Greasy Pole: Mandy and Christine
There can’t be many ex-pupils of Sharmans Cross Secondary Modern School in Shirley, Solihull responsible for coining a phrase which, for its terse penetration of a barricade of hypocrisy, has endured for fifty years and merited its originator a place in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Or whose later judgement of one of her ‘affairs’ when she was fifteen was ‘I was an enthusiastic participant in what struck me as a perfectly pleasant way to spend an afternoon…the worst I could be accused of is bad judgement and a healthy libido…’ We are discussing here Marilyn (more profitably known as ‘Mandy’) Rice-Davies who in the early days of Harold Macmillan’s Nineteen Sixties never had it so good in numerous contacts with older, richer, more famous men. And who, when she was informed by a barrister in court that the Third Viscount Astor from Cliveden in Buckinghamshire denied that he had been one of those men retorted ‘Well he would, wouldn’t he’. She died last December, after a life she recalled as ‘one slow descent into respectability’.
Rice-Davies’ family moved to Solihull for her father to take a job at the Dunlop factory. She seemed older than her years and moved to London, became a dancer at Murray’s Club in Soho, met Christine Keeler to replace her in the home of the notorious persecuting slum landlord Rachman. ‘It was dislike at first sight’ was how she described her original contact with Keeler; ‘I enjoyed her company and learned never to rely on her for anything’. Which did not deter her from being one of a threesome sexual service for any client who was rich and energetic enough. During this time she was introduced by Keeler to, among others, Lord Astor and Stephen Ward – a highly successful osteopath. For some people Ward was cynically plausible and indiscreet, always ready to work a deal to promote the situation in which he was a favoured therapist for, among others, Paul Getty, Colin Coote and Frank Sinatra and a clutch of politicians including Churchill, Eden and Gaitskell. Meanwhile among Keeler’s attendant men was Yevgeny Ivanov who was the Naval attaché at the Russian Embassy.
In July 1961 the Astors threw one of their lavish parties at Cliveden, attended by the customary slew of notables including John Profumo, the Tory MP. The assembled guests made their way down to the house swimming pool which was close to a cottage rented by Ward. Taking a refreshing dip – made more so by having her swimming costume mischievously removed by Ward – was Christine Keeler. Before she left that evening with Ivanov, Profumo had made a note of her telephone number, which he used to facilitate an affair. At that time Profumo was very much a man with a future. He had been to Harrow School and then Oxford where while ‘studying law’ he found time to be a member of the vandalising Bullingdon Club. He was elected as an MP and in May 1940 he joined 30 other Tory MPs in a vote which effectively led to the resignation of Neville Chamberlain. The Tory disciplinarians in the House were not pleased; one Whip spat on Profumo’s shoes and the Chief Whip snarled at him that he was ‘…an utterly contemptible little shit’. Notwithstanding this he remained in favour with the leadership; although he lost his seat in Kettering in the 1945 Labour landslide he was later elected for Stratford-on-Avon. It did not take long for him to squirm his way up the Greasy Pole to the extent that he was tipped as a future Foreign Secretary or Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was Secretary of State for War when he was sexually linked with Keeler and the fact that she was also involved with Ivanov accentuated concerns about security. Meanwhile in Westminster Profumo developed a reputation as a persistent womaniser, accustomed to excuse his absences from home as due to late night sittings in the Commons. His wife, the film star Valerie Hobson, complained about him instructing his tailor to fashion his trousers so as to hint at his unusually large penis.
The Westminster rumour mill ground hungrily into the Profumo/Keeler scandal with the Labour MP George Wigg particularly active. In March 1963 the Whips decided that enough was enough and one night in the small hours they hauled Profumo out of bed to insist that he came clean. But the most they could manage was a denial which Profumo was to read later that day to the Commons, part of which said: ‘Miss Keeler and I were on friendly terms. There was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintance with Miss Keeler.’ But when this was read to the House it only aggravated the problem. Typically, Wigg ‘…left the House that morning with black rage in my heart because I knew what the facts were’. In addition when the police interviewed Keeler in their investigation into Ward on charges of ‘living off immoral earnings’ she confirmed having a sexual relationship with Profumo. It did not then take long for him to give in; during what might have been a conciliatory trip to Venice he confessed all to his wife and then to Macmillan. On 5 June he resigned. Among a flood of similar comment The Economist asked ‘…may the government, or rather the Prime Minister of Britain be about to be overthrown by a 21-year old trollop?’ The police had also been active and Ward appeared at the Old Bailey on what was very doubtful evidence. Just before the day of it all being summed up he committed suicide at his home. Tory MP Alan Clark, whose own adventures made it difficult for him to overflow with any delicate sympathy, later blurted that the whole affair had ‘…exposed their (Tory politicians’) essential rottenness’.
And so we return to Mandy Rice Davies and her enduringly perceptive phrase. That all happened fifty years ago but it is no better now. We have David Cameron claiming the ability to control the vagaries of capitalism. And Ed Miliband desperate to convince us that his party is even more capable. And Nick Clegg striving to make us forget the Lib Dem’s record of deception. About each and all of them we must declare:
He would, wouldn’t he?