The Profumo Affair – Part Two – The Good Time Girls
For Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, London offered an escape from their small-town pasts and entry into a heady world of clubs, sex and glamour. Much of Christine Keeler’s childhood was spent with her mother and stepfather in two converted railway carriages in the Berkshire village of Wraysbury. Life in the caravan allowed little privacy; although she was close to her mother, she felt threatened by her stepfather’s attentions – she even kept a knife under her pillow, in case he forced himself upon her.
In 1957, at the age of 15, Keeler took a job as a model at a dress shop in London’s Soho quarter. She commuted there daily from Wraysbury. One day, the shop’s sweeper, a Ghanaian student, invited her to his flat, where she lost her virginity to him. Says Keeler: ‘I can’t say I was stimulated by the experience.’
At 16, Keeler was dating American GI’s from military bases in the Wraysbury area. One of the men was Jim, a black sergeant from Laleham Air Force base. Months after he had left for the states, Keeler discovered she was pregnant.
She tried to abort the baby herself with a knitting needle. It was a bloody and bungled affair, and the child was born prematurely on 17 April 1959. It survived just six days. The summer Keeler left Wraysbury, staying briefly in Slough with a friend before heading for London.
Shopgirl to showgirl
While waitressing at a restaurant in Baker Street, Keeler met Maureen O’Connor, a girl who worked at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho. She introduced Keeler to the owner, Percy Murray, who hired her almost immediately as a topless showgirl. As expected of showgirls, Keeler was soon sitting with the customers between acts, encouraging them to buy more drinks.
One night, a rich Arab customer came to Murray’s. He was accompanied by a starlet and a second man – Stephen Ward. Leaning over to Keeler, Ward said, with great charm, ‘You were wonderful in the show.’ He asked what she was doing later. Keeler tried to avoid giving him her ‘phone number, but Ward was insistent and managed to get hold of it before leaving the club that night. The next day, Ward called Keeler three times. She fobbed him off, but he turned up at Wraysbury to charm her mother. On their second date, Ward asked Keeler to move into his flat in Bayswater.
Ward had much to offer Keeler. She was an attractive woman alone in a big city and he could give her security and an undemanding friendship. Unlike most men, Ward did not pester Keeler for sex. She recalled that they were soon living like ‘brother and sister’. Some time after meeting Keeler, Ward decided that he wanted to move to a larger flat. The one person that he knew could help was Peter Rachman – later to be exposed as London’s most unscrupulous property racketeer.
A Dynamic Double – Act
Christine Keeler met Mandy Rice-Davies at Murray’s Cabaret Club in London. ‘It was dislike at first sight,’ Rice-Davies recalls, and Keeler felt the same. Nevertheless, they both found themselves at the same parties and the two became companions. They functioned well together in company and seemed to complement each other – Rice-Davies was shrewd and had a head for money, Keeler did not and was generally disorganised. They also worked well in the bedroom, – it amused them and brought in money for clothes and entertainment.
Mandy Rice – Davies
In 1960, Mandy (‘born Marilyn’) Rice-Davies was 16 years old. Though she grew up in Solihull near Birmingham, her parents were Welsh – her mother, a miner’s daughter, her father, an ex-policeman working for tyre company, Dunlop. At 15, but looking older, she began to model clothes at Marshall & Snelgrove, a Birmingham department store.
Before she turned 16, Rice-Davies lost her virginity to a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. He was helping his parents run their shop in the summer holiday, and the event, she remembers, took place ‘in the room above the sweet shop next to the Odeon cinema.’
Some months later, Rice-Davies was in London, posing as a model at the Earl’s Court launch of a new car called the Mini. The pay for the week was £80; that, plus receptions and glamorous launch parties, gave her a taste of the high life. Rice-Davies packed her bags and headed south.
A host of admirers
On her first day in London, Rice-Davies was hired as a dancer at Murray’s Cabaret Club. Here, the 16-year-old Rice-Davies found many wealthy, often middle-aged, admirers. They included Walter Flack, millionaire partner of the property magnate, Charles Clore (who was to have sex with Keeler for money), and Eric, Earl of Dudley. The Earl showered Rice-Davies with flowers, sent her a case of pink champagne and took her for drives in his Jaguar.
Another admirer was New York millionaire Robert Sherwood. He advised Rice-Davies to go back to Solihull. Rice-Davies, caught up in London’s excitement and glamour, chose to ignore him.
For Part one of this story and a list of players,Click here.
Next week: The first whisper of scandal….