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Stephen Ward

Fifty years after one of Britain’s most notorious political scandals erupted, journalist Tom Mangold has looked back on events in Profumo Confidential, a special episode of BBC Radio’s Archive on 4 series.

Mangold, who was working for the Daily Express at the time, investigated the affair for two years. He later joined the BBC, and has been described as ‘the doyen of broadcast reporters’.

The programme begins with the fatal overdose of the osteopath Dr Stephen Ward, announced on the news on July 30th, 1963. Mangold had visited him earlier that evening. Now, Mangold has come into possession of previously unseen papers on the scandal that led to Ward’s death.

The real story, Mangold admits, is ‘largely unknown to today’s generation.’ While Lewis Morley’s photo of a nude Christine Keeler astride a chair remains iconic, few may understand that the Profumo Affair was arguably a catalyst for the social – and sexual – revolution of the 1960s, when the British people were ‘beginning to reject austere post-war values in favour of the decade ahead.’

A short interview with Ward follows, given shortly before his demise, at the opening of an exhibition, featuring his accomplished sketches of his friends and patients – including film stars and even royalty.

The Profumos

The Profumos

‘All important people are very simple,’ Ward quips. ‘Otherwise they wouldn’t be important.’ His assured, patrician tone is seemingly very different to the effete personality of popular caricature.

Similarly, Keeler – then just 21, and from a provincial, working-class background – was already no Eliza Doolittle, but a well-spoken English rose. Her time under Ward’s influence had clearly smoothed out any rough edges, though she seems to waver when a reporter asks, in a rather insinuating manner, if the publicity had helped her career.

‘Not quite a tart,’ Mangold judges her, ‘but up for a good time at any time, and entranced by life in the big city.’ One of her boyfriends at the time, Noel Howard-Jones, described her as ‘no Nobel Prize-Winner. She liked the lighter side of life.’

In fact, Keeler’s life had been troubled from the start. She had experienced both poverty and abuse, leaving home as soon as she could. No wonder she aspired to a more glamorous existence.

In later years, Keeler would describe Noel as ‘the man I had always wanted.’ Unfortunately, it seems that he, like so many other men, saw her as little more than a plaything.

Mandy Rice-Davies, Keeler’s friend and the other ‘good-time girl’ in the scandal, has been interviewed by Mangold. She flatly denies the slur of being a prostitute: ‘We certainly weren’t hookers. If a man – a stranger – had offered me £20 to go to bed with him, I probably would have slapped him around the face.’

‘Gifts were given to me within relationships,’ she explains, ‘and that is an entirely different story. I probably had affairs with ten men over two and a half years. That’s not a huge number – nothing to what goes on today.’

Asked if Christine had sex for money, Mandy replies, ‘Certainly men gave her money, but back in those days, men did give you money. We didn’t earn the money that men did, and they were more than willing to help out.’

This echoes Mangold’s earlier observation, that ‘the main players in Britain’s most famous scandal of the century crossed class and gender lines. Indeed, that was part of the problem.’

Eugene Ivanov

Enter Evgeny ‘Eugene’ Ivanov, the Russian naval attaché who came to London in 1961. ‘I know him to be a man of great honour,’ Ward insisted, after Ivanov was alleged to be a Soviet spy. ‘And if he’s somehow being represented as a sinister figure, then goodness knows what kind of interpretation is being put upon the fact that he was a visitor to my flat.’

‘He was very Russian, and quite amusing,’ Mandy remembers. ‘He’d come with vodka and caviar, and say, ze weaknesses of ze capitalists. He was extremely likable.’

John Profumo, in Mangold’s estimation, was ‘a popular and effective minister,’ but also ‘an inveterate womaniser.’

As Minister for Defence at the height of the Cold War, Profumo’s duties were highly sensitive. Regarding the Polaris missile, he conceded, ‘One of the anxieties we had here was whether there was going to be a serious gap between [the US launch in 1960] and the time when our present nuclear policy wouldn’t be so credible.’

Returning to Ward, Mangold recalls ‘a man with charm who could be kind and thoughtful. He was also louche… in tune with the looser, changing sexual moraes of the times. He was manipulative and loved to surround himself with sexy, rather naïve girls who wanted to share his peripatetic and bohemian lifestyle in the big, bad city.’

‘He certainly enjoyed the company of – mostly – very young women,’ Mandy agrees. ‘We were the entrée into society.’

Ward rented a cottage in the grounds of Lord Astor’s estate. ‘I spent quite a lot of time at Cliveden,’ Mandy admits. But although Ward enjoyed group sex, Mandy says, ‘I never, ever, heard of an orgy taking place there.’

Noel Howard-Jones was also a regular guest. ‘Everybody was welcome,’ he says. ‘And often on Sundays, Bill Astor would call…we would find ourselves rubbing shoulders with people like the president of Pakistan, on occasion.’

