It was lung disease which ultimately ended Christine Keeler’s life this week, but she had suffered under a heavy shadow for more than five decades.
Even her death at the age of 75, won’t end her notoriety as the young femme fatale at the centre of the ‘Profumo affair’.
A naive topless dancer in a seedy Soho club, Christine quickly became embroiled in a tangled sex web with her clientele, who ranged from aristocracy to gangsters.
But it was her simultaneous affairs in 1961 with two men, John Profumo, the Tory Secretary of State for War, and Russian naval attaché Yevgeni Ivanov, which exploded into a scandal which rocked British society to the core and ultimately brought down the government.
When news of the affairs broke, a national security breach was feared because Christine could have been sharing state secrets through her pillow talk.
She went on to serve a nine-month jail term for perjury, and led her life mainly alone after two brief failed marriages, and estrangement from her mum and eldest son.
“My children don’t want to be associated with that “bloody whore”,” she once revealed.
The money she made from her notoriety was squandered on legal fees, leaving her near-destitute. Even a new job as a dinner lady was terminated when the headteacher discovered her identity.
But very few of the other key players in the Profumo affair stepped away unharmed either.
The shockwaves which so damaged Christine resulted in resignations, court cases, more jail terms, shame, infamy and even suicide…
The Secretary of State for War first saw Christine as she swam naked in a pool at Lord Astor’s Cliveden country estate.
Despite his being married to British film star Valerie Hobson, a torrid affair began. When rumours of this began to leak, Profumo initially denied them in parliament and personally to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, saying: “There was no impropriety whatsoever.”
It was a statement which led to his downfall three months later, when Christine confessed all to the press. Profumo was forced to resign from the Cabinet in 1963.
Son of an Italian baron in a Sardinian family, Profumo joined the Army in 1939 and ended the Second World War a brigadier. He was once Britain’s youngest MP, entering the Commons aged 25 in 1940.
yet despite his start as a rising star in the Tory Party, Profumo was never able to rebuild his political career after the scandal, and for a year he did nothing.
But his wife forgave him, and he attempted to regain respectability by committing his life to charity work.
He worked unpaid at Toynbee Hall in East London, with alcoholics and the homeless. He became president of the charity, and was appointed a CBE in 1975.
Profumo died aged 91 following a stroke in 2006.
Christine’s friend and housemate at the time of the affair seems to be the only one to survive the scandal unscathed, actually using her notoriety to her benefit.
The model and club dancer was responsible for the scandal’s most famous quote.
During one court case she was told that Viscount Astor had denied her claim that he had sex with her, to which she summed up the injustice of society by replying: “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”
Mandy managed to prosper after the Profumo affair, becoming a professional singer, actress and businesswoman. She said: “As far as I’m concerned, the Profumo affair was just a pimple.
“My life has been one long descent into respectability.”
She married three times, once to an Israeli businessman, with whom she had a daughter. The couple opened a string of successful nightclubs and restaurants in Tel Aviv called Mandy’s, Mandy’s Candies and Mandy’s Singing Bamboo.
She had a number of acting roles, including an appearance in comedy Absolutely Fabulous, with Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders.
Mandy died of cancer in 2014, aged 70.
He was the osteopath and society painter, 30 years older than Christine, who was responsible for introducing her to many of her lovers – including Profumo and the Soviet spy.
Ward met her at Murray’s, the club where she danced. Their relationship was platonic, and Christine referred to him as a “father figure”.
Yet she claimed he took a great, twisted delight in introducing her and dancer pal Mandy to rich men he felt would be influential.
The young women were pretty much his gifts as a “society fixer”.
After the Profumo scandal broke, Ward was accused of pimping out Christine and other women, and he was convicted in 1963. But the night before the verdict he took an overdose and died days later, aged 50.
His family have since argued he was used as a scapegoat, and prejudicial reporting skewed the case.
They have lobbied for the case to go to the Court of Appeal posthumously – a plea denied because the original transcript of the judge’s summing up has been lost.
Recently, legal historians and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Stephen Ward have focused on the unfairness of his trial.
But this is all too late for Ward, who paid the price of the Profumo affair with his life.
He was the Russian naval attache and spy Christine was simultaneously having an affair with, resulting in fears state secrets could have been shared between the sheets.
Christine later claimed she had been involved in a spying ring.
But, in truth, prudish British society seemed more appalled by the sex scandal than a potential breach of national security.
Ivanov’s friendship with Profumo apparently led him to succeed in photographing highly classified US-produced specifications for the X-15 – a top-secret, experimental, high-altitude spy plane.
It is also claimed he was able to photograph secret documents relating to US tactical nuclear weapons, and crucial allied contingency plans for the Cold War defence of Berlin.
In his memoirs, Ivanov said he only slept with Christine because she was a “bimbo” and had not bothered to tell his bosses about her.
By the time the scandal broke in 1963, Ivanov had been recalled to the Soviet Union and posted to the Soviet Black Sea fleet.
But the revelations led to his wife Maya leaving him. He suffered depression and turned to drink.
He was found dead in his apartment in Moscow in 1994, aged 68, having drunk himself to death.
Lucky Gordon & Johnny Edgecombe
These two were the least aristocratic of Christine’s lovers, and, as fierce rivals, played an unintentional but pivotal role in the revelation of the Profumo affair.
Christine met jazz singer Aloysius “Lucky” Gordon in 1961 when he was selling marijuana. She was looking to buy. Profumo actually handed her the cash.
Gordon became her lover, but their relationship grew violent. Christine sought refuge in the arms of Johnny Edgecombe, an Antiguan club owner who she knew through a mutual friend.
Eventually it led to a confrontation in which Edgecombe slashed Gordon’s face with a knife. He needed 17 stitches.
When Christine and Edgecombe split, he went on a shooting spree, firing six rounds at her flat door. Both men ended
up in court on separate charges Edgecombe was sentenced to seven years’ jail for firearms offences. Gordon also ended up behind bars after Christine claimed he beat and raped her.
When it became apparent she’d given false evidence, Christine was sentenced to nine months in jail for perjury.
It was these cases which revealed her affairs with Profumo and Ivanov.
Gordon, who died at 85 in March, was said to have never got over Christine.
Edgecombe, meanwhile, never got over what he viewed as the injustice of his jail term, and believed the idea of a black man sleeping with a white woman – who was also sleeping with a government minister – was too much for society.
He died aged 77 in 2010.
Slum landlord Peter Rachman used violent methods to evict his West London tenants.
He replaced them with immigrants from the West Indies, who he could cram in for extortionate rents.
Christine and Mandy were both his mistresses, but when he died in 1962, aged 43, it was without infamy – until Profumo broke.
His name and abusive nature were later revealed, ultimately leading to the 1965 Rent Act, which looked after tenants.
His name gave us the term Rachmanism, referring to the very worst kind of tenant mistreatment.
The Profumo Affair brought down the Tory government of the time. An investigation in September 1963, chaired by Lord Denning, found national security was not breached, but Harold Macmillan resigned as Prime Minister the next month.
Ill-health played its part – it was said a prostate condition was exacerbated by the Profumo Affair and meant he could not continue.
His successor, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, only served as PM for 363 days. In the general election of October 1964 Harold Wilson’s Labour won a four-seat majority.
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