Accidental Heroes of the 20th Century - 35: Christine Keeler, Call Girl

ARGUABLY THE least enduring aspect of the so-called Profumo Affair was that it helped nail the coffin lid on 13 years of Conservative government. We've lived through other political cycles since then, and now more easily appreciate that these come and go in fairly predictable patterns. Scandal is a symptom of decline - not a cause.

John Profumo, Harold MacMillan's Minister of War, resigned in 1963 after lying to the House of Commons about his affair with "society girl" Christine Keeler. "Procured" for Lord Astor's Cliveden set by society osteopath Stephen Ward, the 17-year-old Keeler was first spotted by Profumo climbing naked out of the swimming pool as Profumo and his wife, the actress Valerie Hobson, took an evening stroll. There is something almost classical in the encounter - like the Greek god Alpheus's first espial of a river nymph. This was a cautionary tale - but Profumo was presumably too enraptured to remember his Ovid.

It might have ended with Profumo's prompt resignation in 1963 had not the authorities decided to make a scapegoat of Stephen Ward. It was at Ward's trial for living off immoral earnings that Christine Keeler and her co-witness Mandy Rice- Davies came into their own.

There is no doubt that Rice-Davies, not Keeler, was the folk heroine of the trial. Her artless replies to cross-examination de-lighted the public, and her answer on being told that Lord Astor denied having an affair with her - "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?" - has passed into daily usage. Blonde and brunette, Keeler and Rice-Davies became inseparably linked, although Keeler, at the time and since, has publicly disassociated herself with the "call girl" Rice-Davies.

So what happened to elevate Keeler to the status of heroine? After all, life wasn't very generous to her after Profumo. A nine-month stretch in Holloway for perjury and two divorces led to a poverty-stricken life in a public housing project by the time Joanne Whalley-Kilmer portrayed her in the 1989 film Scandal.

But the thing is, the film was principally about Keeler - not Rice-Davies, who was played in a lesser role by Bridget Fonda. Something had happened between 1963 and 1989 and that thing was a photograph. The famous shot of a naked Christine Keeler astride a black plastic Arne Jacobsen chair - the chair's back keeping her decent - is often misattributed to David Bailey or Terence Donovan. It was in fact taken by the Hong Kong-born snapper Ewis Morley in an upstairs room at Peter Cook's Establishment Club in Soho during the summer of 1963.

The photograph was meant as a publicity still for a projected film about the Profumo affair. "She only agreed to strip after we cleared the room of all attendants and turned down the lights," remembers Morley. "I even offered to turn my back." Keeler always claims she kept her pants on.

Morley remembers a wide-eyed, naive young woman - the exact opposite of everything that the photograph conveys. This became an instant icon of the emergent Swinging Sixties - defiance and liberation in one posture. Popsies as Pop Art. Fallen women were no longer brushed out of sight - they were a fashion statement.

The photograph's potency has endured - shorthand for modern, sexually independent women - and has been reconstructed in advertising campaigns as diverse as the Citroen Saxo and granary bread. Kylie copied it, Joe Orton satirised it, and the pose is a veritable cliche in men's style mags. Last year in Glasgow, the Spice Girls even recreated the pose on stage - giving Christine the ultimate accolade. The progenitor of Girl Power.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine