She was a symbol of 60s debauchery, remembers her biographer Douglas Thompson.
At the trial of society osteopath Dr Stephen Ward, the star witness, 21-year-old showgirl Christine Keeler, was the only close-up that mattered.
Ward had introduced Christine to John Profumo, Britain’s Secretary of State for War, and Yevgeny Ivanov, Russian military attaché and agent – a ménage à trois that was to bring down the Tory government. When Profumo resigned as an MP after admitting that he’d lied to the House of Commons about his affair with Christine, it was an embarrassment too far for Harold Macmillan’s administration, already in turmoil through spy scandals. The Prime Minister had earlier backed Profumo’s denial.
On trial with Dr Ward was the lifestyle of the nation’s elite. He was a scapegoat, absurdly convicted of trumped-up charges of pimping Christine and Mandy Rice-Davies. Distraught by his impending fate, he killed himself before the guilty verdict. Christine was deeply hurt at having to give evidence against him, and told me it was the ‘mistrial of the century’. It troubled her for the rest of her life – she died in 2017.
Outside the Old Bailey Christine was the main attraction: the pictorial complement to the enthralling tales of aristocratic peccadilloes, sex with a cabinet minister, frolics with a Soviet spy and two-way mirrors.
For eight days, the pavements outside the courts were overflowing with the curious. Every day Christine and Mandy (‘trying to look our best’) had their hair done at Vidal Sassoon on Bond Street. Exquisitely groomed and dressed in Chanel couture, Christine struggled through the public and photographers to get into the building and was often helped by eager policemen. For her, it was the start of the circus she spent her life trying to run away from.
The show trial changed Britain, and Christine will forever be a symbol of the decade when promiscuity became fashionable.
Also that month…
- Artist Tracey Emin was born in Croydon, South London.
- The British comic strip Fred Basset was introduced, with its first appearance in the Daily Mail.
- Cleopatra – starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – was released in the UK. At the time, it was the most expensive movie ever made.
- The Beatles recorded ‘She Loves You’ with their producer George Martin at Abbey Road Studios.