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Christine Keeler: the one that got the blame

PETER FROST muses on the recent death of Christine Keeler

IT’S the same the whole world over,
Ain’t it all a bleeding shame,
It’s the rich what gets the pleasure, 
and the poor what gets the blame.

Did the Swinging Sixties really exist? Did anything really change as post-war Tory austerity — always a Conservative favourite — metamorphosed, as the 1950s died, into Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan’s memorable but inaccurate slogan: “You’ve never had it so good”?

Christine Keeler’s teenage 1950s certainly hadn’t been great. Home was an old railway carriage at Wraysbury near Staines. Her stepfather didn’t just sexually abuse her at 15 but encouraged his mates to do the same for cash. 

She was certainly an attractive young girl even if her waif-like figure was officially diagnosed as the result of malnutrition. At just 16 that figure was on display for all to see in Tit-Bits magazine.

At 17, she tried to abort her first pregnancy with a pen. She failed, but the child died at six days old. 

By now she realised just what men wanted from young women like her and decided she had no option but to make the most of it.

She found a job dancing topless in a posh but still sleazy London nightclub and earned extra drinking and sleeping with clients. 

In the club she met up with a policeman’s daughter, even younger than herself, from Birmingham called Mandy Rice-Davies. They became inseparable.

The two were talent-spotted by upmarket pimp, society osteopath, caricature artist and part-time British intelligence officer Stephen Ward. 

Ward would procure young and attractive women for orgies and parties where government ministers, aristocrats, criminals and entertainers lived the debauched life they would so publicly condemn as part of what they called the threat of the so-called permissive society.

By the time she was 19, Keeler was swimming naked in the pool at a posh party at Cliveden, the luxury riverside mansion of another of her lovers, Tory Lord Astor. Her die had been cast.

At the party were two men who would become the main players in one of the most notorious scandals of the last century. 

One was 46-year-old secretary of state for war Tory MP John Profumo. The other was Yevgeny Ivanov, a Russian naval attache and Soviet spy stationed in London.

It wasn’t long before Keeler was having separate sexual liaisons with each of them. Even John Le Carre never envisioned pillow talk like this.

Profumo and Ivanov would be the most famous of many other men who used and then rejected the young woman from Wraysbury. 
Ward moved Keeler and Rice-Davies into his flat.

Keeler also had affairs with Notting Hill slum landlord and gangster Peter Rachman, drug dealers and jazz club habitues Lucky Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe as well as many others.  

In 1963, after Labour MPs voiced concerns about national security implications of the liasons, Profumo told the House of Commons he and Keeler were “on friendly terms” and there was “no impropriety” in their relationship. 

Eventually Profumo admitted lying to the house and resigned. He was not sacked for having sex with young girls but for lying about it in Parliament.

Prime minister Macmillan appointed Lord Denning to enquire into the events and the resulting whitewash surprised nobody.
The scandal would be a major contributing factor in the Tories losing the 1964 general election to Labour’s Harold Wilson.   

After he resigned Profumo lived on his extensive family wealth, not needing to work. He tried to re-establish some kind of respectability doing charity work. 

He always remained friends with top Tories and the royal family, dining often with the Queen Mother. 

He was appointed a commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1975 and in 1995 he sat right next to the Queen on the top table of the dinner celebrating Margaret Thatcher’s 70th birthday. 

No such forgiveness for Keeler. In 1963 the Establishment got its own back when they sentenced her to nine months’ imprisonment for perjury and Ward was tried for living on her immoral earnings but died in suspicious circumstances the night before the verdict was to be announced.  

After Keeler’s release from prison in 1964, she had two brief marriages that each produced a child. 

She published several accounts of her life. In one she told how she became pregnant by Profumo and how he arranged and paid for an abortion. 

Seeking some privacy, she changed her name to Sloane and did various menial jobs. Every now and again a tabloid would snatch and print a contemporary photograph commenting on how old and faded she now looked. During the 1970s, she declared: “I was not living, I was surviving.”

Now in the last few weeks we have discovered there is even more to Profumo’s nefarious deeds. Recently released MI5 papers indicate that he had a lifelong relationship with a high-ranking female nazi.

She was German-born model Gisela Winegard, who met undergraduate Profumo in Oxford in 1936. They kept in contact for more than 20 years, including while she ran a secret information service for the nazis in occupied Paris. She was imprisoned for her nazi activities in 1944.

When Winegard applied for a visa in 1951 to visit Britain she gave Profumo as a reference. Her husband said they had separated because she had been receiving love letters from Profumo on House of Commons paper. 

Profumo’s death aged 91 in 2006 was marked by sympathetic tributes and now Keeler has died aged 75.  

Theresa May tells us that thorough-going inquiries are moving ahead to finally reveal the whole truth about the current and historical issue of widespread sexual abuse and scandals so common among the upper and ruling classes. She promises that the whole truth will be revealed. I’m not holding my breath.

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