An Affair of State

Title:                      An Affair of State

Author:                Phillip Knightley

Knightley, Phillip (1987) and Caroline Kennedy. An Affair of State: The Profumo Case And The Framing of Stephen Ward. London: J. Cape

LCCN:    88178149

DA591.P7 K65 1987b


Date Posted:      October 23, 2015

Review by Anthony Howard[1]

Spy episodes apart, there have been only two great, echoing scandals in British political history. One, in the 17th century, was about religion; under the inspired manipulation of an Anglican clergyman, Titus Oates, it came near to compromising the Crown itself when Oates implicated all kinds of people in an imaginary “Popish plot” to dethrone King Charles II in 1678. The other, which almost toppled an elected government, did not surface until the second half of the 20th century; predictably, it was about sex.

It is usually known as “the Profumo affair”—and understandably so, since it led in June 1963 to the resignation and disgrace of a Minister of the Crown, John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War. After denying any “impropriety” to the House of Commons, Mr. Profumo eventually confessed to having had a sexual relationship with Christine Keeler, a highly attractive 18-year-old prostitute. In the wake of that disclosure—and in the supercharged “swinging London” atmosphere of the 1960s—few reputations began to seem safe. There were even rumors of eight judges having been involved in an orgy (reducing the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, to murmuring: “One perhaps, two conceivably—but eight, I just can’t believe it”).

Astonishingly, it all happened only just under a quarter of a century ago—and it is hard today to understand why the hapless Mr. Profumo’s admission should have created quite the climate of suspicion and calumny that it did. If there is an explanation, it lies perhaps not in the character and personality of the now wholly rehabilitated John Profumo, but rather in the activities and associations of the man who unconsciously played the role of Titus Oates—the osteopath and society artist Stephen Ward.

Ward, the son of a clergyman from the seaside resort of Torquay, was one of those flotsam figures who float on the surface of high society. His undoubted aptitude—acquired at the Kirksville College of Osteopathy and Surgery in Missouri—for setting bones and curing aching joints brought him his first contact with the politically eminent, starting with Averell Harriman and Winston Churchill. He reveled in the sense of importance this gave him—and also in the entree, which followed, to the fashionable world, where he exercised his equally striking gift for creating lifelike sketches of various illustrious figures (including members of the royal family).

Alas, along with this association with the great went a distinctly bohemian style of life. Ward, only 50 years old when he died, appears to have seen himself as a kind of Pygmalion figure—picking up young girls, sometimes literally from the streets, taking them under his wing and eventually introducing them to his grander friends. The allegation eventually made against him—leading to a notoriously biased trial at the Old Bailey, which resulted in his conviction (though only after he had taken a fatal drug overdose)—was that he was living off the “immoral earnings” of the young courtesans he supplied to such rich acquaintances as Mr. Profumo and Lord Astor.

It is the central contention of An Affair of State that Ward was never guilty of any such thing; that he was, in fact, framed; and that the wreath Kenneth Tynan, Joe Orton and John Osborne, among others, sent to his funeral, bearing the legend, “Stephen Ward, Victim of Hypocrisy,” told nothing less than the truth.

Phillip Knightley, an author and investigative reporter, and Caroline Kennedy, a freelance journalist, certainly make an eloquent plea for sympathy for their hero—and with some justification: the fall of Ward was hardly the finest hour of the British ruling class (nearly all of whom, whether grateful patients or flattered portrait-sitters, promptly turned their backs on him once he got into trouble with the police). And yet, over and over again, they tend to give their story a weight it will not quite bear. The suggestion, repeated three times, that Mr. Profumo, before his unfortunate meeting with Ward, was on the sure path to becoming Prime Minister is simply absurd. Nor are the authors much more convincing with their assertion—and that is all it is—that Ward was arrested and charged on the direct orders of the Home Secretary, a worthy, if pedestrian, Tory politician named Henry Brooke. As for their attempt to drag in J. Edgar Hoover and President Kennedy, it seems to have been designed more to produce a tingle of excitement than to evoke any authentic ring of proof.

The truth was that Ward was a congenital name-dropper and snob who—though he was undoubtedly treated unfairly—largely brought his troubles upon himself. For he was an incurable meddler, who plainly allowed an approach for help made to him in 1961 by a branch of M.I.5 (the British counterintelligence agency) involving his friendship with a Soviet naval attaché, Yevgeny Ivanov, to go to his head. He seems to have believed almost to the end that M.I.5 would step in and save him. Ironically, that perhaps serves as the final proof of his innocence—or at least of his naiveté. VON BULOW RIDES TO THE RESCUE

Ward’s friends would have to consider their position very carefully because this was going to be a very dirty case. . . . One of Ward’s friends, the Dane Claus von Bulow, made a risky intervention. Von Bulow, who had been Paul Getty’s personal assistant . . . was astonished that more of Ward’s friends had not spoken up for him. So when he . . . happened to meet Lord Hailsham, von Bulow seized the moment to say that Ward had had many an opportunity to offer girls to Getty and enrich himself in doing so, but that he knew for certain that Ward had not. He asked Hailsham to pass this information on to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Dilhorne. Since Ward had by that time been charged, or was about to be, Dilhorne could very well have considered von Bulow’s attempts to help Ward as interfering with the course of justice.

