Andrew Lloyd-Webber, BBC, Caroline Kennedy, Christine Keeler, Cliveden, Ernest Marples, Eugene Ivanov, Geoffrey Robertson, George Wigg, Harold Macmillan, John Profumo, Keeler Profumo Ward and Me, Lord Astor, Lord Denning, Lord Hailsham, Mandy Rice-Davies, Natalie Livingstone, Profumo Affair, Stephen Pound, Stephen Ward, Thomas Critchley, Tom Mangold
“The story that defined a decade of great change in Great Britain was my big break in Fleet Street, and I covered and loved every moment of it, from the ridiculous to the tragic …”
Tom Mangold, described in The Times as ‘the doyen of broadcast reporters’, began his career as an investigative journalist on Fleet Street before moving into television as a foreign correspondent, and has since made over 100 documentaries, including many for the BBC’s Panorama. But like many others drawn into the Profumo Affair, Mangold has never quite moved on from the 1963 scandal which still leaves more questions than answers.
Keeler, Profumo, Ward & Me is the third documentary on the subject in which Mangold has played a prominent role within the last decade: BBC Radio Four’s Profumo Confidential, which he presented, and ITV’s Sex, Lies and a Very British Scapegoat both aired in 2013, fifty years after the event. And as BBC1’s six-part drama, The Trial of Christine Keeler, sets the rumour mill in motion again, its final episode was followed immediately by Mangold’s latest account on BBC2.
Among his guests are Geoffrey Robertson, author of the 2013 book, Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK?; Stephen Pound, former Labour MP and son of Ward’s press agent, Pelham Pound; Caroline Kennedy, co-author (with Phillip Knightley) of An Affair of State (1987); Andrew Lloyd-Webber, producer of the short-lived Stephen Ward: A Musical (2014); and Natalie Livingstone, author of The Mistresses of Cliveden (2015.) Audio-tapes of Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, interviewed by the producers of the 1989 film Scandal, are also heard for the first time.
In 1963, Mangold was twenty-three years old and working for the Daily Express, “a broadsheet with the cunning brain of a tabloid” and “the biggest beast in Fleet Street.” He can be seen “hovering on the edge of frame” in many photographs taken during the trial of Dr. Stephen Ward at the Old Bailey. Both Ward and a key witness in the case, Ronna Ricardo, were under contract with the Express. Those were the “bad old days of serious cheque-book journalism,” Mangold says. “Then, newspapers had real power and huge circulations. Often sensational, largely unregulated … Winners took all, losers didn’t survive.” (In the light of the phone-hacking scandal which broke during the early 2010s, one might wonder how much has really changed.)
Stephen Ward – a forty-nine-year-old osteopath with a surgery near Harley Street—exuded, in Mangold’s description, all the attributes prized by high society—“suited, well-groomed, posh accent, middle class, respectable … but that was far from the whole picture.” When researching his musical, Andrew Lloyd-Webber noticed that the reactions of his peers “fell into two camps – some people said that Ward was the worst … on the other hand, the person you most wanted at a dinner party. He probably thought he was a Mr. Fix-It, and you might not approve of all the things he fixed.”
Ward was also a talented artist, whom as Mangold observes, “collected early Sixties celebrities like stamps—royals, politicians, film stars—Stephen either pummelled or sketched them all.” At Cliveden, the Berkshire estate where it all began one summer weekend in 1961, he rented a guest cottage from Lord Bill Astor, a man “never exactly discomfited” by the pretty young women who joined his friend there. One of them was nineteen-year-old Christine Keeler—and while Ward later protested that her poolside encounter with a government minister, John Profumo, occurred “quite by chance, and not through my instigation at all,” Mangold admits that this meeting “showed Ward in his least attractive light—he did nothing to discourage and divert the events that followed.”
“I was in the pool with no clothes,” a smoky-voiced Keeler recalled in 1984. “Stephen kicked my swimsuit away and I went, ‘Aha, what are you going to do now?’ Then Profumo happened. Stephen introduced us …” As the rest of the party filed into the main house, Profumo deliberately separated Christine from the others. “Oh, he just wanted to grab hold of me,” she said, “and I was running around desks and tables trying to get hold of me.”
“It was beautiful weather. Hot. He couldn’t take his eyes off me,” she said of their return to the pool the next day. “I was in the shallow bit and he came and stood over me, and he said, ‘Can I have your number?’ And I said, ‘Oh you know I’m with Stephen, you’d better ask him.’”
