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Cliveden, 1961

Sir Ludovic Kennedy was born in Edinburgh in 1919, son of a naval officer. He was educated at Eton, where he played in a jazz band with Humphrey Lyttleton. After serving in World War II, Kennedy studied at Oxford, and later took up journalism and broadcasting. He married the dancer Moira Shearer in 1950, and they had four children. He died on October 18, 2009, aged 89.

Kennedy’s greatest achievement was in uncovering miscarriages of justice. In his book, 10 Rillington Place, he argued that Timothy Evans’ murder conviction was unsound. It was later discovered that John Christie was responsible. Kennedy also investigated the case of Derek Bentley, the last man to be hanged in England. He also wrote at length about the Lindbergh kidnapping and the Birmingham Six, and advocated liberal causes from atheism to euthanasia. Kennedy was a fiercely eloquent critic of the justice system, and a much-admired free thinker.

After the recent passing of Ludovic Kennedy, I re-read his 1964 book, The Trial Of Stephen Ward. It is one of the best studies of the Profumo Affair, and an invaluable record of the shortcomings of English criminal procedure.  Ward’s trial and the outcry it caused was also the subject of my own first novella, Wicked Baby (2004.)

In 1963, it was reported that John Profumo, then Minister For War, had an affair with 21 year-model Christine Keeler two years previously. At the same time, Keeler also encountered a Soviet agent, Eugene Ivanov – leading to allegations that national security had been breached. This was never proved, but the ensuing scandal fatally damaged Harold MacMillan’s Tory government.

The Profumo Affair marked the end of an ‘age of deference’, and the dawning of the sexual revolution.  However, it also revealed the overwhelming tyranny of class in English society. One of the most shocking aspects of the scandal, rarely discussed today, was that it led to one man’s suicide. Dr Stephen Ward, a 50 year-old, highly-respected osteopath and portrait artist, and a close friend of Christine Keeler, was found guilty living off the ‘immoral earnings’ of Keeler and several other young women, despite evidence that was paper-thin.

Ward’s trial, argued Ludovic Kennedy, was a blatant miscarriage of justice. This begs the question why Ward might have been ‘framed’ if he was, indeed, an innocent man. Ward led a seamy, dissolute lifestyle, and his apparently platonic relationship with the much-younger Christine Keeler was unusual to say the least. Nonetheless, it is hard to understand why such a successful, professional gentleman would have needed to live off the earnings of prostitutes – if, that is, Keeler ever was one.

Keeler is described as ‘a real little doll of a girl…one could see at once her appeal to the animal instincts of men.’ But, according to Kennedy, she was less striking in person than she first appeared. Rather condescendingly, Kennedy commented that Keeler had ‘the voice of any little shop girl’, and speculated that her rackety life was already taking its toll. ‘It was a terrifying little face, vacant yet knowing,’ Kennedy observed, ‘and it belonged not to a girl of twenty-one but an already ageing woman…here she was in an alien world where her charms meant nothing.’

Mandy Rice-Davies, Keeler’s friend, ‘was clearly a cut above…socially,’ in Kennedy’s estimation. He later added, ‘One realised that she had no sense of morality, as most of us understand the word, at all.’ Though Mandy may have lacked Christine’s exotic beauty and vulnerability, she was shrewd and self-possessed. When told that Lord Astor denied sleeping with her, Mandy famously remarked, ‘Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?’

Some of the lesser-known players in the scandal are also covered in Kennedy’s account. Ronna Ricardo and Vickie Barrett were both prostitutes, by their own admission. Ricardo ‘had red dyed hair and a pink jumper and a total lack of finesse; but after the genteel caperings of Christine and Mandy…this was also welcome,’ Kennedy wrote. Summoned by the prosecution, Ronna’s testimony actually damaged their case, because she finally admitted lying to the police and thereby incriminating Ward. ‘I thought if I helped them, they’d help me,’ she told the court.

Of Vickie Barrett, Kennedy recalled, ‘She came into the witness-box, a little whey-faced blonde…no Professor Higgins had taken her under his wing…I looked at Ward, intelligent and sophisticated, in the dock, and I found it difficult to reconcile the two.’ Her evidence included a description of her relationship which all too neatly fitted the stereotype of a tart and her pimp. She was ‘trying to paint a picture of Ward as a professional, and the image would not stick,’ Kennedy wrote. ‘She had overdone it.’

In retrospect, it is hard to understand why Vickie Barrett was believed, as her evidence was utterly contradictory. Ward had no financial need to live off her meagre earnings, and it seems that his sexual exploits were merely recreational. But to a jury in 1963, Barrett’s tales of whipping parties and two-way mirrors were shocking, even if fabricated. Ward’s sexual tastes were somewhat kinky and he had no qualms about introducing girls to his rich and powerful friends, but there is little proof that he gained anything from these liaisons beyond a cheap and fleeting thrill.

The latter part of Kennedy’s book deals more directly with Ward and the police investigation. One of the most disturbing facts of the case is that Ward’s interviews with police were not recorded at the time – a written statement was compiled afterward. These ‘interviews’ were quoted regularly during the trial, but there is no way of telling if they are true to Ward’s own words. Similarly, when Kennedy began writing his book, he was denied access to transcripts by the Chief Justice, Lord Denning. Fortunately his own notes were quite extensive, but the lack of primary sources engendered a lingering suspicion that lawmakers did not want Ward’s voice to be heard.

