid his debt to society and should now be left in peace.

And this, in his entry on Christine Keeler:

Keeler, Christine (b.1943): Call-girl. Surely we don't have to be reminded yet again that Jack Profumo copulated with a tart, deceived his wife (the gracious and lovely Valerie Hobson), endangered the security of the State and lied to the House of Commons? He's paid his debt to society and the poor man should now be left in peace.

At the risk of reminding you yet again, the Profumo scandal was one of those events that - alongside the Lady Chatterley trial and the emergence of the Beatles - seemed to usher in the modern world in Britain: it was above all a democratic scandal in which the mass public were allowed to pontificate on the morality of their supposed betters, whilst simultaneously procuring some proxy pleasure from prostitution.

To be honest, it wasn't really a scandal at all: the story was simply that a married man had an affair with a younger woman. Which, even in the Macmillan era, was hardly new: men had had it this good before. But it did have some delightfully tabloid-esque elements: there was a glamorous rising star of politics, complete with fragrant wife and distinguished war-record; there was a call-girl of considerable style and even more considerable aspiration; there was a catch-phrase to pass into the language ('He would say that, wouldn't he?'); there were rumours of orgies, drugs, sado-masochism, homosexuality and inter-racial sex. There was even a notorious slum landlord lurking in the background. All that was missing was what's known now as the public interest defence - the veil of alleged outrage that can be used to disguise prurient fascination.

Luckily, it turned out that Christine Keeler, as well as having an affair with the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, was also seeing a Russian diplomat. Even better, his name was Ivanov, which was so perfect it sounded like the Daily Mail had made it up. Coming at a time when Cold Warriors were still reeling from the paranoia of discovering spies at the heart of the establishment, and shortly after the first James Bond movie had been released, the whiff of espionage was irresistible.

So when Profumo denied the delightful Christine in the House of Commons and was subsequently caught out in a lie (the ultimate sin for politician), the press moved in for the kill.

It was of course a fantastically pointless 'scandal'. There was absolutely no chance of a security risk, and Profumo's only 'offence' was refusing to discuss his private life in Parliament. Which should never have been an issue anyway. It's a bit like the Clinton-Lewinsky nonsense. No one tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when it comes to sex. And - good Lord, can this be true? - politicians don't either.

Anyway, of these books, the best by far is that by Ludovic Kenendy. Focussing on the most tragic aspect of the entire case - the hounding to death of osteopath and part-time pander Stephen Ward - Kennedy freezes the period perfectly, capturing the interaction of high society and the London semi-criminal underworld. It's a great read, partly because Kennedy is a fine, fine writer, as well as being a thoroughly decent man, and partly because it's a court report, and trials make for such good drama.

Keeler's own account (the first of several versions) is hardly illuminating, though it's quite sweet, whilst the volume by Irving, Hall & Wallington is well worth obtaining for its period charm. And as ever, it's the minor bits that catch the eye: the non-Orwellian honesty of having a Secretary of State for War (rather than the mealy-mouthed Defence), and the fact that Profumo first met Keeler when he was trying to chill out at the height of the Iraqi-Kuwait crisis. That - in case it's slipped your mind - was when General Kassem of Iraq was believed in 1961 to be on the brink of annexing Kuwait, to which the British response was to rush 6000 troops to the country as fast as possible to act as a deterrent. As seen from the immediate vantage of this book, the operation was something of a disaster:

...men, unacclimatised to the tremendous heat of the Persian Gulf, were collapsing daily; machines were seizing up; the manoeuvres had made holes in the Strategic Reserve which could prove disastrous if trouble were to break out elsewhere (and there were signs that Berlin was on the boil again).

Thirty years on, it was looking like a fabulous success. After all, on that occasion, Iraq didn't invade Kuwait. In the wake of what turned out to be the Second Gulf War, Profumo's preventative action looks quite inspired.

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See the ladies in the Stephen Ward case


see also...

Tara Hanks, Wicked Baby

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