But another predatory male already had his eye on her—Stephen’s friend, Yevgeny ‘Eugene’ Ivanov, a Russian diplomat. In what Cliveden’s current proprietor Natalie Livingstone clocks as “a microcosm of the Cold War,” Profumo challenged him to a swimming race and won. “Jack cheated,” Keeler said, but it was Ivanov who drove her back to Stephen’s Wimpole Mews flat in London, where she was living rent-free—and they ‘allegedly’ had a drunken sexual encounter that night. Two days later Profumo telephoned Christine, and so began what she once described as “a well-mannered screw of convenience.”
“I didn’t really want to go but Stephen had pushed it,” she said of their first date. “After all, he was the War Minister … He came on very strong, I mean more like a rape, but it was a smiling one,” she added darkly. “I went to Jack’s house. Before I knew where I was it was all over, and then he’d just want to go. He did give me twenty quid but he forced it on me. And I said I’d give it to my mother.”
Livingstone describes Keeler as “a pawn in the game of these wealthy, powerful politicians who saw her as no more than arm candy and ultimately collateral damage. I think she’s a very tragic figure.” By late 1962, when Christine’s life was spinning out of control—as ex-boyfriend Lucky Gordon was knifed by her new lover Johnny Edgecombe at the Flamingo Club, and a frantic Johnny fired shots outside Wimpole Mews—rumours of her fling with Profumo were swirling from Whitehall to Fleet Street.
An old friend at the Sunday Pictorial told Mangold that Christine had shown them a ‘kiss-off’ note from Profumo, sent the previous August—but its parent paper, the Daily Mirror, were hesitant to publish, and Express owner Lord Beaverbrook also stalled. In March 1963, Keeler fled to Spain to avoid testifying in Edgecombe’s trial, and Profumo offered his resignation to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, but was rejected. This gave the Express its opportunity to test the waters with a historic front page, with two apparently unrelated stories about the War Minister’s ‘shock’ move, and the missing model who had witnessed “a tatty little crime,” placed almost side-by-side. In a mock-up newspaper created for this documentary, Christine’s photograph is considerably enlarged, making this juxtaposition look even bolder than it was. (Several months later, Mangold would receive a ‘herogram’ from Lord Beaverbrook and a £15 bonus for his investigative journalism.)
Labour MP George Wigg (“Harold Wilson’s spymaster”) used parliamentary privilege to name Keeler and her acquaintance with “a senior member of the government.” The next morning, Profumo made a personal statement in the House of Commons, issuing a complete denial, and in a blatant attempt to salvage his reputation, was spotted just hours later alongside the Queen Mother at Sandown Races.
“I’ve known Jack Profumo for about seven years,” Ward said in a hastily arranged television appearance that evening. “It’s a dreadful thing that a man should have to do this as a result of entirely baseless rumours and insinuations that have been started by the press. I know them to be baseless because I was there when these meetings took place …” In what was surely not part of the plan, he went on to defend his friend Ivanov, who had just escaped to Moscow.
“Typically, Stephen was merely trying to protect his friends,” Mangold says. “Equally typically, he’d quickly make a hash of it.” Days later, a government mole spotted Ward in the House of Commons tearoom, “naively but quite unnecessarily” insisting to George Wigg that despite Keeler’s association with the War Minister and a rumoured Russian spy, there had been no security breach.
On March 27, a secret Home Office meeting was called, with Roger Hollis (head of MI5), and Scotland Yard chief Sir Joseph Simpson pondering “the fate of an unimportant London osteopath” with the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke. When asked if Ward could be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for having compromised national security, Hollis replied that MI5 saw Ward’s indiscretions as a moral problem, not a legal one. When Brooke asked Simpson whether there was any police interest in Ward, the “lickspittle Commissioner” said he thought Scotland Yard could nab Ward if they found out the full story.
After this meeting, Stephen Ward would be smeared as “a disgrace to his class … Pimp, procurer, an evil and immoral man, a sexual pervert and a master manipulator, a crypto-communist and friend of Soviet spies, a man whose whole lifestyle was a symbol of the new Britain fast going down the drain,” Mangold recalls. “The man they sought to blame could have been delivered by central casting. The Ward I knew, however, was nothing like this at all …”
“The way they hounded me, it was unbelievable. It was wrong,” said Keeler, who was grilled by police twenty-four times over the following weeks. “They threatened me. They said, ‘Look now, you’ve got to sign this statement or otherwise you’re going in the dock with Stephen.’ I knew then it was me or Stephen. Oh, it was all bent. They knew and they forced me to lie.”
