Monday, 4 February 2013

Christine Keeler : The Truth At Last?


Though I've long since been fascinated by what has become known as The Profumo Affair, the story of a nineteen year old 'party girl' and model who brought down Macmillan's Tory government by sleeping with both the Minister for War John Profumo and a Soviet naval attache Eugene Ivanov, I hadn't ever actually read Keeler's version of events, My Story - The Truth At Last, which was co-written by Douglas Thompson and released thirteen years ago and recently re-released and updated as Secrets and Lies. 

Hadn't ever actually read until now that is. 

Keeler's story is fascinating and an engrossing read. It is markedly different to the perceived wisdom people may be familiar with from the 1989 feature film Scandal or the various newspaper reports, or even The Denning Report, the official enquiry commissioned shortly after the affair broke. Perceived wisdom has it that Stephen Ward the society osteopath and Christine's sometime flatmate and benefactor, was a pimp who ran a stable of girls including Christine and Mandy Rice Davies for his friends who formed the rich, elite and famous establishment of the land. The story was sex and nothing more. Just sex in high places; the stuff the News Of The World was made for. 

It was only Scandal and Ludovic Kennedy's book The Trial Of Stephen Ward that suggested the notion of Stephen pimping was absurd (Kennedy pointing out how if anything Ward gave more money to girls like Keeler than he ever took from them) and that he was in fact a scapegoat.

Whilst Keeler's story also supports the notion that Ward was never her pimp, she adds another layer by stating that he was in fact a soviet agent who procured secrets and sexual gossip with the help of girls like herself which he then fed back to his superiors at Moscow Centre. It's not the first time I've heard Ward being suggested as a Soviet mole; in a biography of Ruth Ellis by her sister, Muriel Jakubait (and Monica Weller) in 2005, it's claimed that Ward groomed the club hostess Ruth Ellis for spying purposes also. But for the past fifty years any notion of spying or interest from Moscow in the affair tended to be levelled at the Russian Ivanov. Keeler claims that it was Ward, not Ivanov who she says was always Ward's patsy, who asked her to ask Profumo about the Allied Forces strategic weapons in Berlin. She claims Ivanov only slept with her once on Stephen's orders, a rainy day policy to muddy the waters should the scandal break. She believes that Stephen's constant visits from the likes of Anthony Blunt (of the Cambridge spy ring) and Roger Hollis (head of MI5 who many claim was himself a Soviet agent) as well as her belief that he was in the know about many things during The Cold War, proves that he was a mole trading on secrets when his friends had their gaurds down, at orgies and sex parties all over London.

It's fascinating stuff. Do I believe it? I'm not sure. I do feel Ward was a scapegoat and not the pimp the press and law suggested at the time, but a plant? Regardless it's well told and clearthat Keeler utterly believes it.  

There's a whole host of great stories that link so many names; the FBI interest in Keeler, with numerous transcripts naming her heading to and from J Edgar Hoover's desk. The infamous 'man without a head' photo featuring a nude male (face/head obscured) getting oral sex from the Duchess of Argyll, whom Keeler believes was Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, the Hollywood actor who always had a camera handy for his sexual adventures. Diana Dors and her husband who had a penchant for two way mirrors in the guest bedrooms. Mariella Novotny, dominatrix extrordinaire, married to an unassuming antique dealer and hostess of many wild parties including one with 'the man in the mask' serving, an aristocrat who liked to be punished. Novoty, it's claimed was an international escort, having bedded both Jack and Bobby Kennedy and being pimped out by film maker Harry Alan Towers in America. Keeler claims Novotny's 'misadventurous' death in the early 80s, choking on her own vomit face down in a bowl of jelly in her bed, was a sanctioned kill by the security services. Her little black book of contacts and secrets has never been found.

