Wantage Betjeman Literary Festival

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Wantage Betjeman Literary Festival October 2017

Against a 1960s backdrop at the Wantage Betjeman Literary Festival

I met an interesting group of readers when I went to speak to the Wantage Betjeman Literary Festival, which concluded over the weekend.

Among those asking me questions about the Nude Murders case were a couple of retired police officers and a former nurse. The latter had come to London as a young woman in the 1960s and spoke about the appalling poverty she encountered when making house calls.

Home of Betjeman

Why are the series of murders now so little known? How did the investigation compare to that for the Yorkshire Ripper in the 1970s? Why did the investigation, the biggest manhunt ever seen in Britain at that time, fail to unmask the killer? All these questions came up.

Wantage itself, where former Poet Laureate John Betjeman once lived, is a delightful market town and a lovely setting for a book festival. It was great to be involved in an event supporting books of all genres, along with the town’s independent bookshop.

Keeler and Thorpe – the great British scandals return

Hugh Grant playing Jeremy Thorpe in BBC1’s A Very English Scandal Jeremy Thorpe

Interesting news – the Beeb has announced a new six-part drama called The Trial of Christine Keeler. It is going to focus on the young woman ‘whom the powerful, male-dominated establishment sought to silence and exploit, but who refused to play by their rules’.

Amanda Coe, the award-winning novelist, is writing the script. She said, ‘I’m excited to have the opportunity to bring a fresh lens to a story that has become a powerful fable of our national identity. The astonishing story of Christine Keeler and the so-called Profumo Affair is the Salem Witch Trial meets OJ Simpson. It’s a perfect storm of gender, class, race and power that resonates into the world we’re living in today.’

The other victim of the affair was Stephen Ward. He was the society osteopath who took his own life in 1963 after being hounded by the legal and political establishment.

Profumo Affair and the Nude Murders

The Profumo Affair is tangentially connected to the Nude Murders of the mid-1960s. While researching The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper I read about the scandal. Police and legal figures manipulated Ward. Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies were portrayed as prostitutes to trap him as someone living off immoral earnings and other crimes.

If anyone wants an insight into how bent the establishment was back then, and the extent of the cover-up, read Geoffrey Robertson’s short but shocking book Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK.

But Christine Keeler’s story is not the only scandal being explored again. BBC1 is making a three-part dramatisation of events surrounding the fall of former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, called A Very English Affair.

Hugh Grant as Thorpe

This will star Hugh Grant and is written by Russell T Davies, here a long way from his Doctor Who success. Thorpe in the 1960s was the young Liberal leader who had a secret he was desperate to hide – his lover Norman Scott, who could destroy his brilliant career. Continue reading