Eighteen-year-old Mandy Rice-Davies, who had also lived at Wimpole Mews, was arrested in April and charged with what Mangold describes as “some piffling driving offence,” and detained for nine days at Holloway Prison. “First of all, I didn’t see anyone for a couple of days,” she remembered years later. “I was left there languishing … Why do you think they threw me in jail? To get it out of me.” Shortly after her release, Mandy was re-arrested at Heathrow Airport and had her passport confiscated over a minor television rental debt.
A note dated May 7th, addressed to Macmillan from his private secretary, indicated that Sir Joseph Simpson believed Ward could be arrested “in a week or so,” the case was “not at present very strong.” An anxious Stephen wrote letters to the Home Secretary and the press, veering between protestations of innocence and threats to tell all. At the same time, Keeler had signed a deal with the News of the World for £20,000 (the equivalent of £4000,000 today.) “I knew that if he did resign then I could sell my story,” she admitted. On June 5th— Whit-Sunday—Profumo hurried back from a holiday in Venice and wrote his second letter of resignation to Macmillan, admitting he had lied about the affair. His political career was now over, and in Mangold’s words, he “slunk off to the naughty step reserved for members of the establishment who break the code.”
The next day, a wan and brittle Stephen was interviewed by ITV’s Des Wilcox. “When I wrote to the Home Secretary,” he explained, “it was not indeed to expose this or to make it a political issue that I did so. It was purely to safeguard myself in certain respects. The circumstances that led me to do this almost baffle belief …” Mangold repeatedly warned a “totally disbelieving” Ward that he would be arrested over a weekend when he couldn’t get a lawyer, and “verballed” by the police—“a somewhat dubious practice since abandoned, allowing a garrulous suspect to incriminate himself in apparently friendly and unrecorded chats with police.” Stephen dismissed the reporter’s warnings as “melodramatic,” but on Saturday, June 8th, when Ward left a friend’s home in Watford, Hertfordshire, Mangold was proved right. “Then I knew, now something funny’s going on,” Christine said. As to the charges that Ward had “knowingly lived wholly, or in part, on the earnings of prostitution,” she retorted: “He certainly never did that with me.”
Over the next three weeks, while Stephen was being held at Belmarsh Prison, the government polished its case. Lord Hailsham, leader of the House of Lords, condemned him in the strongest terms during a television interview. “A Secretary of State for War can’t have a woman shared with a spy,” he fumed. “I would be absolutely determined that people who live lives which render them liable to blackmail and pursue contacts with dingy friends who make it unlikely they can pursue honest policies are to be chased out of public life.”
By the time of Stephen’s committal hearing, every slur that could be hurled at him— “abortionist, brothel keeper, spy”—was parroted in newspaper headlines. In keeping with legal procedures of the time, since abandoned, the defence was not permitted to answer these allegations, and he was sent for a fast-track trial by jury at the Old Bailey. “It does matter to look at the way fear of undermining society grips the law enforcement agencies and things are done in haste,” Geoffrey Robertson says. “Juries are affected. The front pages of the papers reporting parliamentary debate that Stephen Ward was a Soviet spy. What sort of fair trial did he face?”
“They won’t let me down, Tom,” Stephen said of his influential friends. While he was still in jail, those friends gathered at the Athenaeum Club in Pall Mall to discuss his lawyer’s request to give evidence on his behalf. But when Lord Astor, his closest ally, decided he couldn’t risk it, they all followed suit. Meanwhile, Christine was “spilling all she knew and more about Profumo” to the News of the World, and Mandy was “under permanent contract” with the Express. Stephen went into hiding at Mangold’s home, secretly making tapes about the trial which are now broadcast for the first time. “I’m placed in the appalling position of going into court, saying that so many of the prosecution witnesses are lying, but the truth of the matter is that the police have questioned about 150 people and this is the bottom of the bucket,” he said in a July 10th recording. “In the case of both Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, there’s absolutely no doubt that they are committed to stories which are already sold, or could be sold to newspapers. So there is a strong vested interest. Stories will be valuable only in the event of my conviction.”
When Ward’s trial began on July 22nd, nothing was in his favour. Meanwhile, Ronna Ricardo—a prostitute known as ‘Miss Whiplash’—was holed up in a hotel room, telling Mangold her story. “One evening, and without prompting, she got up, put her head on my chest and started sobbing,” he recalls. “She told me that all the evidence she’d given at the lower court against Stephen was a pack of lies dictated to her by the detectives.” Mangold persuaded Ronna to recant her evidence in court, to no avail. Instead, all the focus was on the two star witnesses. Keeler confirmed she’d received money for sex; from Profumo, and a businessman who gave her £50. “Stephen, as far as know, knew nothing about it,” she later confirmed. As for Mandy, who had accepted money and gifts from men she dated while living at Wimpole Mews, she was “quite sure” that her evidence helped to convict Ward – “but the trial, anyway, was a spectacle and a farce.”
While both Christine and Mandy paid rent and shared bills with Stephen, as young women aspiring to modelling and acting careers they were often out of work, and owed him money. “As far as the evidence goes, they lived off his professional earnings,” Robertson says. But as Mangold points out, Ward “surrounded himself, quite deliberately, with young, pretty girls, whom he took to parties and whom he never discouraged from sleeping with his friends. Didn’t that really make him a kind of social pimp?” In that respect, Robertson says, Ward was “certainly not the most attractive person, but [not] a criminal. He was put on trial, effectively, for the ‘crime’ of promiscuity, not for living off immoral earnings, which he hadn’t.”
Towards the end of Stephen’s trial, a beleaguered Christine was charged with committing perjury during the earlier trial of Lucky Gordon. But Ward’s judge, the priggish Archie Pellow Marshall, instructed the jury to “exclude from your minds any doubts you might have about Miss Keeler’s truthfulness.” Mangold believes that Marshall’s order was “direction of the Lord Chief Justice,” while Robertson describes it as “a conspiracy by the judges.” In his summing up, Marshall suggested to the jury that Ward’s abandonment by friends “of high estate and low” reflected poorly on the veracity of his own testimony.
“Dr. Ward was more depressed than I’d ever seen him before,” Stephen Pound remembers of the cab-ride they shared after court adjourned on July 30th. “He was sunk into himself because of the summing up. He said, ‘They’re going to finish me. I don’t know how I’m going to sleep tonight.’ And then he said to me, ‘Would you collect this prescription for me?’ We were going past Harrods and there was a chemist … This is bizarre, nowadays, to think a fifteen-year-old boy can go in, hand a prescription in, pay for it. Wrapped up in a nice little paper bag, handed over to him, and we dropped him off.”
Hours later, a distressed Ward called Mangold in his office. The reporter reluctantly agreed to come over to his current residence in Chelsea, although his own wife was at boiling point over the time he was spending on the case. On Stephen’s coffee table were twelve sealed envelopes, including one for Mangold to read later. Both agreed there was now little hope of reprieve, but Tom tried to buck him up: “You’ll go to a nice open prison, you’ll run the library and write the prisoners’ letters for them. You’ll love it.” It wasn’t prison that worried Ward, though, but “taking the blame, being the victim of a witch hunt. And my friends, Tom, my friends, not one of them stood by me, not one, and those dreadful liars in court …”
The next morning, July 31st, Stephen was found comatose after taking an overdose of pills. As he lay dying in hospital, Judge Marshall insisted that the trial should continue. “He was keen that the jury should know Ward had attempted suicide – it was only an attempt at that point – so they would think it was an admission of guilt,” Robertson observes. In his absence, Ward was found guilty of living off the immoral earnings of Christine and Mandy. His funeral was attended by just six mourners, but his tragic death stirred public unease. In response, Macmillan ordered a judicial inquiry, appointing the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning—“yet another deeply-dyed establishment puritan”—to examine the whole affair, and hopefully exonerate his troubled administration.
The notes and diaries of Denning’s private secretary, Tom Critchley, suggest that the investigation uncovered a possibly even more damaging scandal. When a prostitute described her paid sexual relationship with another government minister, the details were “so depraved” that Denning ordered a female assistant out of the room. The politician’s Eccleston Square address was that of Ernest Marples, the Minister for Transport. (Ironically, Ward had impishly, and erroneously, suggested to Mangold that Marples was the elusive “masked man” who posed as a waiter at high-class sex parties.) Having spent four years in Macmillan’s cabinet, and with a secondary role as a privy councillor, Marples outranked Profumo. “E.M. was in a worse state than Profumo,” Critchley wrote. “He was exposed to blackmail and had been exposed for years. He could be blackmailed into giving away the country’s secrets.”
As their report neared completion, Denning and Critchley were summoned to a secret meeting with Macmillan at Admiralty House which, if known, would have thrown their political independence into doubt. Mangold, who has accessed the minutes from this meeting, reveals that “for the record, Macmillan told Denning that his report must be published as a whole without any secret codicils or annexes … in a quiet aside, the Prime Minister added more casually, that Lord Denning might think it appropriate, at a later stage, to write confidentially to [him], drawing his attention to suspicious or discreditable conduct on the part of ministers in their private lives.”
Needless to say, Ernest Marples and his peccadilloes were omitted entirely from the Denning Report, which was “seared with the old man’s prejudices … an ageing establishment’s answer to the hellfire which it believed was consuming the nation. Denning placed Stephen Ward, always the real target, in the stocks and invited the public to lynch him.” In a chapter entitled ‘Stephen Ward Helping the Russians,’ he wrote, “Ward was without doubt a communist sympathiser and so much under the influence of Ivanov that he was a potential danger.”
“In fact,” Mangold argues, “Ward wasn’t a national security threat. He was actually a national security asset.” Ward had been recruited by MI5 to befriend when the Russian arrived in London. In an operation code-named ‘Honeytrap’, it was hoped that Ward could lure the married Ivanov into a sexual liaison—with “a young woman, not necessarily Christine Keeler, but she would do”—enabling MI5 to blackmail him into working as a double agent. But when the libidinous Profumo walked into the ‘honeytrap’ instead, MI5’s plans were compromised.
“I was on the bed and (Stephen) sat on the bed and said, ‘I know the Americans are going to give the Germans the bomb. It would be interesting to know the date,’” Christine remembered. “He said, ‘Why don’t you ask Jack?’” But while Mangold thinks it was probably just a “daft war joke,” it is chilling that Ward even considered deploying a vulnerable young woman in this way; and that Roger Hollis, who could have saved Stephen during his secret meeting with Henry Brooke, chose to stay silent. “The MI5 officers that we managed to talk to said that had they admitted that he was working for them, that Stephen Ward might be alive,” says Caroline Kennedy. “They regretted it. They dumped him.”
“Today, the verdict would be overturned because the judge misled the jury,” Geoffrey Robertson reflects. “The Court of Appeal would have to quash a guilty verdict, but nonetheless, the judge got away with it at the time because Ward was dead and couldn’t appeal, and wouldn’t have appealed because he would be appealing to the very judges who ensured his conviction by withholding that evidence from the jury.”
“From our sad meeting on that awful last night, I now think I know why he ended his life,” Mangold concludes. “We, all of us, deprived him of his self-respect, and his own view of himself as an intelligent man with many friends … His forced conversion to pimp and man without morality drove him to despair, and despair can lead to depression, and we all know what a bad depression can lead to …”
Perhaps sensing the increased public awareness of sexual exploitation in the age of #MeToo, Mangold is notably less harsh on Christine Keeler than in previous documentaries. Although she lost credibility after her perjury conviction, the police harassment she suffered is now acknowledged. And while Mangold’s loyalties still lie with his friend Stephen, he no longer challenges Keeler’s claim to have slept with Ivanov (which was supported by both Mandy, and Ivanov himself.)
Keeler, Profumo, Ward and Me is skilfully edited, making great usage of music from the era: from jazz standards like John Coltrane’s ‘Blue Train’ and Matty Malneck’s theme from Some Like It Hot; the seductive vocals of Etta James’ ‘Sunday Kind of Love,’ and Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’; to early 1960s pop hits like Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway,’ and moody instrumentals like The Chantays’ ‘Pipeline,’ and The Shadows’ ‘F.B.I.’ It also boasts a rich array of vintage press photographs, newsreels, and archive footage. In one brief clip, laughable in retrospect, Profumo is seen bouncing on a mattress in an army dorm; and in a BBC news flash, Richard Dimbleby advises younger viewers that the flagship children’s programme Blue Peter has been delayed until 5:45 pm, due to extended coverage of parliamentary debate on the scandal.
While the Profumo Affair has often been framed as a catalyst for the sexual revolution, or in Stephen Pound’s words, “the end of the old order and the beginning of a new one.” In the age of Johnson and Trump, it seems almost quaint that a government minister would receive such censure merely for sleeping with a woman not his wife (and lying about it.) However, in the scapegoating of Stephen, Christine and Mandy, we can see that not enough has changed. In 2020, it’s still quite possible—commonplace, even—for governments and lawmakers to whip up moral panics and even destroy lives in order to maintain their power. And if Keeler, Profumo, Ward and Me teaches us anything, it’s that they won’t hesitate to do so.