My claims to fame as a publisher are small-to-nonexistent but if I’m known for anything it’s as the one responsible for Christine Keeler’s book Scandal which was made into a very successful movie in 1989. In the process I got to know Christine pretty well, and even now people sometimes ask me what she was really like.
I’ve tried a few times to write about her but found it difficult. The thought of summarizing the whole Profumo Affair of 1963 by way of introduction seems superfluous since there have been so many books, movies and tv series about it and anyone who’s only casually interested can find plenty of material on Wikipedia and elsewhere, and a further problem is that although Christine herself is now dead she has relatives and friends still living and I wouldn’t wish to embarrass them, especially her son Seymour whom I got to know and like, so I’ll confine myself to a few brief anecdotes.
Background: The producers of the movie Scandal wanted to tie it in with my publication of the book, which was good news for its prospects (it became a best-seller, earned Christine quite a lot of money and got me the house I still live in) but meant that Christine would have to do a lot of promo, and having parted company with her agent she asked me if I would take on that job as well. I should also explain that although we had some tricky moments I liked Christine very much and deplored the way she had been treated, so I felt obliged to look after her interests as best I could.
OK, here are the anecdotes.
♦ She was scheduled to appear on the BBC’s prime-time chat show which was then being hosted by Sue Lawley, and the day before there had been the usual briefing in a hotel with an assistant running though possible questions Christine might be asked and assuring us that it would be a friendly interview.
Next day at the Beeb the makeup girl was applying cream to Christine’s face and Christine liked the results. “That’s marvellous stuff!” she said; “What is it?” “Oh, I’m afraid this is only for sale to professionals,” said the girl, and we were hustled on to the green room where we got to meet John Hurt who was also appearing on the show, having played Stephen Ward in the film. Fine actor, very nice guy.
Just before Christine was due to appear the assistant from the previous day arrived in some distress. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “but I’m afraid that Sue Lawley has decided to take a much tougher line of questioning. Really sorry.” There was no time to reconsider so we made our way down to the set and if the camera had panned a bit wider I might have been seen more or less shoving Christine onto the stage hissing “Good luck.”
I thought she handled it pretty well in the circumstances — judge for yourself here — and as we left I felt a tug on my sleeve and slowed down. It was the makeup girl: “I didn’t like to tell her,” she whispered, “but that stuff was actually hemorrhoid cream.”
♦ I got to see a bit of the high life myself. I wonder what the neighbours would have made of me in full evening dress being picked up from our quiet backwater by a chauffeur-driven stretch limo to take me to the movie première, but I don’t think any of them were watching, damn it. There were a few other such glitzy occasions too, and I remember:
- Noticing a famous newsreader sneaking out of an awards ceremony with a full bottle of scotch in each hand.
- Seymour wearing jeans to the star-studded Scandal première.
- Finding myself alone in a lift with Britt Ekland who was looking fantastic in a shimmering and very tight-fitting outfit. “I can’t sit down in this dress,” she said with a dazzling smile. I’m still trying to think of a suitable reply.
- Escorting Christine to some function and being asked by the paparazzi outside “Who are you?” and telling them that I was nobody in particular and certainly not the new man in Christine’s life, though I did look rather carefully at the newspapers the next day …
- Feeling rather miffed at never getting to meet Joanne Whalley, who had done a beautiful job of playing Christine in the movie. She missed all the Scandal promo by going to the US to make another movie and marrying Val Kilmer. So selfish.
- Walking through the West End and hearing a cry of “Richard!” It came from John Hurt, who was sitting by himself drinking coffee at a table outside a pub. I was amazed that he remembered me and even knew my name, but I joined him and we had a friendly chat, mostly about Scandal and Christine, whom he had liked very much. As I said, a nice guy.
♦ It promised to be an exciting day out, a glimpse into the world of rock stars, movie-making … showbiz! Christine had been approached about making a cameo appearance in a video promoting Bryan Ferry’s new single ‘Kiss and Tell’, which meant a trip to Pinewood Studios with the full star treatment. The call was for 12 noon with a chauffeur-driven limo laid on, so we left Christine’s council flat in some style with Christine’s son Seymour, then a rather stage-struck teenager, and my assistant Liz. On the way we listened to a tape of ‘Kiss and Tell’ and by the time we got to Pinewood we were sick of it.
Christine was given her own spacious suite there. We settled ourselves in and waited … and waited. At various times people came in and told Christine that she was wanted in make-up or wardrobe and she disappeared for a while, and Bryan himself popped in to say hello, and we went down to the set to see the guitarist miming his solo, but mostly we just waited. We were told that we could help ourselves to food from the buffet downstairs, and we did — the Beef Wellington was excellent — but mostly we just waited.
Liz and I snuck off to have a look around Pinewood and found that the door to the huge James Bond set was open, so we went in and Liz took a photo of me climbing up a rope that was dangling from the high roof, 007 to the life, then we wandered around some more before returning to Christine’s suite to find that nothing was happening. More food, more desultory conversation …
Evening came and as it was clear that it would still be some time before filming would start they put the limo at our disposal for a couple of hours, and we cruised around the Berkshire countryside for a while before going to an historic old pub that I knew in Penn, but none of us wanted to drink — Christine was on her best behaviour — so we headed back to Pinewood and yet more hanging around.
