Posts Tagged ‘Christine Keeler’
Lewis Morley, one half of an iconic spread, is dead, aged 88.
It is often said that the pill and Lady Chatterley’s Love made the permissive society. Alas, the sexual revolution also got its fair share of help from indiscretions of John Profumo, a Tory government minister, for no matter what unflappable judges declared over the previous decade, the Profumo Affair proved otherwise with its steamy reveals about the lives of stiff-upper-lipped establishment types.
While it was a more forgiving age where even the most public of individuals — from Edward VIII to John Kennedy to Labour’s own leader Hugh Gaitskell — could rely on the press to overlook their indiscretions, it was Profumo’s misfortune to become entangled with a call girl named Christine Keeler, who might be also seeing a Russian spy. Revealed alongside were salacious tales of demimondaine brothels, lavish parties, two-way mirrors, and rumors about a naked, masked, and illustrious male “host” whose identity was never revealed. It was a watershed moment for both the British politics and British political reporting.
Ms. Keeler posed famously for Lewis Morley, a famed chronicler of the Swinging Sixties. Morley cleared the studio and turned his back so that Keeler could undress, suggesting she sit astride the chair so the back would shield her. As the 30-minute shoot which burnt up 120 rolls of film was coming to end, Morley turned away, only to notice Keeler “in a perfect position”. The most amours photo was literally the last shot
Morley did not have fond memories of the day. “I never found her sexy,” he said. “She reminded me too much of Vera Lynn!” And as he came to resent its overshadowing of his other work, he called it “that fucking Keeler shot” and parodied it by photographing himself in the same pose with a millstone around his neck. He however signed the chair — a thinly-masked Arne Jacobsen copy — and sold it to the V&A while the National Portrait Gallery bought all original photos.
In May 2000, the United States Coast Guards rescued a sinking boat en route to Florida. To their surprise, on the boat, they found two journalists along with 44 Haitians attempting to enter the United States. Mike Finkel, a writer, and Chris Anderson, a photographer, were on assignment for The New York Times Magazine to document the illegal immigration across the 600 miles of treacherous waters that separate the richest country in the Western Hemisphere from its poorest.
In Haiti, Finkel and Anderson were treated with suspicion by smugglers, fearing that they were working undercover for the CIA, but they eventually braved the crossing, recounted with gusto in a later New York Times Magazine article by Finkel. Finkel carried a homing rescue device for emergencies, but both the reporter and the photographer were reluctant to use it, even when the boat was slowly sinking, and the passengers were out of food and water. They had been tricked by the smugglers into believing that the 10-day journey would be a third of its length. In Magnum Contact Sheets, Anderson remembers the slow sinking of that 23-foot homemade boat expectantly named, “Believe in God”:
Up to that point, I had not taken many pictures. Everyone on the boat knew I was a photographer, but it somehow had not felt right. It’s difficult to explain. But as the boat sank, David, the Haitian whom I had followed on this journey, said to me, ‘Chris, you’d better start making pictures. We only have an hour to live.’ And so, without much thought, I began making pictures.
We were saved at the last moment by a US coast guard cutter that happened upon us, but that’s another story. Much later on, back home safe, I reflected on this question: why make pictures that no one will ever see? The only explanation for me was that the act of photographing had more to do with the explaining of the world to myself than explaining something to someone else. The pictures were about communicating something about my experience, not about reporting literal information. This would be the single most transformative moment of my photographic life.
Perhaps the biggest sex scandal ever to unfold in Britain was the Profumo Affair. In 1963, John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War had a brief relationship with a call girl named Christine Keeler, who also was seeing a known Russian spy Eugene Ivanov. Although Profumo denied under oath that he had ever slept with Christine Keeler, evidence — which included a letter obtained by a London paper — suggested otherwise.
Keeler was introduced to both men by a well-connected osteopath named Stephen Ward. Ward’s trial for charges ranging from running a brothel to arranging abortions was a Rabelaisian pageant, with a parade of vivacious hookers taking the stand and swapping stories of 2-way mirrors, bacchanales with whips and marijuana, and rumors about a naked, masked, and illustrious male “host” whose identity was never revealed. Ward remained defiant throughout the trial, sticking his tongue out at the press, but committed suicide just before the jury returned a verdict.
Ten weeks after his initial denial, Profumo confessed and resigned. A full investigation later revealed that Ivanov had indeed asked Keeler to find out from Profumo when nuclear warheads would be delivered to West Germany. He was recalled to Moscow, committed to a mental institution, and was never heard from again. The official report on the scandal, produced by Lord Denning, was highly anticipated, coming as it did just a few years after Lady Chatterley’s Lover itself went uncensored. However hundreds who queued to buy a copy when it was released at midnight (it was Harry Potter of its day) were disappointed — the report was, well, very judicious.
In the political world, the scandal sounded the death knell of patrician politics of country gentlemen with their salmon rivers, hunting parties, and above all, stiff-upper lips. However, the immediate political hay to be made out of the scandal was marginal, for the then opposition leader Hugh Gaitskell was also having an affair of his own and didn’t want to appear hypocritical. But after Profumo, anti-incumbent mode prevailed. Only a few years before, Harold Macmillan had won a near-landslide victory for the Tories, and the cartoonists dubbed him ‘Supermac’; a few months later, he would be out of office, resigning due to ‘ill health’, leaving the keys to the Downing Street in hands of squeaky-clean and modest, yet hapless Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Next year, the conservative government which had ruled Britain for 14 years lost the election by three seats. One editorial wrote, ”It was not remarkable that Alec lost. It was a miracle that he so nearly won.”
As for Ms. Keeler, she enjoyed her 15 minutes of fame. She posed famously for Lewis Morley at the height of the scandal in a torrid session where rolls of 120 film were shot for a film which never saw the light of day. The most famous photo was the very last one they took that day. Keeler had originally agreed to pose nude but was reluctant, so Morley persuaded Keeler to sit astride a chair so that she would be technically nude and not breach her contract (Keeler later did pose topless for another magazine). The chair, a thinly-masked Arne Jacobsen copy, has since become a symbol of sexual liberation; the original chair was signed by Morley and acquired by the V&A while the National Portrait Gallery bought all original photos. The photos would soon enter the popular culture, parodied by many ranging from David Frost to Dame Edna.