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An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo

An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo [Kindle Edition]

Richard Davenport-Hines
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)

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Product Description


Independent on Sunday Books of the Year ‘Wonderful and exacting’

Mail on Sunday Books of the Year ‘A breakneck thriller and a brilliant dissection of the times’

Independent on Sunday Books of the Year ‘This is more than simply an overview of the affair…Davenport-Hines skewers an entire society’

‘A wonderful evocation of the period; a Rolls-Royce ride, with that hugely enjoyable sense of a writer being op top of his material and perfectly attuned to his subject’ David Kynaston, author of ‘Austerity Britain’

‘An outstandingly evocative portrait of a hinge moment in our recent history, as well as a treasure trove of anecdotes’ Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

‘Fascinating … a meticulous and witty portrait of a society built on the shaky foundations of snobbery, suspicion, hypocrisy and sexual anxiety’ Mail on Sunday

‘Mesmerising. Brilliantly researched, irresistibly readable, fiercely polemical, ‘An English Affair’ ought to sit on the desk of everyone who voices a view on the entanglement of politics, media and celebrity … No book about the British past this year will cast a fiercer light on the British present’ Independent

‘His research is impeccable and the story told with lip-smacking relish’ Daily Express

‘A superb book’ Evening Standard

‘[The Profumo Affair] has found a marvellous chronicler in Davenport-Hines, an incisive writer with a terrific eye for detail’ Sunday Telegraph

‘[A] superb account of the scandal’ Mail on Sunday,

‘[This] livid, lurid but enthralling history of “sex, class and power in the age of Profumo” boasts a rare passion and bravado’ Independent

‘Davenport-Hines is superb on the English … His eye is as shrewd and telling as Anthony Powell’s’ Times

‘It is written in a wonderfully sharp and witty style, and packed with illuminating details’ Craig Brown, Books of the year, Daily Mail

Product Description


Published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Profumo scandal, An English Affair is a sharp-focused snapshot of a nation on the brink of social revolution.

Britain in 1963 – Harold Macmillan was the Prime Minister of a Conservative government, dedicated to tradition, hierarchy and, above all, old-fashioned morality. But a breakdown of social boundaries saw nightclub hostesses mixing with aristocrats, and middle-class professionals dabbling in criminality. Meanwhile, Cold War paranoia gripped the public imagination.

The Profumo Affair was a perfect storm, and when it broke it rocked the Establishment. In ‘An English Affair’, the author of the critically-acclaimed ‘Titainic Lives’ Richard Davenport-Hines brings Swinging London to life. The cast of players includes the familiar – louche doctor Stephen Ward, good-time girls Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, and Secretary for War John Profumo himself. But we also encounter the tabloid hacks, property developers and hangers-on whose roles have, until now, never been fully revealed.

Sex, drugs, class, race, chequebook journalism and the criminal underworld – the Profumo Affair had it all. This is the story of how Sixties England cast off respectability and fell in love with scandal.

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More About the Author

Richard Davenport-Hines won the Wolfson Prize for History for his first book, 'Dudley Docker'. He is an adviser to the 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography' and has also written biographies of W.H. Auden and Marcel Proust. His most recent book, 'Titanic Lives' was published in 2012. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Literature, he reviews for the Spectator, Literary Review, Sunday Telegraph and Times Literary Supplement.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An English Affair 19 Dec 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Although I was born after 'The Profumo Affair' I have vague images of the characters involved and what happened, but knew very little detail. This wonderfully written book certainly filled any gaps in my knowledge, presenting a detailed and fascinating account of who was involved, what happened and painting a picture of an era when London was poised on the brink of change. Davenport-Hines (whose previous book Titanic Lives: Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew I enjoyed very much) divides this work into 'Cast' and 'Drama'. Indeed, the whole sorry affair reads something like a stage play, with a ruling class who felt they could do much as they liked, and a new group of men coming up behind them who did not subscribe to their unwritten public school ethos and revelled in making money.

Here, then, we are introduced to the people behind the names. John Profumo, the War Minister, who was married to film star Valerie Hobson. From the outside viewed as a golden couple, it was plain that Profumo had a roving eye from the earliest days of his marriage. Indeed, almost everyone we meet is affected by marital problems. From PM Harold Macmillan, whose wife Dorothy famously had a long running affair with Bob Boothby, to Bill Astor, who was on his third marriage by the time of the scandal which rocked London.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars part of my life 29 Aug 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This took me back to the sixties when I was a young teacher, and Britain was experiencing a sea change in outlook especially in matters to do with sex. I found the opening chapter on 'Supermac' revealing and entertaining. After that the book ran into a slow decline with only the odd snippet, revelation or insight.Somehow, the drama of the crisis didn't come through because of the structure of the book.
A linear narrative of the events of the crisis might have worked better. I found the author's distaste for everyone involved a bit wearing towards the end. And I don't think things were that bad in the fifties either. The unremitting sour tone spoiled the book for me.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I remember, I remember 24 Dec 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I'm reading the Kindle version. I remember what happened, at least I remember what we were told about it, the "official version". And what we were told was lies, dissimulation, fabrication, blatant racism and sexism; political jockying, opportunism, hypocrisy, name it.

