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Fri Jan 4, 2013, 09:14 AM

Memory lane : An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo.

An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo by Richard Davenport-Hines – review.

It was called a sex scandal but the sex itself seems to have been boring – "pre-fabricated sex, deep-freeze sex" the novelist Sybille Bedford called it. Christine Keeler was "disappointingly dull in bed", one lover reported, and she has admitted that she "never really enjoyed it".

Given the men she slept with, that's not surprising. Peter Rachman had a phobia about dirt and secretions, and saw sex as the equivalent of cleaning one's teeth – "I was the toothpaste," Keeler said. Charles Clore wanted it quick, with no niceties; if a girl hadn't been procured for him as part of a business deal, he would grope whoever was sitting next to him at dinner. As for John Profumo, a relentless flirt with a line in tight trousers ("surely there must be some way of concealing your penis," his wife complained), he wooed Keeler briefly, over one summer, between his duties as war secretary; in the 1989 biopic of the affair, Scandal, Joanne Whalley, playing Keeler, quietly yawns while he pumps away.

If sex wasn't the real issue in the Profumo affair, what was? That's the question Richard Davenport-Hines addresses on the 50th anniversary of an episode that ended Profumo's parliamentary career and led to the prime minister, Harold Macmillan, stepping down shortly afterwards. His book is devastating about the patriarchal double standards of the early 60s – and a useful antidote to the current nostalgia for the period between the Suez crisis and the Beatles' first LP.

The main events are well known. Profumo and Keeler met one Saturday in the grounds of Cliveden when he was staying with the Astor family and she was weekending in the cottage informally leased by Bill Astor to the osteopath and dilettante Stephen Ward. Captivated by the sight of Keeler frolicking in the Cliveden swimming pool, Profumo asked for her number, and Ward, whose west London flat she shared (albeit as a friend rather than a lover), happily obliged. Also present that weekend, as a guest of Ward, was Yevgeny Ivanov, the assistant naval attaché at the Russian embassy, who may or may not have slept with Keeler during a drunken binge on the Sunday night.


Kept Private Eye quite busy too http://www.private-eye.co.uk/covers.php?showme=34

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