SCANDAL ’63 IS A SMALL BUT PUNCHY EXHIBITION to mark the 50th anniversary of the Profumo Affair. The exhibition’s mixture of photographs, paintings, magazines, artwork and ephemera captures the spirit and atmosphere of the period and the choice of exhibits helps to explain why this particular political scandal has retained such a hold on the public interest.
Central to the exhibition is a rare vintage print of Lewis Morley’s iconic photo of Christine Keeler, an image which has been reproduced and parodied hundreds of times. Keeler is straddling a back-to-front chair, her nudity hidden by the chair’s back. Her face is cupped in her hands and framed by her thick lustrous dark hair, her expression is sexy and challenging. The image is tantalising, erotic.
The chair itself is a star. It is a knock-off Arne Jacobson design, sleek and modern. Lewis Morley bought half a dozen of them at a sale in Heals for five shillings apiece. The fake chair, inscribed underneath with the names of others who sat on it, including Joe Orton, is now in the V&A next to the original.
The photo was shot in Morley’s studio, which was on the first floor of the satirical club The Establishment, part-owned by Peter Cook. (Dudley Moore played jazz in the basement.) The rise of satire in the early sixties illustrated the changing public mood and the shifting mores of the time. Everyone was fair game, and titles and positions would no longer protect anyone from scrutiny, judgement and ridicule.
The exhibition features Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon of Harold Macmillan, whose government fell partly as a a result of this scandal, and the Barry Fantoni illustration for the LP featuring the spoken word piece, That Affair. The satirical television show That Was The Week That Was had a field day, one of the highlights being a parody of the old music hall song She Was Poor But She Was Honest. It describes Keeler and Profumo: “See him in the House of Commons/Making laws to put the blame/While the object of his passion/Walks the streets to hide her shame”. It was probably sung on the show by Millicent Martin?
The women involved in the scandal were described as models, showgirls, nightclub hostesses, good-time girls, words which suggest the sleazy glamour of a demi-monde. Offering a different female perspective are Michael Ward’s photos of artist Pauline Boty’s work. This exhibition shares its name with one of Boty’s paintings, a pop art collage which incorporates the celebrated Morley photo with images of John Profumo, Stephen Ward, Johnny Edgecombe, Lucky Gordon, all players in the drama. Pauline Boty, a charismatic figure in the world of art, theatre, television, tragically died in 1966 and is being ‘rediscovered’. There is a retrospective of her work on at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
The original Pauline Boty painting Scandal 63 has been lost. It’s somewhere, probably, but no-one knows where. Or someone does. Another mystery connected with the exhibition is the identity of a woman a sketch of whom was found on the back of Stephen Ward’s drawing of Christine Keeler. Keeler doesn’t know her name and only remembers that she was someone they picked up at a bus stop and took to Cliveden for the weekend, the one during which Keeler and Profumo met for the first time. In his book An English Affair, Richard Davenport Hines says that she may have been the anonymous woman Miss X who testified against Stephen Ward at his trial. Was it her? And why would she betray him like that, if she did? Someone knows.
My novel, Living Doll, touches on these events as seen by schoolgirls at the time. The story was scandalous and entertaining, fodder for juicy gossip and lots of jokes playing on the word ‘cabinet’. (You probably had to be there.)