Monday 25 September 2017

Review: Secrets and LIes by Christine Keeler (with Douglas Thompson)

STUNNING: Christine Keeler on holiday in Spain in 1963, shortly before her involvement with John Profumo. Photo by Stroud/Express/GettyImages
STUNNING: Christine Keeler on holiday in Spain in 1963, shortly before her involvement with John Profumo. Photo by Stroud/Express/GettyImages

ROSITA SWEETMAN

Finishing Secrets and Lies, Christine Keeler's autobiography, what amazes is not just how pretty she was (a stunner), nor how famous (yes, she was that naked girl photographed in that designer chair), nor how influential (she 'invented sex'), nor even how young (a teenager for God's sake), but how savagely she was done over by the British establishment. Oh yes, it's quite a story.



First there's the familiar part: 'party girl' gets picked up by Svengali-type in topless club in Soho to be subsequently pimped out to his chums -- toffs from the highest echelons of politics, the judiciary and the media, with huge country pads, fortunes of money, and libidos enlivened by the arrival of the sex-friendlier Sixties and champagne.

One (in)famous evening the then secretary of state for war, John Profumo, a guest at Cliveden, the Astor's family pad where Stephen Ward rents a gate lodge, spots the young lovely swimming naked in the pool, and the fun begins.

Profumo (47, married) starts an affair with Keeler (18), taking her, (in the state car) around Westminster's buildings of importance -- the Foreign Office, the Houses of Parliament.

And for reasons not clear to her at the time, Ward arranges that she also hops into bed with Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attache.

Ward is seen leaving Cliveden early in the morning, carrying papers from Profumo's quarters. Keeler is asked to bring Ivanov an envelope. What's going on?

Things cool with Profumo when rumours circulate that his girly has also had it off with a Russki, but it's only when the police come to investigate a shooting, (a crazed lover), it emerges that the toffs are not just being buttered up with 'party girls' but the man doing it, Stephen Ward, is, it's claimed, a spy for the Russians.

Cold War paranoia was at its height, the Americans convinced 'the Brits can't be trusted' and before you can say atomic missile sites, the Stephen Ward/John Profumo/ Christine Keeler/Yevgeny Ivanov story of yet another spy for Russia operating with impunity at the heart of the British establishment is turned into a saucy sex scandal.

A case is cooked up against Ward 'the pimp'. Keeler and her (former) pal Mandy Rice Davies are lined up in court. Profumo retires. Stephen Ward kills himself. The government falls. A judicial report says it was all a matter of toffs and tarts, nothing else whatever to see here, so move along please.

Christine Keeler was still only 20 years old. For a while the celebrity factor carried her along.

The Sixties' favourite bad girl, she and Mandy were having their hair done in Vidal Sassoon in Bond Street every day during the trial, mobbed by photographers, they were instant celebrities. There were parties. Travel. Films to plan. Books to write. Stories to sell to papers.

Slowly, as it does, the froth evaporated; Keeler became a 'sexual scalp', was never sure if men wanted her, or her infamy. To this day she talks about Christine Keeler in the third person. She put 'a lot of men through her fingers'.

She got married (briefly). Had a clearly adored little boy. When he was three she had a wobble and asked her Mum to mind Jimmy; the Mum, herself abandoned by her mother, refused to give him back.

In a recent (rare) interview with the Sunday Times, Keeler says she couldn't help saying 'O Mum you're still alive!' when her mother answered a phone call; still alive and still stealing my Jimmy.

From a deprived and dysfunctional background -- her mother was left in a convent by her mother until she was 15, her father left when she was three, her stepfather tried to molest her as soon as puberty hit and she'd performed a badly botched abortion on herself with a knitting needle when she was barely 16 -- Dickens style, her looks and her wits were literally all she had to save her, and so, gorgeously pretty, she had headed for the bright lights and got nabbed almost immediately by Ward.

She says her relationship with him was more father/ daughter than sexual, though early on he began familiarising her with the tastes and mores of his upper-class chums, and clients.

As well as having pretty girls on his arm, Ward was also an osteopath, and an artist, and used both to make his way into the inner circles of prestige and power; clients included Sir Winston Churchill, Paul Getty, Douglas Fairbanks and Elizabeth Taylor, plus many members of the royal family and political elite.

To a teen from Uxbridge the carry-on was an eye-opener. Dinner parties -- with giant plastic phalluses as table centre pieces morphed into orgies, the hostess in basque, boots and whip. There were film stars, duchesses, MPs, media moguls, a famous barrister who liked to wear a mask, get naked, bar a tiny apron, and get whipped for not pleasuring his guests quickly enough.

And yes, that famous photo of the young lovely fellating a man whose head is not in shot, is the Duchess of Argyll giving it to either a cabinet minister or a movie star. Dear oh dear. Gradually, though, the tide went out. The naughty boys ran back home (and were forgiven). As did the naughty girls. Nobody cared if it was a spy scandal or a sex scandal. The case was closed and Christine Keeler was stranded. The only thing she had, her story, disbelieved.

In 2006 John Profumo died and was buried with full honours. Christine Keeler, now in her seventies, decided enough was enough. She would, once again, tell all. Sadly, no one seems to give a damn.

Many think Keeler was a tough baggage who got her comeuppance, while the establishment makes very sure the relevant papers stay under wraps: 'Too sensitive'. Two printed pages of released material at the end of the book give some idea of what she is up against -- word after word scored out in blackest ink.

The facts, that yet another clever upper-class British chap was busy funnelling info to the Russians, and thanks to the upper-crust's predilection for orgies was able to penetrate to the top with the use, and abuse, of unprotected young girls from deprived backgrounds, remain, conveniently, buried. That a 20-year-old girl carries the can for an astonishing breach of security. An astonishing miscarriage of justice.

Having finished Secrets and Lies I do believe Christine Keeler deserves better. I very much hope she gets it.

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