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.

Thorpe would eventually stand trial for conspiracy and incitement to murder in 1979. The BBC publicity says, ‘The trial of Jeremy Thorpe changed society forever, illuminating the darkest secrets of the Establishment. The Thorpe affair revealed such breathtaking corruption that, at the time, hardly anyone dared believe it could be true.’

TV dramatisations of real crimes and trials are often controversial. Revisiting the cases involving the likes of Fred West (Appropriate Adult) or Peter Sutcliffe (This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper) involves venturing into areas that may be sensitive for surviving relatives.

Christine Keeler

Christine Keeler is still alive, aged 75, and it would be interesting to know how she feels about having those years raked over again.

But if the makers of the dramas don’t sensationalise the events and the drama is sensitively crafted, such series can help to expose and make sense of crimes and corruption that are otherwise difficult to comprehend.

Certainly, events surrounding these two trials should not be forgotten. And it’s about time the trial transcript of the Ward case was finally made public.

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