Are you sitting comfortably?
John Blake, £17.99
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Published 26/02/2012 | 06:00
The Ms Keeler will begin her story, writes Tanya Gold
It is hard, 50 years after the Profumo Affair, to review Christine Keeler's memoir without fury. She was the 19-year-old girl who slept with John Profumo, the minister for war, and Yevgeny Ivanov, a Russian spy, in 1961. When the affairs were exposed two years later, Profumo resigned and eventually the Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillan, went too.
Secrets and Lies is full of hoorays and spivs, but the strongest scent is the sexual politics of the early Sixties. To a woman who grew up in the Eighties, it is a monochrome pantheon of Beehives and assaults.
Who was she, the naked woman on the chair? Keeler would say that was another lie, for actually she was wearing knickers in the shot. But who cares? She was from Uxbridge, near enough to smell the city, and like many suburban girls she craved what she could almost see. Her mother was not maternal and her stepfather tried it on when young Keeler grew breasts.
The early pages read, quite unconsciously, like a manifesto for women's rights because in the early Sixties there were girls you touched and girls you didn't, and the girls who could be touched were -- and all the time.
But all adventuresses, or "tarts" in Macmillan's despicable phrase, come from such worlds. Her first sexual experience sounds like rape, although Keeler, who narrates with a drowsy anger that never sounds quite pure, doesn't say so. And the worst scene -- Keeler sticking a knitting needle up herself to lose a child -- made me weep. But bad girls get bad ends, who doesn't know that?
She was so young, the make-up belies it, but she was. At 17 she made her living in Soho, dancing in ridiculous outfits for raddled toffs and their horrid wives. I suspect that of real lust Christine knew nothing; the passages about the sex sound numb and thoughtless, as if a child wrote them.
Soon, she met her antagonist, Stephen Ward, osteopath to the stars, who was as awful as he sounds. Part human, part greasy copy of Tatler, this monster loved "high society" and saw in Christine a child-woman he could use. Soon she was at orgies, watching swingers whip each other.
Ward served her up -- she was standing naked by a swimming pool at Cliveden when Profumo saw her.
The least sexy thing about this sex scandal was how ugly the men were, and how entitled; if the Sixties were when sex began, they weren't yet good at it. They just lunged, like (Lord) Bill Astor chasing Christine around a desk.
It is pitiful how nice she is about Profumo: "I enjoyed it for he was kind and loving afterwards," she says, 19 to his 47. She says he made her pregnant, yet it was he, after 20 years of "exile" in charity work, who was redeemed with a seat of honour at Margaret Thatcher's 70th birthday party.
Perhaps no aristocrat who cleans toilets in the East End can fail to be forgiven?
Keeler's book feels more like testimony than narrative. The best description of her comes from writer and artist Caroline Coon: "Every man who met her wanted her and those who couldn't have her wanted to punish her. She was highly decorative, kind and charming. Is what she did really so awful?"
No, she was a bath toy who drowned, but Keeler was too early for robust feminism, and when the story broke she went down for perjury, a luckless vessel for national prurience, lust, and fear of lust. This was Britain.
Keeler thinks Ward was a spy for the Russians, but believes he was never exposed by MI5 because the Americans would have freaked out so soon after the Cambridge Four.
No, better to name Ward as a pimp, and he, ever a snob, politely killed himself because that is what posh people do, except Ward was still middle-class enough to use Nembutal rather than a shotgun.
I have no idea if Ward was a spy, but if so he was terrible at it, breaking his greatest asset, Profumo, by having Christine sleep with Ivanov too. She also exposes Roger Hollis as a spy, and Peter Wright in Spycatcher agreed. So here is Christine, 50 years on, still wondering -- what the hell happened?