Christine Margaret Keeler (22 February 1942 – 4 December 2017) was an English model and topless showgirl. Her meeting at a dance-club with society osteopath Stephen Ward drew her into fashionable circles. At the height of the Cold War, she became sexually involved with a married government minister, John Profumo, as well as with a Soviet naval attaché, Yevgeny Ivanov. A shooting incident between two of her other lovers caused the press to investigate her, revealing that her affairs could be threatening national security. In the House of Commons, Profumo denied any improper conduct but later admitted that he had lied. This incident discredited the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan in 1963, in what became known as the Profumo affair. Keeler was alleged to have been a prostitute - which was not a criminal offence. Ward was, however, found guilty of being her pimp – a trial instigated after the embarrassment caused to the government.

Christine Keeler
Christine Keeler op weg naar het gerechtsgebouw, Bestanddeelnr 915-5221 (cropped, retouched).jpg
Keeler in 1963
Born
Christine Margaret Keeler

(1942-02-22)22 February 1942
Died4 December 2017(2017-12-04) (aged 75)
NationalityBritish
Other namesChristine Levermore
Christine Platt
Christine Sloane[1]
OccupationModel
Known forProfumo affair
Children3

BiographyEdit

Early yearsEdit

Keeler was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex. Her father, Colin Keeler (later known as Colin King), abandoned the family in 1945. She was brought up by her mother, Julie Ellen Payne, and stepfather, Edward Huish, in a house made from two converted railway carriages in the Berkshire village of Wraysbury. In 1951, at the age of 9, Keeler was sent to a holiday home in Littlehampton because the school health inspector said that she was suffering from malnutrition.[2] She was sexually abused as a teenager both by her stepfather and his friends, for whom she babysat.[3] At the age of 15, she found work as a model at a dress shop in London's Soho. At age 17, she gave birth to a son after an affair with an African-American United States Air Force sergeant. The child was born prematurely on 17 April 1959, and survived just six days.[4]

That summer, Keeler left Wraysbury, staying briefly in Slough with a friend before heading for London. She initially worked as a waitress at a restaurant in Baker Street, where she met Maureen O'Connor, who worked at Murray's Cabaret Club in Soho. She introduced Keeler to the owner, Percy Murray, who hired her almost immediately as a topless showgirl.[5]

At Murray's she met Stephen Ward, an English osteopath and artist. His practice and his art brought considerable social success, and he made many important friends. Soon the two were living together with the outward appearance of being a couple, but according to her, it was a platonic, non-sexual relationship. In her autobiography "Secrets and lies" Keeler maintains that Ward was working as a double agent, having contact with both senior members of MI5, and the KGB to whom he was passing UK state secrets.

Profumo affairEdit

On the weekend of 8–9 July 1961, Ward introduced Keeler to John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, at a pool party at Cliveden, the Buckinghamshire mansion owned by the 3rd Viscount Astor. Profumo began a brief affair with Keeler. The exact length of the affair between Keeler and Profumo is disputed, ending either in August 1961 once Profumo was warned by the security services of the possible dangers of mixing with the Ward circle, or continuing with decreasing fervour until December 1961.[6] Among Ward's other friends, whom Profumo briefly met, was the Soviet naval attaché and GRU officer, Yevgeny Ivanov. According to Keeler, she and Ivanov had a short sexual relationship.[7]

After her relationship with Profumo ended, Keeler was sexually involved with several partners, including jazz singer Lucky Gordon and jazz promoter Johnny Edgecombe. There was considerable jealousy between the two men; in one quarrel on 27 October 1962, Edgecombe slashed Gordon's face with a knife.[8] When Keeler ended the relationship with Edgecombe in December 1962, Edgecombe turned up at Ward's house in Wimpole Mews on 14 December, where she was temporarily seeking refuge, and fired five shots at the building.[9] His arrest and subsequent trial brought Keeler to public attention and provided the impetus from which the scandal known as the "Profumo affair" developed.[10] After initially denying any impropriety with Keeler, Profumo eventually confessed and resigned from the government and parliament, causing great embarrassment to his government colleagues who had previously supported him.[11] These events, in the summer of 1963, brought Keeler notoriety; The Economist gave the headline "The Prime Minister's Crisis" alongside a picture of Keeler, with no further explanation.[12]

