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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars well written, well researched gossip - couldn't put it down
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...
Published 15 months ago by Daisy Roots

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars part of my life
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...
Published 15 months ago by Mr. P. Skeldon


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars well written, well researched gossip - couldn't put it down, 29 Aug 2013
By 
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, if opinionated, take on the social-historical background to the Profumo Affair, 21 Jun 2014
By 
D. K. BROWN (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An English Affair (Hardcover)
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. Both give a fascinating account of the social historical background to the period (which I lived through, but as a child). However where Kynaston is self-effacing, Davenport-Hines is opinionated, perhaps to a fault. Not only does he write from a particular political perspective (which I would describe as socially-progressive Tory), but more importantly, he seems to have little sympathy for any of the characters he writes about. Some of his judgments strike me as dubious - for example, he is dismissive of the Labour Party's peddling of the 'security angle' to the scandal. However, while I was convinced by Davenport-Hines that no security lapse actually occurred, it seems to me this was at least a legitimate concern (cabinet minister sleeps with girl who sleeps - or at least associates - with Soviet diplomat).

In this account the social background is presented more clearly than the personal characters of the participants. Ward in particular remains an enigma. The girls (Keeler and Rice-Davies were only 16 when they got involved in the seedy Soho world) are given only limited coverage - particularly Rice-Davies. The person to whom Davenport-Hines gives his most sympathetic treatment is Lord Astor, who comes across as weak and naive, but well-intentioned. A harsher criticism of Astor seemed justified to me. Leaving aside criticism of the Astor set's hedonistic lifestyle (which Davenport-Hines would call the "politics of envy"), surely Astor's refusal to appear as a character witness for Ward was an act of personal cowardice, particularly as the rest of Ward's friends used Astor's example as a precedent for them also abandoning Ward. Moreover, unless I missed it, Davenport-Hines never expresses a view on whether Astor actually went to bed with Rice-Davies. Astor's denial prompted Rice-Davies famous "Well he would, wouldn't he?" comment. I tend to believe Rice-Davies on this occasion.

Nevertheless this was a very interesting read.
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53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An English Affair, 19 Dec 2012
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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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. The author cleverly unveils his cast, including osteopath Stephen Ward, whose list of rich and eminent patients included Churchill, Eden, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Paul Getty, to Yevgeny Ivanov, whom he was introduced to at the Garrick Club, the 'Good Time Girls' Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, the new generation of property developers such as Charles Clore and Perec Rachman, the 'Hacks' and the 'Spies'. He intertwines these cast of characters, showing how the morals of the day affected events. Indeed, the subtitle "Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo" is an excellent one - as we are taken on fascinating digressions, from newspaper articles (serious then, hilarious now!) on how women should go about achieving marriage to attitudes on women automatically giving up, sometimes excellent careers, for the often tedious 'trap' that marriage and motherhood could become. This scene setting is important - not until you read how a jury (all male) at the time saw the brutal murder of a young wife who 'belittled' her husband, can you truly understand the way women were viewed at this time.

Having brilliantly arrayed his cast and set the scene, the author then takes us through the actual 'Drama' of what happened, the scandal and the aftermath. Macmillan's secretary thought the 'Profumo Affair' did the PM more harm than anything in the whole of his administration. In a country which was heavily divided, where women were viewed as seducers and men unable to resist their charms, scandal broke. It is hard to overestimate how much the scandal affected everyone involved, as the press had a field day and people pored over the salacious details which greeted them every day in the newspapers. This is an excellent account of a time and an event which is still in the public consciousness. Who doesn't know the names of Profumo and Keeler and have some image of who, and what, they were? Well, this book may change your views, but I doubt you will find a better account of what happened anywhere. The author also asks what substance there actually was amongst the gossip and inuendo and outlines what happened to the people involved afterwards. Of Keeler, he states with weary resignation that, "had she been born thirty five years later, she would have starred on 'Celebrity Big Brother' and consulted her publicist every time her footballer boyfriend knocked her about..." Thoroughly enjoyable, highly readable and well researched, this would make a fantastic book group read, with much to discuss and I recommend it highly. Lastly, I read the kindle version of this book and the illustrations were included.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good clear account of the politics & skulduggery., 23 Feb 2013
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This review is from: An English Affair (Hardcover)
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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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I remember, I remember, 24 Dec 2012
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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, cover-ups...you name it.