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[2]

From Weymouth Street turn left into Wimpole Mews. On your right is 17 Wimpole Mews. I’ve never found the bullet-marks (reported to exist) that catapulted the resident of this house onto Page One of all the tabloids in the early 1960s—and toppled a British government. This singular drama of sex and the secret world was described recently by The Sunday Times as “Britain’s worst cold war political scandal.” It received further attention when one of the latest tell-all (and invent-more) accounts emerged from Moscow in 1992. The following Is what we know now, or can deduce, about the Ward-Keeler-Ivanov-Profumo case.

Stephen Ward, who lived here, was an osteopath with a glittery clientele of maharajahs, kings and leading figures of society and entertainment. He gained the friendship of some of his clients through his osteopathic skills; he kept their friendship by providing them with “popsies.” Christine Keeler was one of the striking young women whom Ward took into his home (apparently not into his bed). He taught these women how to manage in social situations—and, going beyond Professor Higgins, how to enhance the sexual pleasures of the jaded, the perverse, the uninhibited. Ward possessed a.few fetishes of his own, not to mention an interest in all things kinky.

Ward met Yevgeny Ivanov, assistant naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy, through the good offices of a patient—Colin Coote, editor of The Daily Telegraph. (Coote had published Ward’s drawings of the Eichmann trial; Ward now wanted to sketch each Politburo member, and Coote thought Ivanov might get Ward a visa.) Ivanov and Ward became friends. Ivanov argued politics with MPs at Ward’s flat, played bridge with Ward’s aristocratic friends in their homes, and stayed at Ward’s weekend cottage on the estate of Lord Astor. And he knew Ward’s young women.

Suddenly in May, 1961, Ivanov was identified to MI5 as an important GRU officer. (Oleg Penkovsky had been identifying all Soviet intelligence officers in Britain to prove his bona fides.) MI5 already knew of Ivanov’s pleasures in London. He seemed ripe for ai “honeytrap.” If all went well, he might be blackmailed into becoming an agent-in-place. Failing that, he· might still be blackmailed into defecting. MI5 asked Ward’s help in springing the honeytrap. Ward agreed.

Then, as often happens, the unexpected happened. The Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, met Christine Keeler at Lord Astor’s swimming pool and began a liaison with her—while she was keeping some sort of company with Ivanov (among others). When one of her West Indian lovers appeared outside the Wimpole Mews flat with, a gun, late in 1962, firing at the building to emphasize his eagerness to see her, the press took notice. A “freelance model” in the home of a society osteopath? And a violent. black man threatening to storm the place? Soon enough the press gave people·the story they really wanted—true or not—about Keeler’s simultaneous relationships with a Soviet diplomat and a British Cabinet Minister, and about her efforts to wheedle state secrets from the latter to give to the former. Profumo lied to a crowded House of Commons; claiming “no impropriety whatsoever” in his “acquaintanceship” with Keeler. Ivanov meanwhile had been hustled back to Moscow at the first whiff of scandal.

The idea of pursuing Profumo soon subsided. He had his enemies but was part of the Establishment. Ward was not. In July, 1963, four months after Profumo’s denial of wrongdoing and two months after Profumo’s resignation from the Cabinet anyway (after it was clear that he had lied), Ward was brought to trial. The most prominent of the absurd charges against him was “living on immoral eamings.If anything, the young women were living on his earnings.

The trial was unquestionably a travesty of justice. Ward’s girls later recanted testimony coerced from them by police. The jury knew nothing of Keeler’s prior conviction for perjury. The judge, in a shocking display of partiality, suggested that Ward’s wealthy friend had deserted him because he was guilty. (They deserted him because he didn’t matter to them. And perhaps MI5 wouldn’t have abandoned him so readily if he had been of a different class.) The jury brought a verdict of guilty later on the same day that Ward was rushed to hospital. He had taken an overdose of Nembutal—“to disappoint the vultures”, he wrote in a farewell letter. He died three days later, unaware of the verdict that could have imprisoned him for 14 years at a time when pimps were customarily only fined. But hf already knew that he had lost his practice, his friends, even his status as an artist, the BBC having savaged his show of drawings earlier that week.

Ward’s trial turned the public’s attention from worries aboui national security to jokes about flagellation. But governments are not inclined to be grateful when they have their own troubles (as the Macmillan government did, largely over this case; the Prime Ministe resigned later in 1963). And the secret services are not inclined to make statements of sympathy on behalf of individuals in their employ; MI5 had cut Ward adrift, his case-officer only Iater confessing that they felt “very sorry” for Ward and were “very cut up” at what happened. The honeytrap operation remained secret until the early 1980s when Nigel West broke the story in The Circus: Ml. Operations 1945-1972[3] and when The Sunday Times found and interviewed the MI5 officer who had recruited Ward.

