Mandy Rice-Davies and the Profumo Affair

Mandy by Mandy Rice-Davies

Published 1980 chapter 17

Stephen Ward’s trial began on 22 July at the Old Bailey… Morris Krevatz made me a grey gabardine dress for the trial, and I wore it with a hat of pale pink petals. One wore something different every day, of course, but that was my most special outfit. I bought it to boost my confidence.

Unholy Joy by John Lawton

published 2013 though written earlier

With her “He would wouldn’t he” she announced a fact that was supposed to break worlds. She had f.ed, and seemed not to care who knew it. Her testimony at the Old Bailey added to this. Christine had been shy and confused, as she had every right to be, Mandy had – or so it seemed at the time – stood tall and spoken up for herself and the ethics of a new generation. The confidence with which she dressed helped this impression. A hat of pink petals and a sleeveless grey gaberdine dress, specially tailored for the occasion, that seemed to combine modesty with a hint of revelation – concession to the time and the place with her own personality.

The Trial of Stephen Ward by Ludovic Kennedy

published 1964 Part 2

Unlike Christine, who photographed better than she looked, Mandy Rice-Davies looked much better than her photographs. She was still only eighteen and had not yet lost, as Christine had, the bloom of youth. It was a hard, cat-like little face but a very pretty one. After two years as Rachman’s mistress she still looked fresh as a milkmaid, and that was quite a feat. Astride her golden head sat a little rose-petalled hat, such as debutantes wear at garden parties. Her shoes, unlike Christine’s, were quite lady-like. Her simple grey sleeveless dress accentuated the impression of modesty – until one looked at it closely. Then one saw that the slit down the front was only held together by a loose knot at the middle. When she walked one could see quite a long way up her leg.

observations: So 50 years ago today, Stephen Ward went on trial: the real victim of the political scandal known as the Profumo Affair. The very readable accounts by Kennedy and Lawton make it clear how badly he was treated and that the charges (of living off immoral earnings) should have been thrown out.

It was a complicated business, too intricate to explain in full: Christine Keeler had had an affair with Minister of War John Profumo, and simultaneously had been seeing an attaché from the Soviet Embassy. Profumo lied about this to the House of Commons, and so was forced to resign. Plenty of rich, famous and well-connected people were hanging round the fringes of the story, which had got underway at Cliveden, home to the Astor family, with some semi-naked frolics at the swimming pool. Hypocrisy and class-consciousness thread through the story like raspberry ripple in ice-cream.

The best line in Kennedy’s book is:

the scribbling [of the judge recording the trial] often could not keep pace with the speaking, and counsel were obliged to interrupt with weird admonishments like: “Not so fast, Miss Barrett, please, my Lord is taking a note”, which sounded like a negro spiritual.

John Lawton wrote, in 1998, a really excellent fictionalized version of the affair, A Little White Death, as part of his Troy series.

Christine Keeler’s autobiography will feature later this week.

Earlier this year the blog featured Rupert Davenport-Hines’s An English Affair: a new, and very interesting, book on Profumo, looking at the aspects of English life that he felt produced the scandal.


  1. Moira - Oh, no doubt about it, this affair was complicated! And isn't it always the way that one person ends up taking the fall for a whole situation? This book really seems to put it in an interesting light. And I do like the readable and engaging style.

    1. It's one of those stories that has always fascinated me, from quite a young age, and I did like Mandy's outfit!

  2. These books sound interesting and I really like John Lawton's writing... at least his fiction. I have read all of the Troy books and I will probably re-read them one day.

  3. Yes, I'm a John Lawton fan, I really enjoy his books, and Little White Death was excellent.

  4. I've not read Lawton though I do have something from him - Old Flames, or something of these days!
    I'm a bit too young to remember Profumo, though I have read a wee bit about it.
    Interesting to notice the change in attitudes in 50 years over honour, decency, personal responsibility and politician resignations.

  5. I like reading about old scandals, and though I don't directly remember Profumo or the Philby/spies cases, I do like to read books about both affairs. John Lawton is very good, I bet you'd like him...


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