Christine Keeler exhibition presents photographic notes on a Sixties scandal

Joe Boyd
Friday 12 November 2010 01:00

When screenwriter Michael Thomas and I secured the film rights to the lives of Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, we immediately invited them – separately, of course – out to dinner. Mandy was first up, groomed and debonair at the Dorchester Grill. When asked why she had waved regally and signed autographs outside the Old Bailey while Christine had dodged missiles and insults, she paused, then observed, "well, I grew up around horses."

Christine was far less assured, her beautiful face – those legendary Cherokee cheekbones still intact – haunted by years of struggle and hardship. She might not have been as witty as Mandy, but she was far more honest. She told us of the fraternal love she shared with Stephen Ward, how he would crawl into bed with her after having it off with a hooker in the next room. He loved watching her effect on men, Jack Profumo in particular. With almost surreal recklessness Profumo asked for her telephone number after seeing her arrive at a Cliveden lunch party on the arm of the Russian naval attaché at the height of the Cold War. It took the Tories 16 years to recover from that single randy impulse.

For decades afterwards, Ward and Keeler were denied their place in English history. Profumo was considered "unlucky", Ward a chancer who got his come-uppance and Keeler a trailer-trash temptress. I like to think Scandal helped turn that around. Keeler and Ward are viewed now more as victims of an embarrassed and vengeful Establishment.

An exhibition of Keeler's collection of photographs, letters and other memorabilia are now on display at London's Mayor Gallery. The glamour-shots of the stage show at Murray's Club are particularly haunting; it is hard to credit the fact that Mandy was 15 and Christine 16 when they met Peter Rachman and Ward, and set about altering British history. Ward paid for his impudence with his life. Christine received six months of jail – the prison correspondence in the exhibition is particularly touching. A half-century may be a long time, but the music, the fashions – and the scandals – of the era look and sound like yesterday. The Modern Age began here.

Christine Keeler: My Life In Pictures, Mayor Gallery, London W1 (020 7734 3558) to 17 December. Joe Boyd was co-executive producer of 'Scandal', which is out now on DVD

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