Morley portraitEdit

 
Lewis Morley's 1963 portrait of Keeler

At the height of the Profumo affair in 1963, Keeler sat for a photographic portrait taken by Lewis Morley. The photo shoot, at a studio on the first floor of Peter Cook's Establishment Club, with Morley was to promote a proposed film, The Keeler Affair, that was never released in the United Kingdom. Keeler was reluctant to pose in the nude, but the film producers insisted. Morley persuaded Keeler to sit astride a plywood chair, so that whilst technically she would be nude, the back of the chair would obscure most of her body. Keeler told cartoon historian Tim Benson in 2007 that she was not nude and was, in fact, wearing knickers during the entire photoshoot.[13][14]

The photo propelled Arne Jacobsen's Model 3107 chair to prominence, even though the chair used was an imitation of the Model 3107, with a hand-hold aperture crudely cut out of the back to avoid copyright infringement. The chair used is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.[13] The differences in the designs of the chairs are readily apparent in a side-by-side photograph.[13]

TrialsEdit

 
Keeler going to court in September 1963

On 18 April 1963, Keeler was attacked at the home of a friend. She accused Gordon, who was arrested and charged. At his trial, which began on 5 June, he maintained that his innocence would be established by two witnesses who, the police told the court, could not be found. On 7 June, principally on the evidence of Keeler, Gordon was found guilty and sentenced to three years' imprisonment.[15] By this time, Ward was facing trial on vice charges, and again Keeler was a main prosecution witness.[16]

Ward's trial, which ran 22–31 July 1963, has been characterised as "an act of political revenge" for the embarrassment caused to the government. He was accused of living off immoral earnings earned through Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, on the basis of the small contributions to household expenses or loan repayments the two had made to Ward while living with him. Ward's professional earnings as an osteopath were a substantial £5,500 a year (£115,300 in 2018) at the time these small payments were made.[17] After a hostile summing-up from the trial judge, Ward was convicted, but before the jury returned their verdict, he took an overdose of barbiturates and died before sentence could be passed.[18] In the closing days of Ward's trial, Gordon's assault conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal when his missing witnesses were found and testified that the evidence given by Keeler was substantially false.[19] In December 1963, Keeler pleaded guilty to charges of perjury before Sir Anthony Hawke, the Recorder of London, and she was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment, serving four and a half months in prison.[20]

Later lifeEdit

 
Keeler (aged 46) discussing the Profumo affair on After Dark in 1988

After her release from prison in 1964, Keeler had two brief marriages, to James Levermore in 1965–66 and to Anthony Platt in 1971–72. There was a child from each union, the eldest being largely raised by Keeler's mother, Julie. Keeler mainly lived alone in the last couple of decades of her life. Most of the considerable amount of money that she made from newspaper stories was dissipated by lawyers. She said that during the 1970s "I was not living, I was surviving".[21] She published several accounts of her life, in one of which she claimed that she became pregnant as a result of her relationship with Profumo and subsequently had an abortion.[22] Her portrait, by Ward, was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1984.[23]

In 1988, Keeler was featured in Bryan Ferry's promotional video for the single "Kiss and Tell" (originally released on Ferry's seventh solo album, Bête Noire, in 1987) with Mandy Rice-Davies; this was meant to draw more attention to the song's theme.[24]

In June 1988, she made an extended appearance on Channel 4 discussion programme After Dark.[25]

DeathEdit

On 5 December 2017, Keeler's son Seymour Platt announced that his mother "passed away last night at about 11.30 pm" at the Princess Royal University Hospital in Locksbottom, in Bromley, Greater London.[26] She had been ill for some months, suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,[26] and was aged 75. Her funeral took place on 16 December 2017 at the West London Crematorium in Kensal Green Cemetery.[27]

In popular cultureEdit

In the 1989 film about the Profumo affair, Scandal, actress Joanne Whalley portrays Keeler. In Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage musical Stephen Ward, which opened at the Aldwych Theatre in 2013, Keeler was portrayed by Charlotte Spencer.[28]

Keeler is portrayed by Sophie Cookson in The Trial of Christine Keeler, a 2019–2020 six-part BBC One television series.[29]

