Christine Keeler, Dennis F. Evans, Desmond Banks, Douglas Thompson, Eugene Ivanov, Gisela Winegard, Jeremy Hutchinson, John Profumo, Lucky Gordon, Mandy Rice-Davies, Profumo Affair, Secrets and Lies, Seymour Platt, Thomas Grant
“I never met Christine Keeler,” Seymour Platt writes in his foreword to the latest edition of her memoirs, Secrets and Lies: The Trials of Christine Keeler. (This is a paperback reissue of her 2012 book, itself an update to her 2001 autobiography, The Truth At Last.) His mother changed her name, he explains, “to get away from being Christine Keeler. In our house Christine Keeler was talked about in the third person – who would want to be associated with Christine Keeler? Christine Keeler would get the blame for a lot of things that happened. Friends, family, relationships that soured, all that would be Christine Keeler’s fault.”
Since his mother’s death in 2017, Seymour Platt has been an able spokesman for the woman who raised him, and his perspective is thereby vastly different to the majority of commentators who focus solely on her involvement in the Profumo Affair of 1963. Usually, in fact, that was the last thing she wanted to discuss. “My mother always did hold her cards very close to her chest even from me,” he admits. “’If you want to keep a secret,’ she would say, ‘tell no one.’ My mother paid a high price for Christine Keeler; she went from riches to poverty, from all the adoration of men to loneliness.” Occasionally, her past would come between them: “She called herself a scapegoat and when we bickered, I would call her a martyr on a cross.”
She was a fantastic driver, he says: “She told me that when she was much younger she nearly raced at Le Mans, and after she was released from prison she would speed around London in her Mini Cooper until the police gave chase.” The photo section includes a colour snapshot of Christine at Le Mans in 1967. She probably learned the necessity of making a fast getaway in the days when she was regularly pursued by the paparazzi. “They had to put road blocks up to stop me and when they did I would say: ‘I’m Christine Keeler,’” she recalled, “and they would have to let me go because it would look like I was being victimised by the police after what [Lord] Denning did to me.”
That skill would come in handy in the late 1990s, when Christine and her son drove to Birmingham “in her battered old red Renault” because they were broke, and the BBC had offered her £250 cash for an interview on a televised talk show. But when they arrived, the money wasn’t available. “You need to stop being difficult and get on with it,” one of the production team told Christine, before asking Seymour, “Can you speak to your mother?” Christine was often accused of ‘cashing in’ on the scandal, usually by the same people who hounded her every time it reappeared in the news.
Financial insecurity was a constant presence in their lives, due to “people managing to not pay Chris in the nick of time, publishers going bust after everyone else was paid, or ex-husbands not having to pay child support even when they lived in large houses and drove big, flashy cards.” In photos taken during the early 1980s, Christine was very thin: “It wasn’t for fashion,” Seymour writes.
Their situation improved after the film Scandal (which Christine hated) was released in 1989, and they went on a promotional tour of the United States. During the trip, she caught the news of the Hillsborough disaster on television. “I clearly remember her saying, ‘That’s crap, those bastards just let those people die, and now they are going to cover it up,’” Seymour writes. “Decades later she was proved right. I think she understood how police, press and politicians worked.”
While in America they were contacted by an Indian family living on a reservation, related to Christine through her father Colin King, who had been adopted as a child. She found the discovery hard to process, but Christine’s own childhood had left its emotional scars. “I remember Chris’s mother, my grandmother, wasn’t a warm woman,” Seymour admits, recalling a rare visit to her home in Berkshire (which Christine had bought for her) when he was six or seven. Her husband – Christine’s stepfather, whom she claimed had been abusive – pretended to set the dog on Seymour, and Christine exploded with rage. “Families sometimes break and sometimes mothers and fathers don’t have any love for their children,” Seymour reflects, “but I always knew my mother loved me, always.”
He has plenty of fond (and funny) memories to share. Christine was a “terrible cook,” who gassed the Christmas turkey; she loved smoking pot, and sneaked a lump onto a flight to calm her nerves. She cultivated a small circle of loyal friends, including the pioneering chemist Dennis F. Evans, but stayed away from his funeral “because she was so damn angry at him for dying.” Cigarettes killed her in the end, as she spent her final years fighting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is thought to affect 1.2 million people in the UK alone.
