How Lord Denning identified the duchess's headless man

LORD DENNING said she wasn't beautiful. He was perhaps the only man of his generation who found Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, ordinary. 'But then I'm an old veteran,' the distinguished jurist said last week. They met in 1963 when he was investigating the Profumo scandal. Lord Denning was 64 then and the Duchess of Argyll, the society beauty branded a highly sexed Jezebel by a Scottish judge only weeks before, was 50.

She died last week aged 80 and Lord Denning, aged 94, spoke publicly for the first time about the 'headless man' - an unidentified naked man photographed in a compromising position with Margaret Argyll. The photographs were used by the Duke of Argyll in the bitter divorce action against his wife.

In her autobiography, Forget Not, the Duchess says she agreed to see Lord Denning on condition that he came to her house. She wouldn't join the queues of people being seen entering his chambers.

Nowadays Lord Denning is rather deaf. But his mind is alert. At his home at Whitchurch, in Hampshire, he explained how he had been able to identify the headless man. He refused to say who he was but left little doubt about his identity.

I imagine that when the Hollywood actor Douglas Fairbanks Jnr called on Lord Denning in the summer of 1963 he had no idea he would be identified as the 'headless man', a fact that remained secret until the duchess's death.

The photographs, two polaroid snaps, were of the Duchess, naked but for a pearl necklace posing for the camera with her nude companion, whose head was not in the picture, and another of her performing oral sex.

Speaking from New York last week, Mr Fairbanks, 84, refused to confirm or deny he was the 'man without a head'. 'This is not a court of law and I don't talk about things like that,' he told the Independent on Sunday. It was annoying at the time that his name was mentioned along with Winston Churchill's son-in-law, the late Duncan Sandys, the Colonial Secretary, as the man in the photographs. 'I thought the best thing to do was to say nothing and it would die out.'

The Argyll divorce proceedings were sensational by any standards. The Duke and his daughter burgled the Duchess's London residence searching for her diaries and compromising pictures.

He charged that she had committed adultery with three named men and an unknown fourth person - the headless man.

The judge, Lord Wheatley, revealed the most intimate details of their lives in a 50,000-word judgment of unprecedented severity that condemned the Duchess as wholly immoral.

The proceedings began in 1959 and ended in May 1963, one month before Harold Macmillan asked Lord Denning to investigate the Profumo affair. The photographs from the Argyll divorce were relevant because of allegations that the headless man was a government minister.

Lord Denning found this was not so. Duncan Sandys underwent a medical examination which showed in 'unmistakable and significant respects' that his physical characteristics were different from the 'unknown' man. Furthermore, his handwriting did not match that on the photographs and paper in which they were wrapped. In his report Lord Denning said: 'There was further evidence before me (which was not before the judge in the Argyll divorce case) which indicated who the 'unknown man' was. But I need not go into it here . . . '

Last week Lord Denning shed more light. The 'further evidence' he had referred to was handwriting, he said. A second man had come to see him about the photographs and, before he was admitted to his office, Lord Denning asked the doorman to get the man to sign his name in capital letters on an entry form. He made this request because writing on the photographs was in capitals.

'The writing was exactly the same so I was able to say who it was as I had the handwriting on the entry form and on the photographs,' Lord Denning said.

And was it Mr Fairbanks? 'If you guess that you may guess right. But I won't disclose who it was as I promised that the information I gathered would be entirely confidential.' Mr Fairbanks did come to see you? 'Yes.'

'Lord Wheatley was right in his judgment,' Lord Denning said. 'The Duke and Duchess were very prominent and if they fell short they could expect to be criticised.'

Barbara Cartland, 92, one of her few friends alive today, said Margaret Argyll was promiscuous. 'She was very beautiful and every man wanted to go to bed with her and she wanted to go to bed with every man. And why not? There's nothing wrong with that. She did go from man to man. She didn't have love affairs which lasted a long time. I think men found her rather boring after a time.'

(Photograph omitted)

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

ICT Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a qualified ...

DT Design and Technology Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently for ...

Maths Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienc...

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on