Sunday, March 12, 2006
Profumo, the man who made scandal fashionable
'Whaaat? Them Royal buggers is the worst of the lot! Edinburgh, Kent, Margaret, they's at it all the time, like dogs on 'eat they is.'
In my youthful naivety I put this down to his probably reading only the News of the World as his window on the world. Of course since then, we've had a shed load and a half of stories about the royals at it like rabbits, ferrets or any kind of sex starved animals. So my chauffeur was not poorly informed; merely prescient.
But I first began to sense this much earlier than the Squidgy tapes and the lurid tales involving army or rugby captains. It was the Profumo affair which first opened my eyes, and the eyes of millions of fellow countrymen and women. This story was just wholly unbelievable to a teenage schoolboy at a very conventional grammar school. I followed the details of the Cliveden weekend, the affair between the minister and the 'tart'(though today she would merely be called an 'It Girl' I suspect), the osteopath who seemed to be drowning in gorgeous women, Keeler's rightly named West Indian boyfriend, 'Lucky' Gordon, the lies to the House, the shaming resignation, the death of Stephen Ward and then the Denning Report into the whole amazing, exciting business. I even read the whole of it through as I thought maybe it might contain some salacious detail about the sex involved.
Now we are very familiar with such stories, the most recent of which was absurdly unlikely, involving a blind socialist Cabinet minister in his fifties, siring a child by a rich, rightwing publisher. But, it seems, Profumo was the progenitor of it all; the first member of the upper classes in the modern era to get caught with his pants well and truly down. We loved it at the time and I've enjoyed it vicariously, recently, reading all the reviews of the affair.
In retrospect, it helped to demystify the upper echelons for us lower down the social food chain; we never perceived them in quite the same way again after this shocking revelation that they were much more immoral than most of us- not that many, like my lorry driver, had not suspected as much for years.It also helped to set in train the media obsession of invading private lives of public people in search of newspaper selling scandal. Maybe, also it discredited a Macmillan government well into its dog days by 1963. What chemistry is it, by the way, which dictates such scandals break out repeatedly after a government has lost its popularity? It is said by some that Profumo had some enemies in the House- annoyed that a young sprig of a former officer had been promoted so easily. It is also said that some establishment members- and boy were they stuffy old sods in those days- were all too ready to believe that someone who had been to Harrow and not Eton; who was of Italian provenance and who had been sufficiently infra dig to marry and actress, would be unable to control his natural urges.
But it did not really change much else for all the huge outpouring of moralising opinion by the likes of Quintin Hogg- I recall so well his eyepopping performance when interviewed by good old Bob 'Swingometer' Mackenzie. One thing it certainly did not establish, was the practice for disgraced ministers to seek redemption by devoting the rest of their lives to good works. Profumo should be remembered for them and not his one month dalliance with the now 64 year old Ms Keeler. But he won't.
An aside: I met the Swedish TV equestrian-commentator, Anders Gernant back in the 70's, the time Anne was allowed to attend her first international horse-jumping competition, in Gothenburg. He was insensed. Anne was being flown-in the day before the competition, whilst everybody else had been training in Sweden for at least a week since, the norm. He berated 'those bastards in England' (the R#y#ls). But this sort of thing was the norm for 'those people'. "I can tell you things about the Swedish Royals that would curl your hair (he was himself from the nobility) but those bastards are ten times worse!" He told us Anne had tried to kill herself many times, he had seen the scars on her right arm. After the last time - she apparently had a secret boyfriend that they had killed - she had cut so deep she had to have serious surgury to save her right hand and now couldn't hold the reins properly. This was apparently in the papers in '63, but they smoothed it over. "Her fucking security are in there now, running about waving fucking guns in the air, threatening mayhem - and she ain't here yet, she's only halfway over the Channel!"
I actually met Mark Philips, Whittaker and Harvey Smith. Smith, on his own, hinted at what Gernant had said, "I stay away from 'those people' as much as I can. Want nothing to do with that stuff. We try and help Anne as much as we can. She's a lovely girl, by the way, when allowed, awfull sweet person. Everybody knows, but nobody dares speak out, they'll crush you or kill you."
Links to this post: