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An English Affair [Hardcover]

Richard Davenport-Hines
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Jan 2013


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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; 1st Edition edition (3 Jan 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007435843
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007435845
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 138,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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

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

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 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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54 of 60 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
To my generation, the summer of 1963 is vivid, but I'm shocked at how little I really knew about it. Biggest shock was that Stephen Ward didn't actually do anything wrong at all. He was neither a pimp, drug dealer, procurer nor spy. He wasn't even gay. Keeler and Rice Davies were not prostitutes, just good time girls. And Rachman, while no saint, wasn't as evil as the press said. Nobody comes out of the thing well, except perhaps poor Bill Astor and his wife - but the press, the police and Lord Denning come out particularly badly. Anyway, it's well written, well researched gossip, and I couldn't put it down. A salutory reminder of just how far women and racial minorities have come in the last 50 years. Things are by no means perfect now, but worth looking back now and again to see how far we've come.
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24 of 27 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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16 of 18 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring
Truly boring. A re-hash of everything we have long known.
Published 23 hours ago by mgn
4.0 out of 5 stars The Truth at last!
Good read. I lived through this era as a young teenager. I knew something was going on but the establishment fed us a line! Now this fills in the gaps and confirms suspicions!
Published 4 days ago by Wetjob3
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
bit stodgy in places and the writer does like to show off his vocabulary but overall good read
Published 4 days ago by Jeremy Kaufman
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, if opinionated, take on the social-historical background to the...
Coming to this book after reading David Kynaston's books on the 50s, I was struck by the similarities and differences between the two authors. Read more
Published 23 days ago by D. K. BROWN
3.0 out of 5 stars a very good documentary
of a period. I found it interesting but rather dry. Everyone else who is in my book club loved it, though.
Published 1 month ago by C. Sidney-woollett
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring
Minutely detailed account of primate behaviours and relationships in the so-called ruling class. A Whitehall farce told with solemnity and earnestness.
Published 2 months ago by A M Wilson
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 3 months 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 5 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 5 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 6 months ago by magali
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