The death of the friend of Christine Keeler reminds Peter Frost that the cover-up of Tory sex scandals has a long history
Mandy Rice-Davies, who together with Christine Keeler was at the heart of the Profumo affair which rocked Harold Macmillan’s Tory government in the early 1960s, has died aged 70 after a short illness.
Amazingly, despite her major role in the scandal, Rice-Davies never actually met Secretary of State for War John Profumo (below) who had a brief affair with Christine Keeler — Rice-Davies’s flatmate and friend who at the same time Keeler was sleeping with a Russian diplomat.
Profumo famously lied to a packed House of Commons, stating “there was no impropriety whatever in my acquaintance with Miss Keeler.” That lie sealed his fate and helped bring down Macmillan’s government.
Rice-Davies and Keeler were teenage exotic cabaret dancers in a Soho Club. They had sexual relationships with many high-powered men including peers, government ministers, rich — and sometimes criminal — businessmen, violent slum landlords, Soviet diplomats and a drug dealer or two.
The two women denied being prostitutes but rather described themselves simply as good-time girls enjoying the new sexual attitudes of the swinging Sixties.
Rice-Davies hit the headlines in the witness box of the Old Bailey. Lord Astor, whose Cliveden Mansion (below) was the scene of so many of the ’60s scandals, denied he had sex with Rice-Davies. Her famous response was “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”
Her cheeky answer didn’t just demonstrate a new lack of deference to the old order. It also rocked the Establishment and won her a place in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
This was at a time when a whole cesspit of political scandals were, as we are only now beginning to discover, being systematically buried, covered up or whitewashed. High-ranking Tories had always believed not just that they were born to rule, but that they were beyond the law and untouchable. Many still do.
Take just one example: Lord Boothby. A Tory MP for more than 30 years, Boothby was bisexual. He had had a long affair with Dorothy, wife of Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Some claim he even fathered some of Macmillan’s children.
At this time male homosexual activity was a criminal offence but that didn’t worry this Tory lord. In 1963 Boothby began an affair with a teenage burglar, Leslie Holt. Holt’s other lover was gangster Ronald Kray.
Kray supplied Boothby with young men and arranged homosexual orgies. The Kray twins received personal and political favours from Boothby and other Tories in return.
When the story broke no Tory paper would print it. The Daily Mirror carried the story and Boothby threatened to sue. Massive political pressure forced the Mirror to back down. It sacked its editor, apologised and paid Boothby £40,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
The cover-ups continue today. We know that many sex-abuse scandals are still being hushed up decades after the events.
The secret service files of Stephen Ward, a well-connected osteopath and artist and a key player in the Profumo affair, have never been released. Ward was convicted of living off illegal earnings in a trial widely seen as an Establishment stitch- up in revenge for the Profumo scandal. He died of an overdose of sleeping pills before the verdict was announced.
Many people believe that Ward was murdered during his trial to ensure his silence. Certainly huge pressure, including arrest and imprisonment, was applied to Rice-Davies to get her to testify against Ward.
Marilyn Rice-Davies was born in Wiltshire on October 21 1944. Her father was an ex-policeman but moved to Solihull to work for Dunlop.
Young Mandy, a rebel at school, enjoyed games and art. She sang in the local church choir and kept a pony by doing a paper round and other jobs.
The pretty 15-year-old got a Saturday job at Marshall & Snelgrove in Birmingham. She was soon doing a little modelling.
In 1960, aged 16, she was a model at the Earls Court Motor Show posing on the bonnet of the new Austin Mini.
Being paid £80 for the week’s work convinced her to leave school and move to London. Lying about her age, she got a job as a dancer at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho where she met Keeler.
Keeler introduced Rice-Davies to Ward and Lord Astor. The two men helped pay the rent for the two young women to live in a Kensington flat.
Still only 16, Rice-Davies met Keeler’s ex-boyfriend, Peter Rachman, a notorious slum landlord. Rice-Davies became his paid mistress for nearly two years. He bought her a brand new Jaguar car.
During this period, Rice-Davies also met dancer and prostitute Maria Novotny, who was notorious for her London sex parties. Many senior politicians including Profumo and transport minister Ernest Marples attended these parties, which offered all kinds of unusual sex. Wits called Novotny the government’s chief whip.
In February 1961 Keeler moved in with Ward, who provided young and attractive women for many society parties.
Keeler says that spy Anthony Blunt and MI5 head Roger Hollis were regular visitors to the flat. So was Eugene Ivanov, a defence attaché at the Soviet embassy.
On July 8 1961 Keeler met Profumo at a swimming pool party at Cliveden when she emerged from the pool naked and the minister of war handed her a towel. They began an affair. At the same time Keeler was sleeping with Ivanov.
Rice-Davies suffered for being such a public part of the Profumo scandal. She was arrested on charges involving a forged driving licence and stealing a rented TV. During nine days in Holloway the police out pressure on her to give evidence against Ward.
Amazingly by the time she was 21 it was all over for Rice-Davies and she left the country to find work abroad.
There would be three marriages, some film and theatre work, a book or two and her own restaurant and bar in Israel. She would appear on countless chat shows but her real life story was crammed into those five years between coming to London at 16 and self-imposed exile at 21.
She did spend Florida holidays in later life with her third husband and Margaret and Denis Thatcher — so at least one very high-ranking Tory forgave her.
In the half a century since the Profumo affair we have seen so many sex scandals involving not just Tory politicians but also royalty, prime ministers, other high-ranking politicians, civil servants, police, military and intelligence figures.
We have had Jimmy Savile, Cyril Smith, the Elm Guest house, Dolphin House boy murders, missing lists of paedophiles, organised abuse in children’s homes and a hundred more examples.
In every case the Establishment has rallied round to deny, hush-up, prevaricate, white-wash and simply lie through their teeth. They are doing it still.
If we were looking for a single comment that sums up that reaction we can do no better than slightly misquote Mandy Rice-Davies — “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”