Lord Denning compiles his report on the scandal

Lord Denning compiles his report on the scandal

Lord Alfred Denning, who became Master of the Rolls in 1962, would write ‘the definitive national document’ on the Profumo Affair. ‘The very first pages crucified Stephen Ward, establishing him as a scoundrel,’ Mangold notes. ‘Ward was somehow seen as responsible for Profumo’s downfall, while also symbolising the decadent new society.’

‘A rigid code is sure to drive natural instincts underground,’ Ward told reporters in 1963, adding, ‘to bottle up the dictates of nature will make us sour and introspective.’

‘I feel revulsion when I look at popular pin-ups,’ said Lord Hailsham, head of the House of Lords. ‘Playboys, millionaires and actresses with the bodies of gods and the morals of ferrets. ‘ A lifelong Conservative, he vowed that ‘the Great Party is not to be brought down by a squalid affair between a woman of easy virtue and a proven liar.’

Hailsham’s attitude reflected that of Harold Macmillan’s government, which in Mangold’s view was ‘dedicated to maintaining post-war moral standards’ and fearful of modernity, epitomised by ‘black immigrants, rock ‘n’ roll, Mary Quant, minis and micro dresses, the Pill…’

Racial prejudice would also play its part in the scandal, though it is barely explored here. Mangold relates a story about how, while planning a race relations exposé, a tabloid editor suggested he ‘black up’ – only in much stronger language.

Though Lord Denning’s personal recollections remain out of bounds, Mangold has recently been given access to the diaries of his secretary, Thomas Critchley (read by his son, Alan.)

After his first meeting with Ward, on July 8th, Critchley described him as ‘full of the forthcoming trial, and full of confidence.’

Hod Dibben and Mariella Novotny on their wedding day

Hod Dibben and Mariella Novotny on their wedding day

But Denning’s assistant was less enamoured of two other witnesses – nightclub owner Hod Dibben and his much-younger wife, Mariella Novotny. The couple were known to host sado-masochistic sex parties, such as the infamous ‘Man in the Mask’ party, in which ‘a butler, dressed only in a Masonic apron and mask, served food and drink to the swingers.’

Stephen was among those invited, and Mandy Rice-Davies claims that she also attended (though Christine Keeler, who was there, says she didn’t.) Mandy remembers Novotny as ‘quite glamorous, in an outrageous way. It’s hard to sum somebody up when they’re naked.’

In her interview with Lord Denning, Mandy was asked who the masked man was. ‘I said that Stephen had told me it was Ernest Marples.’ He told Mangone the same thing while stuck in a traffic jam (Marples was then Minister for Transport.)

However, Mangold now believes this was a ‘hurtful practical joke’ on Ward’s part, and that the masked man was actually ‘a minor celebrity, film director.’

‘Lord Denning and his secretary – both straight, decent, middle-aged men – became obsessed with the Dibbens and their sex parties,’ Mangold comments, and relates a bizarre, comical episode when Sir Joseph Simpson, head of Scotland Yard, turned the delivery of a letter to the Dibbens’ home into ‘a top-level operation and pure Whitehall farce.’

Simpson described the notorious couple as ‘a rum lot’, and it was rumoured that they practised ‘black magic’ in their basement at Hyde Park Gate. After interviewing them, Critchley confided to his diary, ‘I flung the windows open, washed my hands and wished I’d been in a snowy part of Switzerland.’

‘I’ve been injudicious in my private life,’ Ward said publicly in June 1963, ‘and a great deal of money has been given to totally irresponsible people … large offers from newspapers for a certain type of story.’

‘In times like these – the high days of summer – circulation is an elusive wisp,’ reflected the BBC’s Peter Stewart. ‘That’s why there will be no respite for Mr Macmillan, Miss Keeler, or anyone else in these orbits, until the last fact, the last comment, the last copy is wrung from this affair.’

By then, Christine had sensationally claimed – in an interview with Peter Earle for the News of the World – that she also had a brief fling with Ivanov during her affair with Profumo, whom she had met at Cliveden in the summer 1961. Earle, says Mangold, ‘could occasionally be to truth what Caligula is to chastity.’

Earle had known Ward ‘for years’, and was ‘waiting for the day the police would get him.’ He described Ward as ‘a demon’.  This kind of moral hypocrisy – expressing disapproval at the ‘depravity’ of those involved, while also revelling in it – pervaded press coverage of the affair.

Lord Hailsham was among those troubled by the possible breach of national security. But Rupert Allason – a military historian, and former Tory MP, whose father was Profumo’s parliamentary secretary – believes there was never any risk.

‘The proposition that there was any canoodling going on between Ivanov and Keeler is an invention of ghostwriters,’ Allason says.

