At the beginning of May, just before I left for Spain on a holiday (in the style of Mandy Rice-Davies or Christine Keeler), several newspapers ran the story about a ‘mystery portrait’ by society osteopath and amateur artist Stephen Ward that we had ‘rediscovered’ on the reverse of our portrait of Christine Keeler (NPG 5720).
Consulting our files I found that Playboy executive Victor Lownes’s negotiations had assisted our purchase of the portrait from The Pyms Gallery in 1984. The drawing was previously owned by Keeler and she had typed and signed a note in 1975 authenticating it, adding, ‘I don’t know who the girl on the back is – she is somebody we just picked up at a bus-stop.’ The reverse was shown to me in the conservation studio and revealed the portrait of the girl with the ‘Helen Shapiro’ haircut and full lips. The story became more thrilling when we found the following reference in Scandal!, one of Keeler’s autobiographies (made into a film in 1989, staring John Hurt as Ward and Ian McKellan as John Profumo).
‘It was hot and sticky that night. Wherever we (Keeler and her friend Leon Norell) went, the clubs smelt of stale alcohol and sweat. Although I hadn’t found a girl for Stephen, we decided to leave the city. What a relief it was to feel the cool wind blowing in our faces. Driving past London airport, we offered a lift to a girl waiting at a bus stop. She seemed so nice, so we invited her to the party at Stephen’s cottage...’
Keeler was describing the party at Spring Cottage on the Cliveden estate on the weekend of 8 and 9 of July 1961 when Keeler as a guest of Ward, was introduced to John Profumo, the Minister of War. He had been dining with Lord Astor whose seat was the grand Italianate house overlooking the Thames in Buckinghamshire. On my visit there recently, I had a peek at the walled pool where they first met, Keeler only covered by a small towel. That she was driven home the following day by the Russian attaché Eugene Ivanov meant that when the story erupted in the press in 1963, the potential security breach was made much of.
It has been suggested that our mystery portrait could be ‘Miss X’ who testified at Ward’s trial or a hitch hiker picked up by Keeler and her boyfriend Noel Howard-Jones, or as Norell recalled, possibly a girl named Ursula. However the mystery remains as does the immense interest in the events of fifty years ago. In his illuminating talk on 23 May, Richard Davenport-Hines described his doubts that Keeler ever had an affair with Ivanov and that Ward had been ruthlessly scapegoated by the law and the press. Tom Mangold in Profumo Confidential aired on Radio 4 on 25 May shared new evidence found in the diaries of Lord Denning’s secretary Thomas Critchley. Ward was clear that he was not guilty of the crimes he was being convicted for and wrote in a suicide note to Noel Howard-Jones; ‘I am sorry to disappoint the vultures...times were once good.’
One of the many press photographs that were sourced for the display by my colleague Terence Pepper, but that we were unable to include shows photographer, television presenter and writer Daniel Farson in 1963. He is hanging an exhibition of portraits by Ward of antique dealer Adele de Havilland at his Isle of Dogs pub, The Waterman’s Arms. Our display includes the photograph of Ward shown at Farson’s feet. We do not know who took this striking portrait of Ward; could it have been Farson’s friend John Deakin?
In 1963 and across the last fifty years there have been several versions of the events told through film, music, journalism, satire and art. Clive Irving’s study of the Profumo affair and Pauline Boty’s pop art painting both carried the title Scandal ’63. Photographs of Boty, by Michael Ward and Lewis Morley, show that Morley’s infamous Keeler shot was used by Boty at a final stage of the work. The first retrospective of Boty’s work opened at Wolverhampton Art Gallery on 1 June 2013, but it does not include Scandal ’63 as its whereabouts is not known. And so another mystery awaits a solution....
Image Credits (from top to bottom)
Left: Christine Keeler, drawing by Stephen Ward, 1961. ©reserved
Right: Unknown woman, drawing by Stephen Ward, 1961. ©reserved
Left: Scandal! By Christine Keeler, published by Xanadu, 1989. ©reserved
Right: John Hurt as Stephen Ward and Ian McKellan as John Profumo by Trevor Leighton, 1988. © Trevor Leighton
Left: Swimming Pool at Cliveden, May 2013. ©Clare Freestone
Right: The Profumo Affair was international news: The front page of the Winnipeg Free Press, 10 June 1963, shows the much reproduced photograph of Ward with Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies and Paula Hamilton- Marshall. © Winnipeg Free Press
Daniel Farson hanging ‘The Seventeen Faces of Adele by Stephen Ward’, August 1963. ©reserved