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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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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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on 24 December 2012
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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on 23 February 2013
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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on 26 March 2015
I must admit, I do love a bit of scandal! So when I saw 'Profumo' in the book's title, I ordered it! But if you read the title carefully, you will notice that it is not strictly a book about the Profumo affair which, of course, has been written about in great detail over recent decades. It is, rather, a book that explores the general cultural 'weather' of the times... in the prevailing attitudes regarding class, politicians, journalistic practices, marriage, the role of women, infidelity. So it is not really what I expected nor what I was looking for. I got disheartened and bogged down in the layers of detail and finally gave up on the book - something I rarely do. If you are looking for a comprehensive look at the culture of Britain in the early 1960s, you may find this book is perfect. If you are looking for yet a little more salacious gossip regarding the Profumo affair, you will be disappointed.
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on 29 August 2013
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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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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on 8 April 2013
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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on 24 May 2013
A terrific read, taking us first through the dramatis personae of the Profumo Affair, and then through the case itself. No-one comes out of it with much sympathy, but the writing is superb, clear, amusing in many places, laugh-out-loud in others, and desperately sad most of the way. I would thoroughly recommend it, particularly to anyone who has a memory of those extraordinary times, and to anyone who thinks that feminism hasn't achieved anything over the last 50 years.
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on 29 July 2013
This book zings. The author has crammed a huge amount of history into a highly enjoyable book which, apart from detailing the Profumo affair, tells us so much from the birth of the "gutter press" to the seamy life where the Police stitched innocent people up and did deals with crooks. The book deals sympathetically with those whose lives were ruined by the press, gives an interesting view of the homophobic times when anti-gay laws led to prison sentences and chronicles the beginning of the Swinging Sixties.

Highly recommended, you won't go wrong with buying this.
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on 29 August 2013
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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