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Memoirs: The Perils of Christine

4 minute read

When I was fourteen I lived in a converted railway carriage with my mum and stepfather. I earned fourteen bob a week doing a paper round, and I babysat for extra money. If fathers caught me alone in their houses they often tried to kiss me.

Thus begins the autobiography of Christine Keeler, whom some may remember as the call girl in the scandal that forced John Profumo to resign as Britain’s Minister of War in 1963. She has yet to find a book publisher, but her story is now unfolding in eight installments in the News of the World, a Sunday broadsheet that has built a circulation of 6,500,000 by emphasizing the news of the bedroom. Britons who do not like News of the World ignore it —or pretend to. But its regurgitation of the Profumo affair is provoking outraged cries of “journalistic exhumation” and “cashing in on pornography.” Lord Longford, former leader of the House of Lords, protested that “Jack Profumo has reclaimed his reputation so totally . . . it is quite revolting that some stale old stories are being published.” Last week, as the clamor intensified, a government watchdog agency banned a television commercial promoting the series on grounds that the memoirs offended public feeling.

Some of the criticism, of course, comes from Establishment friends of Profumo, who has been working hard at a social-welfare settlement in London’s East End since resigning from public life. Class considerations aside, many in Britain simply feel that Profumo has earned the right to be let alone. Some also raised a broader question of the citizen’s right to privacy, a right not guaranteed under British law. As politicians talked about such a statute, freewheeling Fleet Street winced. But Lord Devlin, retiring chairman of Britain’s Press Council, told the newspapers that the issue was really in their hands. Speaking two days after the first Keeler installment ran (though without referring to it by name), he urged Britain’s press to police itself and not to try to profit from a man’s “sins, follies and misfortunes.”

Good Lesson. None of the criticism seemed to ruffle Rupert Murdoch, the hustling, young (38) Australian who last January added the News of the World to the seven papers he owns Down Under. After he and his wife Anna read Christine’s manuscript, Murdoch paid £20,000 for serialization rights, describing Christine’s recounting as “a good lesson to all politicians.” A frontpage story accompanying the first installment carried the justification further. Noting that “an ex-King of England” and four Prime Ministers had written their memoirs, it reasoned that “what is good for those out of the top drawer is also good for others who made a contribution to contemporary history.”

The Keeler story recalls Fanny Hill and The Perils of Pauline more than the Duke of Windsor. The first installment tells how a teen-age Christine modeled a bikini for a male photographer who happened to wear women’s shoes. Her further progress: a “black sweeper” deflowers her at 15 or 16, an American soldier gets her pregnant, a landlord spills his “vodka breath” all over her face, a wealthy Arab introduces her to Osteopath Stephen Ward, he introduces her to high society. In the second installment, she recalls a night with Soviet Spy Eugene Ivanov: “Then I threw all reserve to the winds. He was my perfect specimen of a man, a huggy-bear of a man, and he wanted me.”

Stirred by the uproar over the series, Christine took another fling at writing. In a letter to The Times, she decried “all these important gentlemen” who would deny her the right to give her side of the scandal. “Perhaps,” she added, “I am supposed to have been flushed away down the drain forever.” Her choice of imagery seemed apt.

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