Friday, 19 December 2014

19th December 2014 - Pontyates, Profumo and Poetical License...

Thought for the day : "A gentleman is a person who can play the accordion - but doesn't "

I have of course been challenged on this statement by a friend who points out that the definition of a Scottish Gentleman is "A man who can play the Bagpipes... But doesn't". I think they are probably both valid...

But today reported the death of a local lass who ended up notorious..Pontyates born .. Mandy Rice-Davies.
Mandy Rice-Davies
Pontyates is just up the road from us here in Llanelli. But that is not the reason why I have noted it today..
She had moved to Birmingham at a very young age with her parents but Rice-Davies would regularly visit Pontyates, sometimes serving in the newsagents her grandparents ran.

"Mandy Rice-Davies, the Pontyates-born former showgirl who was at the heart of one of British politics' most dramatic sex scandals has lost her battle with cancer aged 70,
24th October 1944 -18th December 2014 "

Christine Keeler
The Profumo Affair in 1963 drew worldwide infamy and threatened to collapse Harold Macmillan's government. Rice-Davies had been living with her friend Christine Keeler in London, who together attended regular sex parties arranged by osteopath Stephen Ward at the home of Lord Astor.


The women claimed Keeler had been having an affair with the War Minister John Profumo. She was also said to be having a secret relationship with a Soviet defence attache Yevgeny Ivanov. At the height of Cold War tensions these were allegations which shook the British establishment to its core. Profumo denied the allegations in the House of Commons.

Rice-Davies testified at the high-profile trial of Stephen Ward, an osteopath who was charged with living off the immoral earnings of her and Keeler, which exposed a web of intrigue involving the upper echelons of society. Ward took an overdose the night before a guilty verdict was returned, and died days later. 

Rice-Davies famously claimed she was having an affair with Lord Astor, which he denied.
When told he had denied the affair, she answered: "Well he would, wouldn't he?", a line which ended up in the Oxford Book of Quotations.

Rice-Davies later said she regretted that the events of 1963 ever took place but always maintained that her claims were entirely true. She denied that she was ever a prostitute.

Rice-Davies went on to marry Israeli businessman Rafi Shauli and open nightclubs and restaurants in Tel Aviv.She married three times, tying the knot with her third husband, businessman Ken Foreman, in 1988.

But that is not the reason for my story...

Her story:
'I dropped out of school just before my 16th birthday, and went to work in Marshall and Snellgrove, Birmingham's closest equivalent to Harrods.

'I asked my father if I could leave home and go to London. He said no, so I plotted my escape and went anyway. My biggest fear was living a drab, boring life. Well, I certainly didn't end up doing that.

'I was still only 16 when I became a dancer at Murray's Cabaret Club, and there I met a showgirl called Christine Keeler. It was dislike at first sight.

'Within days she tried to sabotage me by stealing the top to my stage costume. In the end she relented and threw it back to me just in time for the performance.

'We [later] became firm friends. She was good fun and knew scores of people. She was 19 to my 16.

'Then, one day, Christine said she wanted to introduce me to someone, and that is how I met Stephen Ward.

'Stephen was erudite and witty with an easy charm, and artistic, too, drawing the portraits of the many prominent people he knew.

'By the standards of the day, he was also dangerous: he loved the company of women and took not a blind bit of notice of the prevailing moral code.

'I had agreed to pay Stephen £6 a week rent to stay in [his] house, money that, later, the prosecution would insinuate I was giving to Stephen by way of immoral earnings.

'Then everything fell apart. First came the attempted shooting of Christine by a West Indian drug dealer, Johnny Edgecombe, at Wimpole Mews [west London]. I was there at the time.

'This brought the affair between Christine and the Secretary for War, John Profumo, to the attention of journalists who already knew about a liaison between Christine and a Russian naval attaché called Eugene Ivanov.

'Amid claims that Christine's intimacy with the two men presented a security risk, Profumo chose to deny the affair to the House of Commons – a disastrous lie that led to his disgrace and, eventually, the demise of Harold Macmillan's Conservative Government.

'When I heard that Stephen was to be prosecuted for living off immoral earnings, my first thought was: 'They've got to be kidding.' He was also accused of allowing an abortion to take place at his London house, which was equally unbelievable.

'In June 1963, Stephen was arrested, refused bail, and appeared at Marylebone Magistrates' Court, where Christine and I were called as witnesses.

'It was the height of Cold War spy fever, fuelled by the James Bond movie Dr No and the recent defection of Kim Philby, following Burgess and Maclean to the Soviet Union.

'I think that the Government was eager to shift attention away from security risks – however far-fetched – and on to the shenanigans of the 'fast set'.

'There could be no better way of doing this than by putting Stephen's louche lifestyle on trial.

'Then there was the unstoppable rise of youth culture. The likes of Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard were seriously considered a subversive influence on the nation!