Ward was blessed, according to Kennedy, with ‘grace and a certain sort of dignity which, even in his most extreme moments, he was never to lose.’ Though not a handsome man, Ward was charming and perhaps a little manipulative. ‘When he was silent one hardly noticed him,’ Kennedy wrote; ‘when he was speaking, his voice transformed him, gave him life and magnetism.’

Ward was least convincing when he tried to appeal to the jury’s sense of moral indignation, for he was a rather immoral man from a conventional viewpoint. It was in moments of severe distress, when in Kennedy’s words, ‘(Ward’s) whole being was crying out’, that the finer qualities Kennedy detected made themselves known.

Asked about Keeler’s claim to have slept with Ivanov, Ward replied, ‘I have always believed that she never did. I think like a lot of people she tells a story often enough and comes to believe it and does tell lies.’ In a separate case, Keeler was convicted of perjury weeks later. It should be noted that she and the other girls were interrogated by police over and over again, and it is quite possible that they were pressurised to speak out against Ward.

Ward vigorously denied that he had introduced Keeler to drugs, or ‘corrupted’ her in any way. He had perhaps genuinely liked Keeler at first, and apart from being attracted to her physically, saw a quality in her that touched him deeply. In some ways he was a ‘Svengali’ figure who had introduced girls like Keeler to people who might help them to better themselves, but their former friendship was now irrevocably broken. Mandy Rice-Davies, Ward claimed, had ‘viciously turned against’ him.

Incredibly, Ward’s ample income was barely discussed during the trial. He frequently loaned money to friends like Keeler, and as she conceded, ‘I usually owed him more than I ever made (as a sometime model and dancer)…I only gave him half of that.’ Rather than Ward living off Keeler’s earnings, it seemed that during the time she shared his flat, she would often depend on him. There is little hard evidence that Keeler or Rice-Davies were really prostitutes, for although they were quite promiscuous and sometimes accepted gifts or money from their lovers, these relationships were usually something more complex than strictly financial transactions.

Two of the most prominent men in Ward’s case, Lord Astor and a Dr Emil Savundra, were not even called to testify. All evidence concerning them came from secondary sources. In his summing up, prosecuting attorney Mervyn Griffith-Jones repeatedly referred to Ward as ‘a filthy fellow’. For the defence, James Burge argued that ‘You can have a girl of eighteen or even younger who is highly sophisticated and experienced. You can have a man of fifty who never seems to grow old…’

On the final day of the trial, Ward was found unconscious at his home, having taken an overdose of sleeping pills. He would never recover. A guilty verdict was reached (on three of the five charges) in his absence, which was, in Kennedy’s opinion, ‘grossly unfair’. Other journalists wondered why Ward had been given bail at this time, when he was at his most vulnerable. Ward’s death drew the scandal to a close, just as his perceived crimes had masked the irresponsible behaviour of men like John Profumo, who allegedly pursued Keeler even after being warned of her association with Ivanov.

The abandonment of Ward by his high-ranking friends (including Lord Astor, who had formerly provided him with a cottage at his ancestral home of Cliveden for a ‘peppercorn rent’,) thought Kennedy, was ‘the final twist of the knife’. ‘For years, poor innocent,’ Kennedy wrote, ‘he had deluded himself into thinking that Lord Astor and others were his friends; and now came the shattering awakening. He was not their friend at all: he was the court jester, the grand eunuch, the private medicine-man whose usefulness was now over.’

Next, Kennedy considered the so-called ‘conspiracy’ against Ward. ‘I think the answer lies not in the specific orders of any one person but in the spontaneous actions of many,’ he concluded. ‘Within the hierarchy each members knows what is required of him, what he must do; and during the long investigation and trial each man did it.’ Kennedy also believed that the jury was under ‘unconscious pressure’, given the overwhelmingly negative publicity that had dogged Ward for months.

Had Profumo not lied to both Harold Macmillan and the House Of Commons about his affair with Christine Keeler, Ward might have remained in obscurity. When Keeler and others spoke to the press, Profumo was forced to resign. He subsequently retired from politics, and never spoke of the scandal. In later years he regained some respectability by working voluntarily among the poor at Toynbee House in East London.

In her 2001 book, The Truth At Last, Keeler paints a far more sinister picture of Ward’s character than Kennedy did. Mandy Rice-Davies has dabbled in acting, singing and writing with some success, while Ward’s friend, Eugene Ivanov, returned to Moscow as soon as the scandal broke. Ivanov, along with Keeler’s boyfriend John Edgecombe, and Profumo’s son, David Profumo, later published a memoir, and the ‘Profumo Affair’ has been the subject of several books and two major films. Lewis Morley’s monochrome portrait of a semi-nude Christine Keeler astride an Arne Jacobson-style chair swiftly became one of the most iconic images of twentieth century Britain.

After Ward’s trial ended, Lord Denning led an official inquiry into the Profumo Affair, once again laying most of the blame at Ward’s feet. Denning ordered MI5 files on the scandal to be withheld from the public until 2046. Rumours about Ward’s strange fate still surface occasionally, and some have even suggested he may have been part of a spy ring that also included Sir Anthony Blunt – though Ward’s impulsive, garrulous nature made him a seemingly unlikely candidate for the shadowy business of espionage. This aspect of the scandal was not explored in Kennedy’s account, but nearly fifty years later, it is possible that the full truth about Stephen Ward’s role in the Profumo Affair has yet to be revealed.