Unfortunately despite the engrossing entertainment value, the book is still a frustrating experience principally because one feels that Christine, for all her desire for the truth to be finally told can't seem to face the truth herself. It's filled with concrete statements of intent before being utterly discredited on the next page. For example when Christine says "My life has been cursed by sex I didn't particularly want" you can't help but laugh, given that she describes how actively she sought sex from a whole host of men, using them for money and yes, even accepting payment for sex, she finally admits to that.It's a surprising brazen promiscuity even when she's pledging undying love to whoever was flavour of the month. She will profess such an emotion about someone and then on the next page explain how a day later, still hung up on him, she was bedding someone else.
"Profumo was all over me and there wasn't much I could do about it. He was a much older man, not someone I wanted to be with" Um, how about saying no? Why have several assignations and dates with him then? Likewise, one person she is vehement about not ever having wanted is Lucky Gordon, the West Indian with a short fuse who, she describes kept her prisoner as his sex slave at his flat for a day until she escaped. The way in which such a passage is written naturally gets the reader on side and Gordon sounds absolutely horrific, so why did she continue to ensure she was seen at clubs she knew he'd be frequenting, seemingly goading him to react? She claims Gordon 'played the race card' whenever she turned down his advances and she admits that a white girl dating a black man was taboo at the time, and how she would be ostracised by friends and family. So why is it we read of her assignations with other West Indians including Johnnie Edgecombe, Clarence Commachio and Rudolph Fenton? All of whom would go on to have dates in court thanks to their association with Christine Keeler. It's passages like this that utterly mystify the reader and seriously weakens any sympathy one feels towards her, because ultimately she does come across as both someone who did very stupid things and couldn't care for the ramifications and someone following a certain amount of notoriety was keen to get what she felt owed; ie cold hard cash. The latter is later discredited by her claims that by the late 60s she wanted nothing more than a quiet private life and married a man in secret and away from the spotlight just for that...yet a page later she reveals that their marital ups and downs led to numerous break ups all of which she reported in the press! Like jelly to the wall, it's hard to pin down Ms Keeler, even now.
Mandy

Some of the book's most amusing (and bitchy) moments are in Keeler's description of Mandy Rice Davies "I thought Mandy was a true tart. There was always shock on her face when she thought she might have to do more than lie on her back to make a living" Keeler later points out how Mandy's reaction to news of the death of her sugar daddy, the notorious Peter Rachman, was "Did he leave a will?" And one can understand her bitterness, Mandy - who was often linked to events that Christine swears never involved her, it was all part of the cover up to pin pimping charges on Ward - made a good life from her moment in the scandelous spotlight. Her naturally cheeky demeanour played well with the press, they knew she was a tart and she knew she was a tart, so everyone was happy, whereas Keeler was harder to define and always to them and the public 'the scarlet woman' or plainly 'the bitch'

Ultimately for all the contrasting hypocrises inherent in the tale and in Keeler herself one cannot help but feel sympathy for her. She did what she did and has never stopped paying the price. She lives her life as quietly as possible, alone, often in disguise and with a new surname by deed poll, yet she has never been allowed an existence. Just under forty years later she was sacked from her job as a school dinner lady because the headmaster found out she was Christine Keeler. Her first born son and her mother (who brought him up) refuse to have any contact with her, and her second son Seymour who at the time of the 2001 publication was very close to her now lives abroad and they are seemingly estranged. 

Christine today, bewigged


Christine Keeler it seems has no one. Is it any wonder then that her life even now at the age of 70 is all about the events of the early 60s when she was still just a teenager? Unfortunately I feel that Keeler needs to face up to the lies inside herself, rather than the lies that have been told about her for fifty years now. Only then will she get the peaceful life she seems to crave.

19 comments:

  1. How do Mark, another quality write-up.

    I too felt that Keeler’s biography was a transparent attempt to re-write history and to present herself as the wronged-party. Interesting, although the Profumo affair was hugely significant at the time, Dominic Sandbrook, in his book “Never had It So Good”, presents it at nothing much more than a petty sex scandal which was blown out of all proportion. Undoubtedly Ward was the fall guy but it seems highly unlikely that there was anything more than the remotest possibility that secrets were actually being passed to the Russians. From this distance it looks like more of a reflection of prevailing values than a true security risk.

    Apropos of nothing, I had the biggest crush on Mandy Rice-Davies I was 14, based solely on a picture of her in Unsolved magazine and the knowledge that she was “a bit of a goer”. Such things are important to the 14 year old male imagination I’m sure you’d agree.

