Of infamy & shadows

With her impeccable timing, Christine Keeler has died. This is the woman who brought down, or more modestly, contributed to the destruction of Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government in the “Annus Mirabilis” of the late Philip Larkin:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) —
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

Yes, a lot of things happened in 1963, of which, at the time, I was imperfectly aware. (Just think, if sexual intercourse had never been invented.) It was also the height of the Cold War, and Miss Keeler (a teen-aged runaway from Berkshire to a London cabaret) got things properly rolling. She had been sleeping with John Profumo, Britain’s Secretary of State for War. Also with Yevgeny Ivanov, an attaché at the Soviet embassy.

She was a refreshingly honest girl, according to a laudatory obituary I’ve just read. (Served nine months for perjury, by the bye.) Not so Mr Profumo, who lied (can you believe it?) to the House of Commons when asked a perfectly straightforward question about broadly circulating rumours. His resignation was forthcoming with his subsequent admission that the rumours were quite true, and the case went down in the History of Tory Infamy. The disparity in ages (forty-six and nineteen) must have drawn additional winks and nudges, but was not the issue then.

Only recently we learnt, from released MI-5 files via our ever-vigilant media, that as an Oxford student in the 1930s, then young Tory MP, Profumo had a much longer affair with one Gisela Winegard, a “haughty, Teutonic” model, who happened to be also a Nazi spy. And that it was resumed after the War.

Was she “refreshingly honest,” too? Was Profumo, for his habit of writing endearments to his (invariably shared) mistresses on House of Commons notepaper? Enquiring minds want to know: How do such idiots become Ministers of the Crown?

I mention this history only in the context of current kiss-and-tells. It has come as a surprise to many that men, including older ones in positions of authority, have been manoeuvring attractive young women into bed. Also, apparently, attractive young men. It would be too dark a secret to reveal that this isn’t always difficult; that so perverse is human nature that, exempli gratia, lively young women are sometimes attracted to staid, rich and powerful old men; or might even try to exploit them. Or that there may be teen-aged girls who don’t know what they’re doing. Or worse, who do.

Mr Profumo spent the rest of his life working off his shame (received a CBE for his charitable activities in London’s East End), but still died with the reputation of having been the “Profumo” in “The Profumo Affair.” Miss Keeler attempted “normal family life,” achieving two divorces. Mr Macmillan, who crashed down as prime minister, was the picture of family loyalty and fidelity, and a heartbroken widower. It was his wife who had been cheating — for thirty years. He was also the devoted, longsuffering father of a troubled daughter, whom he knew to be not his.

Yes, men are bad and women are their victims, as the feminists are proclaiming once again. And it’s all hanging out there in the media breeze. But behind closed doors, there is much that goes off-script.