Both mother and son loved playing pranks on each other. This sense of humour has served Seymour well, as he recalls seeing Christine lying “still and peaceful” in a hospital bed just after she passed away. “She would be so annoyed with us standing here and her without her make-up on,” his friend whispered. “I half expected her to sit up and laugh,” Seymour remembers. It was a light moment during a sad day – ironically, his birthday – when along with losing his mother, he had to fend off the press and the BBC, who urged him to come to the studio for a live interview. (He declined.)
Douglas Thompson, Christine’s long-term co-author, wrote an affectionate tribute for the Telegraph after her death, offering a more personal take than obituarists could provide. He has also written a postscript for this edition of Secrets and Lies, looking at how her story has remained in public view and quoting Voltaire: “Doubt is an unpleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.”
“It was only in her last years that others began to realise the constant and underlying fear, terror even, that she had lived in because of Lucky Gordon,” Thompson writes, detailing Gordon’s history of violence, which “haunted her for the rest of her life, more than anything from the Profumo scandal.” He died in March 2017, aged 85 – just seven months before Christine, who told her close friend Desmond Banks (to whom this book is dedicated): “I’m not glad he’s dead, but I am relieved.”
Two years earlier, when Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories was published, Banks had written to author Thomas Grant regarding the chapter on Christine’s perjury trial, in which Hutchinson, a renowned QC, had represented her. Gordon had been convicted for grievous bodily harm against Christine, but was released after John Hamilton-Marshall, the brother of her friend Paula, admitted that he had also assaulted Christine on the day of Gordon’s alleged attack.
“Life has been hard for Christine,” Banks’ letter began. “Much that has been said about her has been inaccurate, damaging and hurtful, but there has been little to do so to correct it. She is, after all, a perjurer by her own admission, so it has been easy for those who choose to do so to question her credibility. When she is defamed, she has no effective remedy … Until recent years, there was poor understanding of the damage an abusive and violent relationship can inflict upon the innocent party,” Banks observed, adding that “she had no professional help.”
In the same letter, Banks also addressed the doubts expressed by Grant regarding Christine’s sexual encounter with the Russian diplomat, Eugene Ivanov. Pointing out that she had already mentioned this to police in April 1963 – more than two months before talking to the press – Banks noted that Ivanov also admitted to the liaison in his 1992 memoir, The Naked Spy. “She would have little reason to invent this,” Banks observed.
As Thompson notes, MI5 files declassified in 2017 proved that John Profumo, the War Minister with whom Christine infamously dallied in 1961, was considered a security risk as early as 1950, when his 17-year relationship with Gisela Winegard was discovered. They had met when Profumo was a student at Oxford, and it later emerged that his German girlfriend had been recruited as a Nazi spy.
Christine often turned down lucrative opportunities, such as collaborating with Andrew Lloyd-Webber on his short-lived 2013 musical, Stephen Ward. “I don’t trust them,” she told Thompson. Trust was also at the heart of her broken friendship with former showgirl Mandy Rice-Davies. Christine didn’t attend the show’s premiere, but Thompson was there and dined in the same restaurant as Mandy (who had accepted the offer) afterwards. “When we asked her about Christine she admitted they had not talked for fifty years … ‘I don’t think she likes me.’ Of course it was not so much like but that Christine did not trust Mandy,” Thompson believed. “She had felt betrayed in those early days and that hurt had never gone.” Mandy, who was “gracious and looked wonderful” that evening, died of cancer just a year later.
Keeler, the play which Christine gave her blessing, toured in regional theatre and helped her financially during her last years, although “fearful of attention,” she never saw it performed. The Trial of Christine Keeler, an upcoming BBC drama series to which this edition’s subtitle deftly alludes, was first announced in the weeks before her death. Whereas Scandal and Stephen Ward focused mainly on the society doctor who was her mentor of sorts, and whose rigged trial precipitated his suicide, it seems likely that this latest portrayal will put Christine (and Mandy, of course) back in the spotlight, hopefully with more nuance than previous attempts.
“The early pages read, quite unconsciously, like a manifesto for women’s rights,” Tanya Gold wrote of Secrets and Lies in 2013, “because in the early sixties there were girls you touched and girls you didn’t, and the girls who could be touched were, all the time.” Remembering the horse-drawn carriage that carried Christine through London to her final resting place, Thompson describes her as “still debatable, filmable, #MeToo controversial and still provoking the flourish which stopped the traffic on a cold, crisp December day.”
‘The Profumo Affair: Where is the Redemption of Christine Keeler?’ Tanya Gold, The Guardian, December 2013.
‘My Friend Christine Keeler: The Original Femme Fatale Who Felt She Didn’t Deserve to Be Happy’. Douglas Thompson, The Telegraph, December 2017.