It was midnight before Christine was eventually called to the set. Dressed in furs she looked very stylish but for some reason there was a wind machine, and Liz and I were ordered off the set when her hat blew off and we laughed. The video did get made eventually (Mandy Smith played the younger woman who had also supposedly kissed and told. She was beautiful and friendly.) and the result can be seen here and there’s a bit more of Christine to be seen in the extended version here. The limo took Christine and Seymour home in the early hours but dawn was breaking by the time Liz and I got back to Crouch End.
Seymour and I agree that what had looked to be so exciting turned out to be one of the most boring days of our lives, and neither of us ever want to hear ‘Kiss and Tell’ again.
♦ During the course of the Scandal promotion strange things were happening back in the office. There were repeated phone calls from a man wanting to set up some sort of meeting with Christine in the Birmingham area. He wouldn’t say any more to my secretary so I took the calls. He said that a group of businessmen wanted to set up this rendezvous and that there would be money involved. It sounded extremely dubious but Christine was always pretty keen to earn money and this was her moment in the spotlight, so trying to be a conscientious agent I tried to find out exactly what would be involved, but the man was vague and wouldn’t even tell me his name. In the end I just told him that we didn’t take anonymous phone calls and hung up on him whenever he called.
I still wonder what was really going on with those calls. Was it an attempted newspaper sting or, worse, MI6 poking about trying to find out whether I’d be tempted to act as Christine’s pimp, the new Stephen Ward? The publicist Max Clifford wasn’t so well known then but it soon became apparent that he wanted to get in on the Scandal buzz, and he signed up a woman called Pamella Bordes who had been ‘seeing’ various famous men and soon she was being prominently featured in the newspapers as ‘the new Christine Keeler’, not without substantial payment I imagine.
Max Clifford died in prison in 2017 after a sex scandal of his own so I guess I’ll never know if he was the mysterious man from Birmingham. Ms Bordes appears to have changed her name and retired into private life.
♦ When she wasn’t telling her story for the umpteenth time Christine had a great sense of humour. Whenever we met she usually had a new joke to tell or a new bit of scandal to share, and she liked to tease me. “Why aren’t you married, Richard?” she once said mischievously; “You’re such a nice chap.” [I’m not making this up, honest] “Well, how about it then, Christine,” I replied; “You and me. You could teach me such a lot.” “Oh, I don’t think so.” she laughed … and so on. She could be great fun.
♦ Pam the PR woman was in a panic when I arrived late at the Hilton: “Where the hell have you been, Richard? They’re chasing Christine all over the place.” I’d got caught up in the traffic in Park Lane — some royal event going on down the road, I was told — and found that there was indeed a sort mobile scrimmage inside the hotel with a pack of photographers pursuing Christine, who showed a remarkable turn of speed for a woman her age. Pam was annoyed because although she’d summoned the press she’d told them that there was to be no photocall and she’d pretty much lost control of the situation: a pity as she’d been hoping to be voted Publicist of the Month.
I joined the chase and confronted the leading paparazzo and told him that if he didn’t stop it I’d smash his camera to pieces. We stood there glaring at each other for a moment, then we both burst out laughing and went our separate ways while Christine disappeared.
The event was the monthly lunch of the BSME [British Society of Magazine Editors] with Christine and the US singer/actress Diahann Carroll as the guest speakers. It was a fairly dull occasion, though Pam was impressed (“Just look at the power in this room!”) with Diahann making a pretty little speech and Christine answering a few polite questions from the editors, who had realized that Christine was no speech-maker.
Pam didn’t get to be Publicist of the Month, but the experience gave me one little insight that I pass on freely to any future biographers: despite her protests Christine had absolutely loved being chased round the corridors.
♦ When the fuss had died down Christine and I met for coffee in a West End hotel to tie up a few loose ends and have a chat. As I’ve said, when the pressure was off she was good company, and I occasionally caught glimpses of the Christine of 1963 who had been so irresistable to men.
By now I had sat with her through many interviews and knew her answers to most of the questions she had been asked. In some circles she was now being seen as a sort of socialist heroine, “the girl who had brought down the Conservative Party”, but it occurred to me that no-one had ever asked what her own politics were, so I did. “Oh, I’m a Tory,” she said; “People like me do better under the Conservatives.” I looked to see if she was making a joke, but she wasn’t.
Note The use of hemorrhoid cream on the face is not recommended, but anyone trying it should be sure to use a fresh tube.
Many thanks to Seymour Platt for good-naturedly allowing me to publish these memories of his mother. His own elegant tribute site is here and has much biographical information about Christine and many rare images. Seymour is also mounting a campaign to overturn her conviction for perjury (here) which I fully support.
Retrospective thanks too to all who helped during a busy and rather testing period: to all at Palace Pictures, especially Stephen Woolley who dealt with a very amateurish agent very kindly and patiently; to Desmond Banks who handled Christine’s legal affairs very capably for all of her adult life; to Tiffany Daneff who skilfully turned a scrappy manuscript into a publishable book; and to my staff, especially Liz (wherever she may be), who supported me patiently and so well.