|Politique Diabolique||Nov 4 2009|
Above we have a well-worn On the Q.T. from November 1963, with Christine Keeler on the cover. Keeler, at upper right and below, was a London showgirl who had a brief relationship with Britain’s married Secretary of State for War, a man named John Profumo. The two met at a party in Buckinghamshire, in a mansion owned by Lord Astor, and though Keeler wasn’t a full-time prostitute, she occasionally made herself available to wealthy and powerful men and they sometimes gave her cash gifts.
She and Profumo were involved only a few weeks, but that was long enough for people to notice. When Profumo was paraded before the House of Commons and asked to answer to the rumors, he claimed there had been no impropriety between him and Keeler. It wasn’t just the lie that sank him—members of the government were alarmed because Keeler’s many acquaintances included Yevgeny Ivanov, a Russian attaché at the Soviet embassy in London. With the Cold War in full swing, officials feared Keeler was working Profumo for nuclear secrets on behalf of Ivanov and the Russkies.
The mess cost Profumo his job and reputation, and also may have brought down conservative Prime Minster Harold Macmillan, who resigned six months later for “health reasons.” It was the scandal of the century in Britain, and really, it still is. Never since have sex, politics, and state secrets been fused in such a way. There are many detailed retellings of the story, but for people interested in an inside account, Keeler published an autobiography in 2001 that sparked an outcry because she wrote that actress Maureen Swanson was one ofthe girls who attended private orgies arranged by Dr. Stephen Ward (in sunglasses on the magazine cover). Ward was an osteopath who dabbled in pimping, and his orgies were infamous. Open only to the rich and powerful, they featured not only beautiful girls, but the occult, sadomasochism, interracial sex shows, and so forth. Maureen Swanson later became the Countess of Dudley through marriage to Lord Ednam, so Keeler’s naming of her as a participant caused quite a bit of embarrassment to British nobility, for which she sued and won a settlement.
We could go on, but life is short and history’s intrigues are many. For cinematic types, the 1989 film Scandal, starring Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda, is an entertaining way to learn more about the event. We watched it, and, while Whalley is fine in the lead role and Fonda is good as always, only reading Keeler’s own words can convey the sense of ’60s liberation and breeziness that was such a large part of her personality, and which the British public reacted to with such revulsion. More than one writer of the period observed that when Britain crucified Keeler, they were really trying to destroy a part of themselves. Keeler said it herself: “I took on the sins of everybody, of a generation, really.”