The above account cannot begin to include all the events and characters in the drama. The so-called “American connection” which linked several of Ward’s girls to President Kennedy. Or Ward’s part (with Ivanov) in back-channel communications between Britain an the USSR during the Cuban missile crisis. Or the official inquiry by Lord Denning (senior judge of the Court of Appeal), who seemed determined to ignore any possible connection between MI5 and the evil Ward, and to cover up any possible damage to national security from the whole business. The twists and turns of plot are presented in detail and with relish in Honeytrap: The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward (1987) by Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril[4], and An Affair of State: The Profumo Case and the Framing of Stephen Ward (1987) by Phillip Knightley and Caroline Kennedy[5] (no, not that Caroline Kennedy).

For a wholly different interpretation of the Profumo affair see Chapman Pincher’s Too Secret Too Long (1984)[6]. Pincher holds that Ward was never recruited as an agent by MI5 but promised only to keep MI5 informed of anything interesting concerning Ivanov. Ward may well have served as an agent for Ivanov, says Pincher (Keeler thought so), even organizing the Ivanov-Keeler liaison in order to entrap Profumo. Ward was so sympathetic to communism, notes Pincher, that some of his patients “appear to have reported him to MI5 as an agent of influence.” The real villain, for Pincher, however, is Sir Roger Hollis (see Site 52, 18 Elsham Road, and Site 54, 6 Campden Hill Square). Hollis continually minimized the security aspects of the matter: failing to inform Macmillan at the time, considering the matter closed when Ivanov departed, and misleading Lord Denning afterward even as to the information that Keeler was instructed to get from Profumo (it was nothing so complicated as “atomic secrets” says Pincher, but was simply the date of delivery of nuclear warheads to West Germany, information she would surely have been able to request and Profumo would probably have been able to supply).

For 30 years, until 1992, nothing was heard from Ivanov until The Naked Spy[7] appeared, written for a British publisher ostensibly by Ivanov, now 6S years old and (I am told) drinking heavily in Moscow. Ivanov tells us that he was ready to blackmail Profumo about Profumo’s affair with Keeler, until Keeler sold the gaudy story to the tabloids and ruined everything. Ivanov claims to have obtained ample secret information· on his own, photographing or stealing important apers from the homes of Lord Astor, Profumo and Churchill. Is The Naked Spy the unclad truth? The book caused the nonagenarian Lord Denning to declare Ivanov “a much more effective spy than I ever believed.” But Mrs. Profumo insisted that Ivanov never visited the Profumo home and couldn’t have obtained secret documents there. She received a public apology in the High Court: Ivanov’s claims were proclaimed “false in every material respect” and the publisher agreed to pulp undistributed copies of the book.

I don’t think that Ivanov gleaned secrets from pillow-talk; I doubt whether Keeler could have interrogated Profumo about nuclear weapons for Germany, no matter who might have prompted her (Ward? Ivanov?) to ask. But did Ward give information to Ivanov as Ivanov claims? Why? And how would Ward have got it? And how can Ivanov be so certain that Ward didn’t work for MI5? Because Ward told him so? It’s a seller’s market in spy memoirs these days in the former Soviet Union.

My own view of Ward is that he was a naif, a social climber who got in over his head. He saw himself as an arranger—with his society friends, his MI5 contacts, even with Ivanov—never imagining that he was the one being used. He made some powerful friends and some powerful enemies; unfortunately for him; his enemies proved more steadfast than his friends. And then, of course, there was the political; opposition to the Conservative Party, delighted by an orgy-filled scandal among the upper· classes. Knowing what I know about politics, and about life, I suspect that the opposition would be as uncomfortable in a monastery as the Tories would be. Maybe it was just the Tories’ turn to get caught. It usually is.

[1] Howard, Anthony, “The Wages Of Hanky-Panky,” in the New York Times (September 20, 1987). Anthony Howard is the deputy editor of The Observer of London. His most recent book is Rab: The Life of R. A. Butler. Downloaded October 23, 2015.

[2] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, p.

[3] West, Nigel (1983). The Circus: MI5 Operations, 1945-1972. New York: Stein and Day

[4] Summers, Anthony (1987) and Stephen Dorril. Honeytrap. London: Weidenfeld

[5] Knightley, Phillip (1987) and Caroline Kennedy. An Affair of State: The Profumo Case And The Framing of Stephen Ward. London: J. Cape

[6] Pincher, Chapman (1984). Too Secret, Too Long. New York: St. Martin’s Press

[7] Ivanov, Yevgeny (1992). The Naked Spy. London : Blake [OCLC: 60006998


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