How could I have been quite so nave? Well, in those days you believed "authority", the establishment, the politicians and the police; and the judiciary. And I couldn't read between the lines of journalism and official pronouncements. And if you think that phone hacking is a modern thing, just read what journalists used to do: fabrication comes to mind.

But no more. The scales have fallen off; is there any reason to believe that today's politicians, police etc are any more upstanding? I doubt it.

A must read if you remember the times; and a must read if you don't, to see just how corrupt much of Britain's life was.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was 21 when Stephen Ward came to court & committed "suicide" while in custody. I was working for Odhams Press in the Book Production Dept for two editors. One of whom was a patient/friend of Stephen Ward. I think this book gives a good background to the politics & social restrictions of the time. The editors bought pictures from Reuters, IPC & other picture agencies On a daily basis, We heard the gossip of Fleet St, so knew there was something afoot as the press could not contain their excitement! We were told that there others were involved but never names. My editor said that Stephen Ward had been coerced into suicide. I was the same age as Christine Keeler & felt the hypocrisy of the time damaged everything about her. I have enjoyed reading this book, the facts haven't changed as a previous reviewer pointed out but the background information helps you to understand why it was such a scandal. I don't suppose today it would be front page. Read it, it's a good yarn!
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Changes 6 Jan 2013
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 500 REVIEWER
This latest book of Davenport-Hines, like his book about the Titanic disaster,focuses on the underlying political and social mores of the times as well as the details of the so-called Profumo Affair.

In so doing he reveals the hypocrisy, lying, snobbery and deceit of the 60's. For this reviewer the most disturbing feature of the whole Affair was not the sexual antics of the MP Jack Profumo, hardly novel then or now, but the appalling treatment of Stephen Ward who was deserted by his friends in high places, and stitched up by the police. Witnesses were even leaned on by the police to get a conviction. Ward was a playboy osteopath but he did not deserve the way he was treated by the establishment.
His death by suicide remains a blot on all those involved in his character assassination.

This is a fascinating account of an event that has been written about many times. The author rightly reminds readers that Profumo's real crime was not his antics with an indiscreet young woman of dubious morals but the fact that he lied to Parliament, an unforgivable crime.

Given the recent revelations about police corruption and financial fraud by MP's one wonders if anything has changed for the better this past 50 years. Sexual repression has been eradicated only to be replaced by sexual licence while police misbehaviour remains extremely worrying.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh yes I remember it well....or thought I did!
I had dim memories of my Mother and Aunt discussing this scandal, shocked and giggly.
This book was great for refreshing all the 1950s characters, who played major parts in... Read more
Published 27 days ago by K.E.C
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I remember this whole scandal very clearly, and I lived in the part of London where much of it took place. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Desdemona
4.0 out of 5 stars Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose
I have read many books about the Profumo affair and the life of Stephen Ward as I was 18 in 1963 and experienced the seeming change in society over the years that followed. Read more
Published 3 months ago by D. V. Lawson
5.0 out of 5 stars a good read
this book is quite an eye opener,gives new perspective on the profumo years and shows how sleeze and underhand dealings are certainly nothing new/
Published 3 months ago by magali
1.0 out of 5 stars An English affair. Sex Class and Power in the Age of Profumo
It is pretentious, self indulgent and rambling over written prose It adds little to what we already know about the Profumo scandle and only that the writer wants us to know that... Read more
Published 3 months ago by CAROL GRACE
4.0 out of 5 stars The Swinging Sixties
According to Philip Larkin in his poem Annus Mirabilis, 'Sexual intercourse began, In nineteen sixty-three'. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Neutral
5.0 out of 5 stars Profumo
A very engaging slant on an old scandal disproving many of the firmly held beliefs at the time. Should have been an enlightening read for the establishment which had blood on... Read more
Published 3 months ago by M. E. Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars The Scandal of the Century
The notorious 'Profumo Affair' continuously crops up in many contexts. I remember it well as a contemporary. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Manfred
3.0 out of 5 stars Quirky
The text can be quite illuminating and then suddenly switch to the banal, without any seeming irony. Overall a good reminder of that period, worth reading for a general overview.
Published 5 months ago by Jools Verne
5.0 out of 5 stars Gosh, so much I ddn't know!!!
Don't t let the first densely written chapter put you off. Feels lke the writer was trying to show off his credentials by using the dictionary at least twice a page to find words... Read more
Published 5 months ago by debbieg
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