Well He Would, Wouldn’t He? is a radio play by Charlotte Williams (the pseudonym of Sussex-born author and musician Charlotte Greig.) It marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Profumo Affair, retold by one of its chief protagonists: Mandy Rice-Davies.
In 1963, Mandy was 18: a model, showgirl and socialite. Originally from a middle-class family in Solihull, she had come to London to seek her fortune, and found herself implicated in one of the most infamous trials of the twentieth century.
The titular quote refers to Mandy’s response, when told in court that Lord Astor had denied sleeping with her: ‘Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ That retort has since been published in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
Sir Ivan Lawrence, a junior counsel at the time, recently claimed that Davies never actually said this. She replied in a letter to The Times, ‘The palest ink is not always better than the best of memory, Sir Ivan – besides, I have before me the court transcript.’
The play is narrated by Davies herself, with Aimee-Ffion Edwards (best-known for her role as ‘Sketch’ in TV’s Skins) playing the younger Mandy. The action is punctuated by music from the era, from bubblegum pop to Bob Dylan and Nina Simone.
Davies describes herself at the time as ‘a hapless teenager’, and is depicted as a wide-eyed ingénue. Nonetheless, she was nobody’s fool, as shown in the scene when she persuades Bill Astor and Dr Stephen Ward to pay for a housewarming party.
With tongue firmly in cheek, Mandy would later declare herself ‘another Lady Hamilton.’ Her illustrious conquests included the Earl of Dudley, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and George Hamilton.
Her older friend, Christine Keeler, introduced her to some of Ward’s high-ranking friends, including Soviet diplomat Eugene Ivanov. It was Keeler’s tangled affairs – with both Ivanov and Tory minister John Profumo – that would trigger a major political scandal.
Mandy later became the girlfriend of notorious ‘slum landlord’ Peter Rachman. In contrast to his thuggish reputation, Davies describes Rachman as ‘educated and intelligent’. Devastated by his death in November 1962, she attempted suicide.
While recovering, Mandy moved into Ward’s flat. In December, Christine’s aggrieved boyfriend, Johnny Edgecombe, fired shots at the building, and the incident made headlines.
‘As it turned out, the press knew far more than the government did,’ Davies reflects. ‘They went on the rampage.’ Shortly after Profumo’s resignation, Mandy was arrested at Heathrow Airport, and detained at Holloway Prison for eight days on a charge of driving without a valid licence.
While in jail, she was questioned about her friendship with Ward by Chief Inspector Samuel Herbert. ‘Although I felt certain that nothing I could say could damage Stephen,’ she admits, ‘I had the feeling that I was being dealt an arranged set of cards.’
A month later, Mandy was charged with stealing a television set. ‘It was now clear,’ she says, ‘that the charge was being held over me until I agreed to give evidence against Stephen.’
In June 1963, Ward was arrested and charged with living off immoral earnings over a period of two years. His trial began on July 22nd, and Mandy was called to the witness stand.
Of the prosecuting attorney, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, Mandy recalls, ‘his whole demeanour implied moral disapproval.’ She described his closing speech as ‘a public flogging.’
‘Stephen was being tried for his lifestyle, not for any crime he’d committed,’ she argues. ‘He was an oddball; his principles were a bit wavery, but he didn’t exploit anyone…and he certainly never asked me directly to sleep with anyone.’
To the court, she insisted that ‘He hasn’t done anything wrong. You might as well arrest every bachelor in London!’
Despite claims that Ward was involved in a spy ring, Davies considers him politically naïve. ‘Unseen forces within the establishment needed a scapegoat,’ she says darkly. ‘Someone to blame for the mess.’
‘Griffith-Jones was trying to make me out to be a prostitute, which I certainly wasn’t,’ she observes.
Ward’s well-to-do chums were noticeably absent in his hour of need. ‘Stephen didn’t want Bill Astor and his friends to testify,’ Mandy explains. ‘He didn’t think he would need them to, and anyway, he didn’t want to put them in the public spotlight. By the time he realised that he needed help, it was too late.’
On July 31st, Ward was found unconscious in his flat, having taken an overdose of sleeping tablets. He died three days later, after being convicted in absentia. ‘I was truly shocked and felt personal guilt,’ Mandy admits. ‘Christine was stricken with grief. We stayed away from his funeral. We were all responsible, in a way.’
‘Ward’s girls were plainly not prostitutes,’ Lord Goodman said later. ‘It was an historic injustice which took place in full view of everybody, clear to the world at large.’
Well He Would, Wouldn’t He? depicts the era, and Mandy’s part in it, evocatively, combining her memories with evidence from Ward’s trial. Her youth and quick wit are apparent, but her tough survivor’s instinct is somewhat downplayed.
During the 1960s, Davies managed a chain of restaurants. She went on to become a singer, actress and novelist, and now lives quietly with her husband of twenty-five years. In her own autobiography, Keeler wrote, ‘I feel she’s still the same old Mandy, telling people what they want to hear.’
‘I think that because I was so young, I was able to recover,’ Mandy concludes. ‘I could have dressed in sackcloth and sprinkled myself with ashes, but what I did was to take a long, hard look at myself…I hope that never again will anyone be able to point the finger at me and say, Come this way, please.’
Produced by BBC/Cymru Wales and originally broadcast on February 23rd as Radio 4’s Saturday Drama, Well He Would, Wouldn’t He? is available to listen online until March 2nd.