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    1. Thanks Martin, yes I'm inclined to agree. The bigger the mystery, the more often the real facts are trivial and small. Mind, I recall Michael Bentine, star of The Goons and former spook, believing Ward was bumped off.

      I'm more of a Christine man personally, but utterly agree with your reasoning for Mandy ;)

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    2. Maybe he was but the real mystery is the sidelined involvement and eventual outcome of the Ruth Ellis affair...
      I can't help but wonder if her name is yet another one covered up in the dark secretive world of the early sixties...
      There are too many links and inferences for these two events NOT to have been connected closely in some sordid way...
      and too many secrets in both not to arouse suspicions...

      It makes you wonder at exactly what is going on today, as they (the Politicians, great and good etc) have had lessons in how to shroud everything from the public gaze too well since then...
      or am I too much of a conspiracy theorist?

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    3. Well given your name is conspiracytheoriesRUS? ;)

      I totally agree though, it's chilling to think what can be covered up in this day and age...especially when you see what does break. I mean, if that gets out, just how bad is the stuff they ensure doesn't get out??

      Have you read Murial Jakobait's book about Ellis which links Ward and her? I don't believe it myself - indeed, I've reviewed it on this very blog, feel free to check it out - but I'd recommend reading it if its something that interests you.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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    4. Not my usual handle that is true, but the subject matter is questionable.
      If the handbag that was found was Ruth's Mother's bag, maybe the dark secret was that Ruth found out that her MOTHER was involved deeply with the ring that appears to be suggested that led ultimately to the Profumo thing...
      The connections also suggest that as other Royalty was in the news at the time, and a cover of that story was needed, then maybe...just maybe...one other of the Royal Family was playing a game in that circle... One still alive today but too close to the top to even suggest, as the previous monarchy's history had been too troubled...
      Other rumours of gay encounters by young royals were also quashed, and may not have any foundation, but the stories linger...
      I suggest that Ruth's Mother may have an involvement in the events to remove the possibilities of any information leakage in any way...
      If the reason Ruth kept her silence, and her reported final statements were in defence of her Mother... well maybe that does have a ring about it... but Hey...I couldn't prove it...but I bet someone will... Someday...

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    5. Well, Keeler does claim in this very book that Prince Philip was having several affairs with girls of her ilk, leading to abortions and offsprings

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    6. So maybe not a surprise then, that a review and requested pardon would be treated as disrespectful and denied then?

      But look closer at current events and consider Charles penchant for the 'Mother-Figure'.... what if that was a family trait?
      Then maybe the suggestion of the Mother at the centre of it all could be reason to gel it all together?

      That then brings the Diana conspiracy into question...
      Hmmmm... even a hardened conspiracy theorist is wary when they get as closely linked as this...
      Did Stephen Ward ever visit Hollywood?...he clearly sorted out Blondes for the team...
      Let's stick to the first one and see how far it gets shall we?...
      Still seeking clues................

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  2. i listened to a play yesterday on radio four about the profumo affair . http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qspvq . it was a play from mandys point of view , you can listen to it on radio fours website on the saturday drama page.

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    1. Thanks Miss Bond, I knew there was something I forgot yesterday!

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  3. Really enjoyed your well-written article, and shall start following your blogs. I listened to the radio 4 play yesterday, which is what brought me here. I think I would've been about 12 at the time of the Profumo affair, and only very vaguely remember it. It may be an odd reaction, but I can't help feeling rather impressed by the way these 2 young girls, ran away from home and instigated themselves at the centre of 'society'. They may have been lots of things, but they were brave, that's for sure!

