Christine Keeler; A chance for a working class girl to attend an orgy

The BBC opined this week about the death of Christine Keeler aged seventy five. The former good time girl along with her friend Mandy Rice-Davies helped to bring down the old fogey Macmillan govt in 1964, when her affair with John Profumo, Secretary of State for War was discovered.

Their tone, grappling with a past most of the presenters didn’t remember was shocked and censorious as if they were discussing the more depraved aspects of Ancient Rome. Their tight lipped tutting reminded me of my grandparents. I was at their house on the Wirral, aged six, when the scandal became household news. They were similarly shocked by the goings on among their leaders but their response was based on something essentially different.

We were a lower middle class C.of.E family and knew almost nothing of vice; it didn’t impinge on us at all any more than on the Edwardian generation that had gone before. We went to Morning Service on a Sunday and Evensong as well, which was still a popular service where we saw most of our middle class neighbours, the elderly ladies in lacquered straw hats and gloves. The working class folk of the village went mainly to the Methodists.

Christine Keeler, on kitten heels, stalked right in to this safe, stratified world. Although my grandparents didn’t have a TV or a telephone, the image and idea of her shimmering, exposed thighs seemed to be suddenly connect us to a terrifying world, where sex which had previously not been mentioned at all, except in emergencies, was now on everyone’s lips.

No one in my family had ever met anyone like Christine Keeler who came from a poor background and was scarily close to being what BBC Woman’s Hour terms, ‘A sex worker.’ The word prostitute is now non PC and for different reasons it was not said out loud in the 1960s either by respectable people. I once saw my mother mouth it to someone silently.

To be involved in any kind of scandal was damning, travelling without a tube ticket could get a popular commentator banned from the BBC, but the name Christine Keeler worked like an evil charm on me. I was fascinated. It was certainly more interesting than hearing the gown ups going on and on about the impending danger of ‘Wilson,’ who I knew represented something bad but in a different way. Perhaps fearing that I would be corrupted my Grandmother, normally a very meek, quiet lady suddenly issued some kind of Fatwa against the name Christine Keeler ever being spoken in her house again. As she gave commands so rarely it made an impact on all of us.

Christine’s mentor, Stephen Ward, had rarely been mentioned, that would have been going too far. The society osteopath introduced lucky young women into polite society, or in harsher terms procured girls like Christine for his rich clients such as Lord Astor. It was whispered that he even had royal connections, a rumoured friendship with Prince Philip. I heard Ward’s name from the radio with the kind of fear I would have later for murderer Ian Brady. From the tone of the adults around the dining table I knew he really was unspeakably wicked. When he killed himself I could tell they were dismayed by the suicide but quietly glad he’d gone. They probably had the same reaction to the death of Hermann Goring; disgusted at the cowardly manner of the death but relieved that a dangerous evil had been purged from the world.

I never heard my parents mention Prince Philip in connection with Ward. Neither the BBC nor respectable newspapers touched implied scandal of that depth. A year later the Beatles came into our lives, eclipsing everything else in the news and bringing joy to my austere childhood.

John Profumo was restored to virtue in my family’s opinion by staying with his marriage and going down the East End to do good works. But the image of Christine Keeler was still out there, forcing people like my family into an awareness of the new secular world fast approaching. The British people quickly came to an accommodation with this more permissive society as it was named, where crime and vice were seen as a trade-off for personal liberty, authority structures were allowed to fail and it became impossible to make judgements based on the old Christian morality, or to be, as the ugly new word put it: ‘judgemental’ about anyone anymore.

After the ‘Swinging 60’s,’ longing to swing I was disappointed to get to university to find that the student movement as seen in Paris was over, and sexual freedom quickly diminished due to AIDS. But I could not have foreseen that fifty years later we would be back in a society which my grandparents would recognise, not for its Christian precepts but for its secular based curtain twitching and finger pointing.

In the years since Profumo, who was rehabilitated and honoured by the Queen for his charity work, we have moved from Christian empathy for the sinner, to a cult of the victim, oddly in bed with ruthless punishment for a whole raft of newly invented sins.

I met Christine Keeler at a Yuppie party in Notting hill in the early 1990s. It was almost too sad to see her then, a famished, unhappy looking woman who had obviously not taken care of herself. I was told she was on hard times and no one really wanted to engage with her as she reeked of a distant past which was no longer of any interest. We were too busy living out our own exciting times, walking through doors into careers not open to her. But I do remember a certain pride about her, she was obviously resilient; still out there, socialising, taking an interest in people. Life had obviously been hard on her, her fame and ‘success d’ scandal’ didn’t last, but the same goes for any model or beautiful socialite. She’d been to prison for perjury and had been more vulnerable than brassy friend Mandy who’d married well and gone to live abroad.

She had not had a happy life but I wonder how she would feel if she could hear the reactions to her death this week, particularly from BBC commentators. For them she was never a willing ‘sex worker,’ a spirited young girl working her way through London demimonde and having a lot of fun. She was no war baby making the best of her assets. She is now seen as a helpless creature abused by powerful men. What I saw at the Notting hill party was not a woman who had played the game as best she could, she was just the ‘survivor’ of a terrible ordeal.

The snow-flakes and new Puritans who think of her like that, just like my grandmother have never had the chance to attend an orgy at Cliveden Manor or sleep with wildly exciting, brilliant men, gangsters and Soviet spies. They are the real losers and will end up survivors of dull, hide-bound lives. Their ‘judgementalism’ shows that they secretly know it.© Salisbury Review

8 Comments on Christine Keeler; A chance for a working class girl to attend an orgy

  1. “I never heard my parents mention Prince Philip in connection with Ward.”

    That was a good comment and career move, JK.

    (p.s. Is this – my remarks – what’s called *Fisking*?)

  2. How did she manage to live to 75 when most prostitutes live (I think) far shorter lives? Can’t glean much from a photograph, but the one of her pulling a shopping cart says something good about her, to my mind. Not sure what.

  3. London was full of prostitutes in the Nineteenth Century, working class, middle class, and every other class. “Victorian values” were highly flexible, as her own son proved regularly enough.

    The resaon Profumo and Keeler became notorious was that the BBC and much of Fleet Street were in the bag for Wilson, and promoted any story that might reflect badly on Macmillan and the Tories in general.

    The idea that politicians don’t frequent London prostitutes regularly is absurd.

  4. London was full of prostitutes in the Nineteenth Century, working class, middle class, and every other class. “Victorian values” were highly flexible, as her own son proved regularly enough.

    The reason Profumo and Keeler became notorious was that the BBC and much of Fleet Street were in the bag for Wilson, and promoted any story that might reflect badly on Macmillan and the Tories in general.

    The idea that politicians don’t frequent London prostitutes regularly is absurd.

  5. Well Jane, you took a long time to make a crushing point. “The snow-flakes and new Puritans who think of her like that, …… They are the real losers and will end up survivors of dull, hide-bound lives. Their ‘judgementalism’ shows that they secretly know it.”

    A wonderful insight into the mindset of the liberal censorious idiots that populate the BBC.

  6. She was a small part player in a manufactured scandal that led to a lot of Fleet Street and teenage tittering that today would go unnoticed, even amongst the Fleet Street titterers. All her subsequent small part playing (or any size of part playing for that matter) should have passed unremarked. The scandal might have given a somewhat jaded government a jolt but even if it did a year and a bit later Harold the Boy Wonder only managed to capitalize on whatever advantage it provided to the tune of an overall majority of 4. She would probably done well on I’m a celebrity etc etc..

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