'On July 31, Stephen was found guilty on two counts of living off immoral earnings.

'Already characterised in the most vile terms possible by the prosecution, the judge's summing up drove him to suicide before the verdict could be announced.

'My parents bore the scandal with remarkable stoicism and stood right by me. As my father had been a policeman, his policeman's nose was twitching from the very beginning of the whole sorry business.

'He knew a stitch-up when he saw one.

'Fortunately, there was a life after the scandal and a good one, too. Although shattered by the circus of the trial, I was determined to overcome the stigma. 
But that is not the reason for my story..
My story is about a song.. and song writing!!
For in 1963 I was 8 years old, and my family decided to take a holiday in Portugal. Now, mine was a family that believed in holidays. My parents decided that they would save up during the year, and rather than change the three piece suite or buy something special, they would be extravagant with holidays. We were never a family for organised trips, package tours, or cruises. We were a family for foreign holidays and exploration.
1963, the gate from Gibraltar to Spain was open. Means little to many at the moment, but for many years there was no way to get from Gib into Spain. But 1963 saw the opportunity. It was probably possible to fly to Portugal. I do not know. But I think the main theme of holidays in those days was to travel as far, and as long as possible on the smallest amount of money - with no real plan for how long that would be. My assumption is that it was cheaper to fly to the British Airport in Gib, and hire a car, drive all the way across Spain and into Portugal, than other alternatives... And that was what we did.

I do not know if landing in Gibraltar by plane is as scary as it was in those days. The runway ran out into the sea and crossed the main rad, but dropping down in a Viscount was a sight for an 8 year old boy.
I do not recall much of the trip to Portugal across Spain. Other than the fact that the car had a leaky radiator, and needed to be filled with water every 50 miles or so. Which meant a stop at a cafe or shop. The purchase of a bottle of Coca Cola for my sister and me, and the begging of enough water to fill the radiator. I seem to remember a very long journey. I am sure it must have been punctuated by frequent comfort stops!

We crossed into Portugal and came to a very luxurious hotel, named the Vasco da Gama. I had no idea who he was at that time, but later discovered him to be a famous explorer/ seafarer, the first European to discover India. But the important thing for me was that there were porters and doormen on the main doors. And they opened the doors for an 8 year old boy in swimming trunks to let him out to the swimming pool. This was like royalty! I think we stayed there two days - which probably cost as much as the flight over - but it was a hint of real luxury.
Then we travelled further to a village called Praia da Rocha. I recall it as a quaint village, and I must have been young because I remember playing football on the beach with local Portuguese lads and my father, of whom I have no recollections of enjoying the "beautiful" game! 

"So what has all this to do with Mandy Rice-Davies, Christine Keeler and John Profumo?" I can hear you ask...
Well!. Eric Sewell, my father,  was the Parliamentary Correspondent for the Daily Mail. And on the day that the story started breaking, I understand that an English Newspaper was sent to the small hotel in which we were staying, and an instruction that he take the next flight back to England to cover the story. At the time, this was not explained to me. In fact it was many years later that I found out that it was a directive from the Daily Mail, rather than the choice of my father, to return.  As far as I was always concerned, it was in character for my father to sniff a story, and drop everything to make sure that it was covered properly, and by properly, he mean't by him !!!

And so, when the Profumo case broke, we were bundled back into our battered old hire car, days earlier than expected, and my sister and I were force-fed more coca-cola as we drove, like an early 60's Wacky Races crossed with the Cannonball Run, through Spain and back to Rock of Gibraltar. And from there to the cold of and English night..
As we drove back, and was the usual custom on our holidays, we broke into song. It was not a particularly good song. In fact it was a particularly bad song. It was not an original song. But it was a song with new words to an old and established song.. Does any of this sound familiar?? It is possibly on that journey, at the age of eight, that my proclivity for butchering established classics and adding my own words started....
And to the tune of "Oh Mr Porter" we sang..
"Oh Mr Profumo 
What did you do??
We have to leave old Portugal
And it's all because of you..
Take us back to Blighty
As quickly as you can..
Oh Mr Profumo 
What a nasty Man you am !!"
In fairness, I do not think the rhymes have improved over the years either..  But that is the reason I am writing today. The death of a Pontyates lassie commemorates for me, what was possibly the start of my musical career....  They have a lot to answer for !!   

Cheers!!   A glass of Chateau 41 Methinks!!!

1 comment:

  1. Comments from my sister:
    Loved it. Don't remember the football, but do remember the young doorman at the hotel in Praia de Rocha. Jose Antonio Pascoa das Neves. I also remember driving under the arch into Albufeira where there was ONE hotel. The arch was, I believe, a road overpass.

    The reason we had to drive to Southern Portgual from Gibralter was, to the best of my recollection - that there was no airport there. The one in Faro was not built for several years.

    Just as the time we went to Majorca the airport terminal was a tent. It was the first year the airport had opened.