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    1. Hi thanks for stopping by and being so complimentary. Indeed, you cannot argue with their spirit

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  4. "Unfortunately I feel that Keeler needs to face up to the lies inside herself, rather than the lies that have been told about her for fifty years now" - I'm afraid that what you Mark, and many other people in this world understand as lies, CK see's as truths and so do i. There is a big deference between how you see things and how i see them. What you see as lies, and "concrete statements of intent before being utterly discredited on the next page", i don't see as contradictions at all. I don't see any contradiction between her statement "My life has been cursed by sex I didn't particularly want" and her free love and sex life, or what you call "brazen promiscuity".
    "The way in which such a passage is written naturally gets the reader on side and Gordon sounds absolutely horrific, so why did she continue to ensure she was seen at clubs she knew he'd be frequenting, seemingly goading him to react" - So she just had to avoid from seen at these clubs in order that you don't blame her in "goading him to react". Her unsuccessful attempts to get rid of him (like the trip to America with Mandy and the gun she bought) doesn't count.The fact that he terrified her and harassed her doesn't count either.

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    1. Let me be plain, as a reader of the autobiography I can only have my opinion based on the experience of reading it. When I post a review I do not say 'This is the truth' rather this is my opinion, if it differs from yours then so be it.
      I do feel extreme empathy towards Keeler but equally I feel she is her own worst enemy.
      At no point did I condone the actions of Gordon and refute your suggestion that I believe his harrassment doesn't count - did I not say he sounded horrific? No, what I say is I still maintain a valid argument; why go to places she knew he would be if she wanted to avoid him in these 'unsuccessful attempts to get rid of him'? In this modern day and age no doubt she'd be able to get a court order stipulating that Gordon could not go within a certain distance of her - but that works both ways you know, and her desire to attend places she knew he would be at would nix that court order. I notice you don't point out the contradiction inherent in Keeler's claim that a white girl going with a West Indian like Gordon at that time would ostracise her from family and friends, yet away from Gordon she was going with several other men of the same or similar ethnicity.
      "My life has been cursed by sex I didn't particularly want" she claims, yet she still did it, seemingly never understanding the word 'no'. Let's make it plain here we're not talking about rape, she willingly had sex with these people, and on some occasions is boastful of it, yet at the same time we're told she didn't want it and that it cursed her.
      Again this is just my opinion and you have your own which is clearly markedly different. That's ok; it wouldn't do for us all to have the same world view, but I must point out in no way am I claiming I have the last word on this subject. It's just a book review, written from my personal take on the material I read, as such I stand by it.
      Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Thank you Mark. When i wrote my reply, it was clear to me that you don't purport to present the absolute truth, just your own opinion. but i still felt your own opinion (like any other opinion including mine) can be criticized.

    "why go to places she knew he would be if she wanted to avoid him in these 'unsuccessful attempts to get rid of him. In this modern day and age no doubt she'd be able to get a court order stipulating that Gordon could not go within a certain distance of her - but that works both ways you know, and her desire to attend places she knew he would be at would nix that court order." - I think your "valid argument" is inappropriate and unfair. It's unfair because i don't know if she was aware at the age of 19 or 20 (she met Lucky for the first time in 1961 when she was 19) to the legal option of getting a "court order stipulating that Gordon could not go within a certain distance of her". And that's of course in assumption that there was such legal option in the early 1960's (i don't know if there was then). And it's inappropriate because you're blaming the victim, even if you didn't said Lucky's harassments and assaults don't count. Just by saying "why did she continue to ensure she was seen at clubs she knew he'd be frequenting, seemingly goading him to react" you blame her. At least i see it as inappropriate accusation and judgment.
    "I notice you don't point out the contradiction inherent in Keeler's claim that a white girl going with a West Indian like Gordon at that time would ostracise her from family and friends, yet away from Gordon she was going with several other men of the same or similar ethnicity." - I didn't point out because as in the previous example i didn't see any contradiction. the only reason she was going out with Johnnie Edgecombe was because she saw him as something like her volunteer bodyguard. "He sounded so positive that he could deal with Lucky. Stephen and i thought that perhaps this was the answer for one black man to have a word with another...I got on with Kim Proctor and we decided to take a flat not far away in Sheffield Terrace. Johnnie Edgecombe said he would be there to protect me from Lucky..." And that he thought (like Lucky) he could have her for himself, cut Lucky's face with a knife at All Nighters Club, and later stole her gun and shot her with that gun at Stephen's front door in Wimpole Mews is another thing. And as for Fenton and Commachio, it was after the scandal broke, and like Edgecome, she met them through Paula Hamilton-Marshall. She had a row that evening with Paula's brother, he hit her and than he left his sister's flat. "To escape, Paula and I decided to go out with two West Indian guys, Rudolph "Truello" Fenton and Clarence Commachio who had come around to visit her", perhaps she thought that this going out with them will not reach the headlines. And Unfortunately, it reached of course...but the fact that she went out with 3 other West Indiens (Edgecombe, Fenton and Commachio) In addition to Lucky Gordon, doesn't contradict her words she was afraid of being "ostracised by friends and family" because "a white girl dating a black man was taboo at the time".