An Arts Council-funded touring exhibition called 'Dear Christine' opened in Newcastle upon Tyne in June 2019[30] and toured to Swansea[31] in October 2019, finishing at Arthouse1 in London in February 2020[32]. The culmination of a four-year project by artist/curator Fionn Wilson to reclaim and reframe Keeler, it features work from 20 women artists "in order to put a female perspective on a narrative that has mostly been led by men" (Garageland, issue 22, 'Difficult Women', October 2018, ISBN 977-1-7499260-3-6). The exhibition has been described by journalist and writer Julie Burchill as "a thing of beauty without cruelty"[33]. Critic and writer Ian McKay wrote, "In several important ways, Dear Christine, the exhibition, seeks with some noble intent to rescue Christine’s image and experience and reprocess it, rescuing it from the newspaper front-page-Keeler that is etched into the collective consciousness"[34]. The exhibition has also featured in the Morning Star[35], the Daily Telegraph[36] and the International Times[37]. In the Wales Arts Review writer Craig Austin interviews artist/curator Fionn Wilson who says: "Christine Keeler has always fascinated me, since I first became aware of her story via the 1989 film Scandal. When I started painting I decided to do a series of paintings of her, and as I researched Christine’s life story it struck me that even though she is a culturally significant figure in British history there is very little recent artistic reference to her. I decided that I would try to rectify this and add to the visual narrative around her. And so the project was born. It’s also a very personal project. I have great sympathy for Christine Keeler."[38] The exhibition catalogue (Dear Christine, April 2019, edited by Fionn Wilson, designed by Rebecca Fairman, ISBN 978-1-9161200-0-6) includes writing by Amanda Coe (screenwriter and executive producer of the BBC series The Trial of Christine Keeler), Keeler’s son Seymour Platt, art historian Kalliopi Minioudaki and artist and art critic Bo Gorzelak Pedersen.

PublicationEdit

By KeelerEdit

By othersEdit

  • Hanks, Tara (2004). Wicked Baby. PADB. ISBN 1-904929-45-1.
  • Nicholas, Paul; Holt, Alex; Adams, Gill (2007). Keeler. Stage Production. [ISBN unspecified]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Thompson, Douglas (6 December 2017). "My friend Christine Keeler - the original femme fatale who felt she didn't deserve to be happy". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  2. ^ Kynaston 2009, p. 28.
  3. ^ "Obituary: Christine Keeler". BBC News. 5 December 2017. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  4. ^ Knightley & Kennedy 1987, pp. 53–54.
  5. ^ Knightley & Kennedy 1987, pp. 55–57.
  6. ^ Irving et al. 1963, pp. 49–53.
  7. ^ Knightley & Kennedy 1987, pp. 66–70, 86–87.
  8. ^ Davenport-Hines 2013, pp. 252–53, 258.
  9. ^ Irving et al. 1963, p. 75.
  10. ^ Young 1963, pp. 9–11.
  11. ^ Young 1963, pp. 18, 24–25.
  12. ^ Young 1963, p. 36.
  13. ^ a b c "Christine Keeler Photograph: A Modern Icon". vam.ac.uk. 15 June 2011. Archived from the original on 10 January 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  14. ^ "The Keeler Affair (1963)". bbfc.co.uk. Archived from the original on 6 December 2017. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  15. ^ Irving et al. 1963, p. 148.
  16. ^ Irving et al. 1963, pp. 193–94.
  17. ^ Robertson 2013, pp. 80–81.
  18. ^ Knightley & Kennedy 1987, pp. 243–47.
  19. ^ Robertson 2013, pp. 92–95, 101.
  20. ^ Knightley & Kennedy 1987, p. 252.
  21. ^ Knightley & Kennedy 1987, p. 256.
  22. ^ Keeler & Thompson 2012, pp. 123, 134.
  23. ^ Summers & Dorril 1989, p. 311.
  24. ^ "Kiss And Tell". SongFacts. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  25. ^ "Open to Exposure". After Dark. Series 2. 4 June 1988. Channel 4.
  26. ^ a b Davies, Caroline (5 December 2017). "Christine Keeler, former model at heart of Profumo affair, dies at 75". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 16 December 2017. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  27. ^ Mount, Harry (16 December 2017). "Freed from her demons, Sixties icon Christine Keeler is laid to rest". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 11 July 2019. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  28. ^ "Casting Announced for World Premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Stephen Ward". Playbill. 6 September 2013. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  29. ^ "The Trial of Christine Keeler". BBC One. Archived from the original on 18 December 2019. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  33. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  34. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 June 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  35. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  36. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  37. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 June 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  38. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 October 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

SourcesEdit

External linksEdit