‘If it was untrue,’ Mangold adds, ‘the story would have been downgraded…a nice inside page lead, but hardly a story to bring down a government.’

Noel Howard-Jones also believes that Christine was cajoled into embroidering the truth: ‘She went peddling her story…she was told, keep talking, darling…and she kept talking.’

‘I yielded to this wonderful, huggy bear of a man,’ Christine told newspaper readers in 1963. She would go on to write four memoirs, the latest of which – essentially a reissue of the previous one – was published last year.

‘By 2012,’ Mangold comments, ‘the incident had morphed from mad, passionate love to cold, clinical seduction to order.’ Over the years, Keeler’s affection for Ward seems to have been shaded by bitterness. Though he was genuinely fond of Christine, he also exploited her – something she was then too young to realise.

In 2001’s The Truth at Last, Keeler shared her conviction that Ward was a spy. Certainly, it does seem that he was recruited by MI5 to befriend Ivanov, though there’s no evidence that he wished to defect.

But Stephen, who longed for power, was piqued by the idea of espionage, even if he was largely a pawn – and it’s not unlikely that he may have shared his ambitions with Christine, who was living with him at the time.

Noel Howard-Jones claims that Christine ‘told me she had not’ slept with Ivanov, who gave his own version of events:  ‘He had been expecting Stephen,’ Noel says of the night Eugene found himself alone with Keeler. ‘He emptied his bottle of vodka, crawled downstairs on his knees, and drove back to the embassy.’

However, this does not wholly preclude some form of sexual encounter, however thwarted. Perhaps Ivanov didn’t want to tell the whole story to a man who was, after all, dating the same woman?

Mandy Rice-Davies

Mandy Rice-Davies

Lord Denning did not believe there was an affair, but acknowledged that Ivanov was ‘a man who drank a lot and was something of a ladies’ man.’ Ward also thought there was ‘no evidence’, but then, he wasn’t there.

Mangold mentions, in passing, that Mandy Rice-Davies believes Keeler and Ivanov did have a one-night stand; but no direct quote from her is broadcast.

In 1989, Keeler described her second book, Scandal! (upon which the film of the same name is loosely based, and itself an update of a 1983 memoir, Nothing But…) as ‘an honest attempt to replace rumour with truth.’

She was not interviewed by Mangold, and perhaps this was her own decision, given that he clearly doubts her. However, her most recent publisher, John Blake, is featured. Blake is rather sniffily described by Mangold as ‘an ex-Fleet Street journalist’ (although Mangold’s career also began in the tabloid world.)

As I’ve mentioned before, the main body of Secrets and Lies mirrors that of The Truth at Last, published by Sidgwick & Jackson in 2001. The publishers were sued over an implication that the Earl of Dudley’s wife had been ‘one of Ward’s girls.’ However, Keeler’s claims about Ward’s involvement with MI5 – though widely contested – were not legally challenged.

‘I regard her as a friend,’ Blake says of Keeler, now 71. ‘She’s sad, and quite lonely…terrified of being recognised and convinced there are people who still wish to kill her. I think she gets confused and angry, but I’m not sure she’s lying.’

Keeler, Mangold reminds us, was convicted of perjury in a separate – but associated – trial, in 1963. This involved a serious assault charge against a former lover, which was quashed on appeal. She was sentenced to nine months in prison: but the judge in the case conceded, ‘You were under fear, pressure and domination.’

In 1992, John Blake published The Naked Spy, Ivanov’s memoir, which was ghosted with his ‘creative participation.’ In this, Ivanov confirmed a liaison with Keeler, though the details differ from hers (she said it only happened once, he said twice. He said he bought the vodka at an off-license, she said it was already in the boot of his car.)

‘He was like an ageing James Bond,’ Blake remembers. ‘He felt that because of the Keeler affair, he’d lost his potential. He should have been a rear admiral…’

The Naked Spy would become the object of a successful lawsuit by Valerie Profumo, regarding Ivanov’s claim that he had visited her home and stolen documents while her husband was entertaining Keeler at Ward’s flat. (Curiously, Mangold describes Valerie as ‘Profumo’s widow’, when in fact, he outlived her by eight years.)

We may never know if Ivanov had an affair with Christine, but nonetheless he was a regular guest of Ward’s, and thus would have known her quite well. While not so headline-grabbing, this may have constituted a security risk of sorts – especially if, as it has been alleged, Profumo had already been warned of their association by Norman Brook, who headed the Civil Service.

‘This is not contained in any of the evidence she gave to Denning,’ Allason observes. ‘If there had been the slightest suggestion in 1963 that Roger Hollis (Ward’s contact at MI5) was a spy, or even that Stephen Ward was a spy, there would have been a major rumpus. The purpose of the Denning Report was to look into the security aspects of the Profumo Affair.’ But was this really its true purpose – or was the document, as many have suggested, a whitewash?

Harold Wilson, leader of the Labour Party, seized the moment when the scandal broke in 1963. ‘Whatever ritual blood sacrifice the high priests of the establishment are now preparing,’ he told the House of Commons, ‘this government has now lost whatever moral authority it ever possessed with the British people.’

‘Now the full horror of the situation came home to me and I began to feel hunted,’ Stephen Ward is quoted as saying, in a transcript of tapes (now lost) made for an unfinished autobiography. These, too, have been revealed for the first time in Profumo Confidential. ‘The police were desperately looking for almost anything to hang on me…’

Ward was arrested on June 8th, and charged with living off several women including Christine and Mandy, who retorts, ‘He’d have starved, because there weren’t any immoral earnings.’

Ronna Riccardo

Ronna Riccardo

One of the other witnesses was a known prostitute: Ronna Riccardo, or ‘Miss Whiplash’. Mangold interviewed her after Stephen’s arrest, and recalls, ‘She’d been blackmailed into signing false statements by detectives, one of whom threatened to send her sister to a remand home and take her baby away…I convinced Riccardo to tell her version of the truth at the Old Bailey, which she bravely did, but it was already too late.’

‘I suspected from the start that Stephen Ward was planning to end his life,’ Mangold says of their final meeting. ‘But my fast-failing marriage required me to go home. The fact is, I made the wrong call. I left Stephen with the banal comment, don’t do anything stupid.’

While Mangold was at Ward’s flat, he received a phonecall from Thomas Critchley. ‘How extraordinarily of him,’ Ward told Mangold afterward, ‘and how risky.’ Critchley wrote in his diary, ‘I hated the thought of his loneliness that evening.’

Cliveden, 1961

Cliveden, 1961

Stephen was rushed to hospital after overdosing on sleeping pills, but the trial went on and a guilty verdict was reached in his absence. ‘Still,’ Mangold notes, ‘the judge was determined to see the conviction of a dying man to the bitter end.’

The scandal’s end was covered in an episode of satirical TV show That Was the Week That Was, with this adapted theme song:

“That was the week that was,
It’s over, let it go.
We’re pleased to write it off,
But not as pleased as one or two Prime Ministers we know!
Security’s perfect, there’s no spies at large –
They didn’t even leak to Henry Brooke, who’s in charge.
Macmillan has been reading Lord Denning in bed,
He’d have found it much livelier with a Trollope instead!
At the end of the business, one thing’s left to ask:
‘Gentlemen, what am I bid for one bitterly ashamed mask?’”

The Denning Report was published on September 26th. ‘The investigation was neither a Royal Commission or a formal judicial inquiry,’ Mangold remarks.

A news clip reveals the virtual stampede at Her Majesty’s Stationary Office when the report was released, with one wag shouting, ‘Anyone seen Christine Keeler?’ It soon became a bestseller and was reprinted as a supplement by the Telegraph, billed as ‘the raciest and most readable Blue Book ever.’

‘I have led an unconventional life in every respect,’ Stephen Ward had earlier admitted in his own, unfinished account. ‘I am no saint. But I am not what the world has been led to believe I am, in an effort to discredit me, and what I believe to be an unparalleled act of political assassination…I was never aware that a thing of this sort could happen in England – I hope it never happens again.’

‘I’d never heard of him practising anything that wasn’t, today, in the book Fifty Shades of Grey,’ says Mandy Rice-Davies. ‘But of course, morals have changed – thank God.’

‘My lawyers say there’s little hope left,’ Ward confided to Mangold on the night of his overdose. ‘Tomorrow I’m going to be nailed…I don’t think I’m going to be able to do time for these offences. It’s not prison that worries me – it’s taking the blame, being the victim of a witch-hunt. And my friends – not one of them stood by me – how could every one of them let me down?’

‘We were all a little culpable in the death of Stephen Ward,’ Mangold admits. In Profumo Confidential, he asks Noel Howard-Jones to read out Stephen’s last letter. Noel tries, but understandably cannot. Given that the letter has long been in the public domain, this does seem gratuitous.

Nonetheless, Mangold does share another of Stephen’s suicide notes – addressed to him. ‘My case, which rested almost entirely on my word, was hardly put at all,’ Ward wrote. ‘I’ve never taken a penny from immoral earnings – this you must believe…Anyway, times were once good…’

Profumo Confidential is available to listen again until June 1st. (You can also catch up with Bringing Down the House – a serialised memoir, read by author David Profumo.)

Further Reading

The Fall Guy for Profumo, by Tom Mangold, The Telegraph, April 2013.

The Scandal of John Profumo and Christine Keeler by Lord Alfred Denning, 1963.

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