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    1. No you miss my point I'm afraid. I'm not suggesting such a court order was available then, I'm actually referencing how odd her behaviour was by comparing it to today where court orders are applicable. If she sought counsel, the first thing anyone would tell her is NOT to visit places that are his known hang outs for BOTH their own sakes.
      In defending Christine and promoting your opinion you seem to be guilty of just a lack of faith in her decision as I am, citing her age, awareness or intelligence as factors for her continued mistakes regarding Gordon.
      I'm not 'blaming the victim' and I hope you understand how distasteful I find such an accusation when I tell you I have for several years worked with female victims of crime for various charity projects. I would NEVER blame the victim as you claim. What I am doing is pointing out that her actions relating to Gordon were not the wisest of decisions she'd ever undertaken, and that's a completely different thing.
      Whether the other affairs would break in the headlines or not that is not valid. If we're going off what CK says then she felt she could not go with Gordon as his girlfriend because he was black and it would affect her friends and family (again, not the national press) yet she still had relations with Edgecome, Fenton and Commacchio, which given her statement about mixed race relations being too taboo for her IS a contradiction. I respect your opinion but if you can't see that is the complete opposite reaction to her statement against a r'ship with Gordon then there's no point debating it, so rigid are you in your belief.

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  6. "In defending Christine and promoting your opinion you seem to be guilty of just a lack of faith in her decision as I am, citing her age, awareness or intelligence as factors for her continued mistakes regarding Gordon." - I think that she says herself many times in the book how stupid she was.

    "Whether the other affairs would break in the headlines or not that is not valid. If we're going off what CK says then she felt she could not go with Gordon as his girlfriend because he was black and it would affect her friends and family (again, not the national press) yet she still had relations with Edgecome, Fenton and Commacchio, which given her statement about mixed race relations being too taboo for her IS a contradiction." - It is valid and significant whether the other relations with black men would break in the headlines or not. If it won't break in the headlines, she could hide it from her family more easily. And therefore there is no contradiction!
    "I respect your opinion but if you can't see that is the complete opposite reaction to her statement against a r'ship with Gordon then there's no point debating it, so so rigid are you in your belief." - I'm proud to be a rigid believer in CK in a wrold that not believe her at all and belittling her.

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  7. 'It is valid and significant whether the other relations with black men would break in the headlines or not. If it won't break in the headlines, she could hide it from her family more easily. And therefore there is no contradiction!'

    Yeah because the only way your family or your friends (you know, those closest people to you) know what you're up to is by reading the papers isn't it? *rolls eyes* Christine is talking about the UK of the 1950s when just seeing a black face in the street was something to point at, let alone see one accompanying a white girl. It would stand out and it would ostracise her, as such her justification is valid in not wanting anything to do with Gordon (beyond him being a violent thug of course) but it completely invalidates her r'ships with other black men and it IS a conteadiction.

    I'm pleased your proud, I believe Christine needs as much sympathy as she can get and I've never presumed to say otherwise; I think its appalling she's been unable to live a normal life as a result of the things she did as a young woman. But I would say it is immensely blinkered to just accept for face value everything someone says about themselves because that's incredibly naive.

    I don't think there's much point continuing here, you've raised your POV and I've responded with mine. Both views are firmly entrenched. I would refer you to the blurb beneath the Granada logo which advises readers and visitors of a different opinion with a desire to express it, to do so...in their own blogs.

    Thanks for stopping by and good day to you.

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  8. Does the name Sirius Lübeck Usden, hostess at 21 club mean anything?

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