How could I have been quite so naïve? 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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars part of my life, 29 Aug 2013
By 
Mr. P. Skeldon (sohar, oman) - See all my reviews
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very readable book, 18 July 2013
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I thought at first that giving each character a separate chapter was not to my liking, but I think this was the best way to do it and it gave a very clear picture of each individual.

Even though I thought I knew all about it, it was, in fact, a complete eye opener and I found it easy to read and,to my
mind, very well written. There is no doubt, the whole affair comes of as a tragedy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Macmillan Years, 7 July 2013
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Having been born in 1949 this book brought to life events I didn,t really
comprehend in 1961. A rattling good read, brilliantly researched and
emphasising just how easy it was for a corrupt establishment to frame
Stephen Ward.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing read, 8 April 2013
This review is from: An English Affair (Hardcover)
I was looking forward to reading this book, having been a youngster when the "scandal" broke and I had some recollection of several of the characters.
But this author delves into a a whirlpool of often irrelevant information, name dropping, and incredibly boring detail in attempting to set the moral and political context in which the scandal broke.
As such, the reader tends to lose interest rather quickly and, in my case, yearns to get to some interesting subject matter. The story could have been written in half the length and been a much more compelling read. What on earth were his publishers thinking about?
The author also likes to impress with little used adjectives in many places and his obsession with who is related to who...and what they ate for breakfast....is mind numbing.
A great deal of what the author seems to present as fact appears to be solely his personal opinion or interpretation of circumstance. I am not convinced all of it is trustworthy as a result.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A VERY English Affair .., 10 Feb 2013
This review is from: An English Affair (Hardcover)
(Publisher's review copy)

Davenport-Hines was drawn to the Profumo scandal of 1963 as a topic because much of the drama was played out close to where he spent his childhood. For me this is an interesting reprise of something that entertained everyone as a bit of light relief in between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of John F Kennedy. It is also a most valuable corrective. Like most of the public I accepted the ongoing press revelations at the time without engaging any critical faculty. The actual facts can however now be seen, thanks to this author, as greatly at variance with what was fed to us all at the time and which is still trotted out as `history'.

The book is well-structured. Two-thirds are devoted to introducing the players. There is a huge number of them and the author has dug deep to give us a potted biography in each case, starting at the top with Harold Macmillan and working his way down, through the Government, the `Cliveden Set', property developers, spy scandals, Press Barons, and of course Profumo, Stephen Ward, the elegant Christine Keeler and the (to me) almost porcine Mandy-Rice-Davies and a whole galère of other curious and complicated villains ranging from the nasty to the quite extraordinarily nasty. Indeed this is a trip through the sewers of post-war social history, the author leading, torch in hand, to show us all the key features, the chief of which on all sides was massive hypocrisy. Another thread is snobbery from Macmillan - not quite the patrician aristo he affected to be - to the Wykehamist Cecil King decrying his own equals and then complaining at not being given an earldom. The author also exposes, in an entirely believable narrative, gross institutional dishonesty in the Metropolitan Police, shamelessly and deliberately coercing and bullying witnesses in order to frame Stephen Ward for political purposes, the officer responsible being later promoted.

In the run up to the Profumo Affair itself we are thus given a highly readable, entertaining and pacy description of English society at the time, bringing to notice all sorts of fascinating historical novelties as he goes. As the author rightly points out, the ruin of war was still about us, without, and for some, within. The years of Socialist austerity had deliberately extended its miseries on the domestic front, as the Labour Party strove with might and main, by controls and by deliberately punitive taxation, to stamp out enterprise and level everybody down to the lowest common denominator, a mission it has yet to abandon. Small wonder then that the people grasped the Conservative opportunity until, truly, by 1959 they had `never had it so good' and many felt a little hedonism might be in order.

