I’ve got all the books about the sixties Profumo affair political scandal, sometimes spending £12 on an old out-of-print book I hadn’t got to complete my collection. Even though the scandal happened before I was born I’m still drawn to it and here I am outside the apartment block in Chelsea where the central figure - Stephen Ward - took a fatal overdose before the trial’s verdict came out.
The trial that resulted from the Profumo affair orbited around Stephen. He was an osteopath who mixed in low and high social circles, mixing prostitutes and the aristocracy. He lived in central London and specialised in lost souls - one of these was a 19-year-old model Christine Keeler. He took her under his wing and she moved into his mews flat. Being a lively lass looking for kicks she had a brief affair with two of Stephen’s friends: John Profumo who was the Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan's Conservative government and a Russian naval attaché called Yevgeny Ivanov who was probably a low-grade spy. All this would have remained under the radar of the national newspapers however one of Christine’s other boyfriends arrived at the flat and tried shooting his way in. The press was alerted, saw what a three-ring circus they could make of minister and a Russian spy poking the same hole and a mushroom bomb of news exploded.
At the “trial of the century” Stephen was accused of living off the earnings of prostitutes, providing them to his upper class chums. It was all nonsense. Stephen liked the soft underbelly of society (especially young women looking for misadventures) and the cream at the top of it, often mixing the two. He was a highly-paid osteopath and gifted artist who wasn’t interested in money (he was earning £5500/year, a substantial sum at that time), loving the swirls and spins a well-connected social life brings. He attended sex parties as a voyeur (he always kept his socks on) but nearly every person in a high place deserted him when a court trial ensued.
The casualties of the Profumo affair were the MP John Profumo (who resigned) and the Conservative Party (the scandal contributed to its defeat by the Labour Party) but Stephen was the only fatality. Though he could survive a prison sentence he knew he’d never return to the halcyon days of high society parties, weekends on the Cliveden Estate (where his chum Viscount Astor let him rent a cottage) and the life of a fashionable osteopath to the rich and famous. He knew he would never being able to live as a social leper, being called a ponce or a “red” (a Russian sympathiser.) He’d probably have received a seven year sentence and served three years but his eco was fragile to survive this.
Here I am at where the 50-year-old’s life came to an end. It’s a neat apartment block on a quiet street in Chelsea; only one car drove up while I was there for fifteen minutes. A few pigeons were flapping around but vultures were circling in Stephen’s mind in July 1963 when he was out on bail and had taken refuge from the trial at the flat of his friend Noel Howard-Jones. Stephen was sleeping here on the couch in the lounge. At 8:30am Noel was in bed when he heard the telephone ringing the lounge. He answered the call but turned to see his friend unconscious, a shade of purple and open-mouthed. He slapped his face and he breathed just once. It was too late; some time through the night Stephen had penned suicide notes and swallowed barbiturates. Noel rang for an ambulance and within twenty minutes Stephen was in St Stephen’s hospital. While there the jury returned a verdict of guilty of living off the immoral earnings or Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. At 3:45am on Saturday 3rd August 1963 he died when attempts to retrieve him from deterioration with a tracheotomy and heart massage failed.
Decades later a former MI6 agent called Lee Tracey claimed Stephen was fed a lethal dose of barbiturates by an MI5 agent to stop him exposing intelligence activity and public figures involved in sex parties though he very probably killed himself. One morning I’m sure I’ll read in the newspapers that Stephen has been officially exonerated. He might have been an emotionally-immature smarmy charmer with a few perversions but his fragile ego
Another couple of shots of the street…