In 1963, the Profumo scandal was sending shockwaves through the British establishment, and shaking up society every bit as much as the Beatles and the Lady Chatterley trial had – if we want to pin point when the Sixties finally kicked into gear, then this was probably it. The tale of a cabinet minister caught up with loose-moralled models, sex parties and Russian spies finally punctured the sense of deference that politicians had both expected and received, and while the establishment tried to close ranks, the genie was out of the bottle.
Naturally, the story was catnip for the tabloids, even if the reporting of the case was often simplistic and designed to throw Stephen Ward – falsely vilified as a pimp – under the bus while protecting politicians (John Profumo might have had his career destroyed, but he wasn’t dragged through court and driven to suicide like Ward, and there seemed little appetite in the press for probing just how many other politicians might have been up to hypocritical mischief in their private lives). Certainly, the gatekeepers of public morality went out of their way to shut down exploitation of the story as much as possible. The film The Christine Keeler Affair was banned by the BBFC for vacuous reasons, and the novelty single Christine, performed by ‘Miss X’ was banned from airplay by the BBC. Nevertheless, the single did creep into the Top 40, peaking at Number 37.
“My name’s Christine… what’s yours?” asks Miss X at the start of this loungetastic cool jazz number, where suggestion is all – there’s nothing overtly rude in the minimalist lyrics, but there’s certainly the hint that when ‘Christine’ says “I’m a good girl… I told you I was good”, giggles and then promises that “your secret is safe with me”, the implication is that she might be up to all manner of naughtiness… possibly with a top politician. The B-side, S-E-X, is a continental variation on the theme, which of course automatically makes it steamier.
Miss X was, in fact, Joyce Blair, younger sister of Lionel, and a veteran performer by this point – she was 31 when Christine was recorded. The song was written by the prolific Leslie Bricusse, who had written Stop the World – I Want to Get Off with Anthony Newley, and would go on to write music and/or lyrics for the likes of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Goodbye Mr Chips, Scrooge and Victor/Victoria. His co-writer was the impressively-named Count Jaime-De-Mora Y Aragon, who was an eccentric Spanish aristocrat, musician and actor – though there are those who still claim that the music was actually written by John Barry. Or perhaps Barry produced it. The jury is out.
There was, strangely, a genuine Miss X involved in the Profumo scandal. During Ward’s farcical trial, a 19-year-old, known only as Miss X, was dragged into court by the prosecution to tell the story of how Ward had asked her to have sex with an unnamed man in front of a two-way mirror. The purpose of this move was to show that Ward was a bad sort, morally bankrupt and not only a pimp and procurer but also, perhaps, a blackmailer. Unfortunately, Miss X – described by journalist Ludovic Kennedy as “a tall girl with very black hair and Anglo-indian features” – made it quite clear that Ward had been joking with her when he made the suggestion, and that no one took it seriously. The story went nowhere, except perhaps as insinuation. And insinuation was all the prosecution had – and all it needed, as it turned out.
Miss X, unlike Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, was never identified or chased by the press at the time – or, indeed, subsequently. She slipped back into obscurity after her appearance in the witness box, for which she was probably very grateful. While Rice-Davies and Keeler both achieved a degree of celebrity for their roles in the scandal, it would prove – for Keeler at least – to be as much a millstone as a stepping stone, and her life in later years was not a happy one. While the Profumo affair titillated the nation for decades, the price those involved paid for what should have been private sexual kinks was a high one.