I would have liked to see a separate bibliography although sources are well documented in the Notes. Good use has been made of primary material in the National Archive, but many references are to secondary sources - this is unavoidable so long after the event. This is not the sort of subject where people knowingly leave a trail if they can avoid it. Not only are Keeler's various memoirs on the subject allegedly somewhat confused, but there are all sorts of contradictions between the often exaggerated or self-serving accounts of others. Only now can the subject be so forensically addressed as is here the case. Any publisher of an earlier work such as Knightley and Kennedy's `Affair of State' (1987) (cited) would have been inhibited by the continuing existence of some of the people who can now be safely dissected. The author has the difficult job of making judgments between one account and another. I think he has done this as well as can be; occasionally words like `might' and `would' and `probably' have to be used to paper over the odd gap in order to create a coherent narrative. Just occasionally, as with the threatening of Ward's friend Vasco Lazzolo (p.312), I feel the want of direct authentication. Lazzolo gets a mention in the Times of 31st July 1963 (which is worth reading anyway, as is the rest of the Times coverage of the case).

The volume is served by quiet but useful illustrations. The author has mercifully avoided the cliché of showing Keeler on THAT chair.

Occasionally St Paul's and Selwyn are let down by infelicitous vocabulary - for instance `quashed` and `quelled' (p.xiii), `battledress' (p.6), `careening' (p.80), and `inexorable (p.98). It is a pity when such problems are not trapped in the editing as they inhibit the flow for the reader.

The author takes a poke at post-war use of military titles. He may be unaware that, after being demobilised, wartime officers received a letter thanking them for their services and giving them the right to use their title thereafter, thus recognising that having served in war they deserved to be on the same footing as Regular officers on the Retired List. Wigg was a special case because he was so unlikeable (and I was once told he had something over Harold Wilson).

Sometimes in his choler the author oversteps, as in his criticism of the Appeal Court for not calling witnesses in the case of the Lucky Gordon appeal. The Court rightly limited itself to the matter placed before it, which was Gordon's conviction; their opinion was that the paper evidence before it showed that that conviction was unsafe; there was no call for the Court to go any further and indeed it would have been outside its remit. Successful perjury proceedings followed, as noted; too bad if they were too late for Ward; they might have secured the overturning of his conviction had he not exited the stage as he did.

The author is also wrong if he thinks Lord Hailsham's `bluster' will be universally condemned. Not by all is the answer. Homosexuality is no longer a crime, but as David Laws showed via his expenses hoo-ha it is not universally accepted, and still therefore like ordinary adultery remains a blackmail and therefore security risk. The hypocrisy about divorce has disappeared, but it was part of a discipline which made people work harder at their marriages, not of course always effectively.

When the heat was on, a naval colleague of mine went to answer his doorbell and was surprised to find Profumo and Valerie Hobson there, seeking shelter. Just one of the bits of this story that has yet to come out!

Were any lessons learned? It would seem not. Only ten years later, after their sexual indiscretions stood to be revealed, Ministers Lord Lambton and Earl Jellicoe had to go. Lambton has a walk-on part in `An English Affair' - warning the Chief Whip about dangerous gossip! and was Sir Alec Douglas-Home's first cousin; both this and Lambton's dénouement might have merited a mention in that context.

Personally I think the same force that drives some `Type-A' men to climb the greasy pole also drives them into the wrong bed - Presidents Kennedy and Clinton being examples. Arrogance is part of that character, a confidence that embarassments can be bluffed out. Lloyd George, Thorpe, Maudling, Mellor, Mandelson, Prescott, Huhne - the list is endless and the problem will always be with us. Sometimes, as with Heath and Major, they conceal their peccadilloes until it no longer matters to the public, except as explanation for their conduct - I do wonder if Major forebore to sack Mellor immediately, as he should have done, because he feared his own discovery.

Profumo, clearly a man of great capability, was undone by his priapism, and was a fool not to own up when he had the chance. Ward, a highly successful osteopath and talented artist, was also possibly let down (if he is entirely to be believed) by a certain altruism. His belief that he would be welcome as an amateur secret agent was as naïve as his confusing the natural politeness of his high-placed medical clients with friendship; they merely thought him over-familiar. The expectation that his `friends' would be credible defence witnesses is part of that naivety - nobody can one swear to a negative, let alone that A never slept with B.

Some will ask, why rake over the muck of half a century ago? The answer is that much the same sort of book could be written today, with just the names brought up to date, about MPs' expense fiddling, their protection by an administration on the back foot, and the phone-hacking Press. In that sense the book under review is a parable for our own times; duplicity and avarice are alive and well.
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An English Affair
An English Affair by Richard Davenport-Hines (Hardcover - 3 Jan 2013)
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