I recorded a podcast this week and I talked a little bit about Stephen Ward and how James Norton and John Hurt both played him with such charm and charisma and what a credit it was to them. I also talked about meeting John Hurt with Christine.
It really started in around 1980 and I was about nine, my reading and writing was well behind where it should have been and I was being failed by my school along with a lot of other inner city children. Christine and I were living in a council estate and were desperately poor,the past couple of years had been very difficult for Christine. “I wasn’t living, I was surviving,” she later said.
I think Christine was getting more and more worried about me. I would go out with friends and hang around on the estate and she was worried about my future. So one day she asked me if I wanted to meet my father.
It was a short walk from the eleventh floor flat at the World’s End Estate to his four storey house in a wealthy part of Chelsea, less than a mile, but it was a world away. My mother had left him when I was six months old, they went through an extremely long and acrimonious divorce, so much so that I was made a ward of court because they had both managed to make each other look so bad through the legal process that the High Court were deemed a better guardian.
On meeting me for the first time in many years, my father was also concerned about my level of education,so he paid for me to go to a boarding school in Kent. Staying at the school would get me away from any distractions on the council estate and maybe even to get me away from my mother after that bitter divorce.
At half terms and holidays I would travel back to the council estate in Chelsea with Chris. I think it broke her heart sending me to school, but it was an opportunity for me that she never had.
A few days before I was sent to the new school in the countryside I was with Chris in The World’s End pub near where we lived. We didn't often go to pubs but at that age my job was to sit quietly in the corner with a fizzy drink. One of the locals who called himself a real gangster told us he had been to prison for robbing banks. He also told me, “When you get to this new school, the boys will probably tie you up and rape you, it’s just what happens at these places. When you have money you send your kids away to be raped, they think it makes them men”
I was terrified.
“It’s ok” he continued “When you get there, you need to figure out who’s the top dog, who’s in charge, and you need to take them out, just walk up to them and bang! butif they are a big fucker, wait till they are asleep, then take them out.” There was a long pause: “Do that, they won’t come near you”
I asked Chris what she thought and she said she was going to call the school and ask them to make sure I wasn’t raped by the other boys.
I was very nervous when I arrived at St Michael’s prep school and immediately homesick. The housemaster looked down at me and said,“I’ve spoken to your mother, and we will take care of you.” I remember he was smiling - I can’t imagine the conversation they had had.
So on my first night, when everyone was asleep, I stabbed a boy in the arm with a compass. It worked, in fact I don't think anyone spoke to me for the first week, but I wasn't tied up and raped. In fact I never did see any boys tied up and raped.
I do remember in our dorm, behind an old wardrobe was a name carved into the wood from on an old boy It said “John Hurt” and a date that I can’t remember. We all knew that was the actor John Hurt as he was a famous ex pupil and we all knew he had the Alien burst out of his chest in the Ridley Scott movie, some of us had even seen it. We would talk about it when the lights went out at night to try and scare the boys who hadn’t seen it.
Many years later John Hurt would star in Scandal, the 1989 film about the Profumo affair. He played Stephen Ward and was very good in it, he was charismatic and likeable, the hero of the story. To promote the movie Scandal we went to America and Christine was on chat show after chat show, but she wasn't alone. John Hurt was doing a lot of the shows with her. One morning we all jumped into limousine and were on our way to either another chat show or the airport to fly off and do a chat show in another city. It was a long way from the council flat in Chelsea. There were four of us in the back the seats, which faced each other: Christine, John Hurt, his partner and myself. Christine was in a great mood, she wasn't tired that morning. She had begun to get into a new routine and had got over the initial nerves of doing interview after interview and I think her adrenaline had kicked in.
As we sat in the back of the car Christine was telling John about how wonderful her son was and I was sitting there hoping the world would swallow me up. Christine was always telling people how wonderful her son was, it was so embarrassing at seventeen. She was telling him about what a good actor her son was, I was in a youth theatre at the time and Christine was so proud.
“He is a really good actor,” praised my mum. “He can make himself cry, just like that,” and she turned to me and said, “Go on Seymour, cry, show him - just start to cry”.
It wasn’t lost on me that this was John Hurt who had been nominated for an Oscar for The Elephant Man. I was really embarrassed - John Hurt had had the Alien from Alien burst out of his chest, and at seventeen this felt worse.
“There’s nothing worse than a doting mother,” I said under my breath.
John Hurt leant forward, looked me right in the eyes.“Oh yes there is,” he said, “a mother who doesn’t care”.
A very quick blog post that some may find interesting.
It’s a list of Lucky Gordons crimes from the Daily Mail press cutting library. I think it is interesting as it highlights some of his later crimes against women, such as the attack on Daniella Perkins with a screwdriver in 1973.
It also has Christine’s scribbles all over it, this was one of her habits, any piece of paper, inside of a book, anything - she would scribble notes all over it.
It’s been another busy week with more research done and we have already started contacting experts to help with the next step in the campaign. There is still a lot of work to do but it is getting exciting.
With everything in the news and talk of vaccinations I was thinking about a story Christine used to tell people, about the time I was desperately sick in 1975 after I was given the smallpox vaccination.
The smallpox vaccine was one of the first to be developed, using science that goes all the way back to 1796, it is a ‘live vaccine’ and that means you are given mild similar pox called vaccinia virus and as your body learns to fights off this vaccinia virus it also builds immunity to smallpox because the two viruses are so similar. In fact this vaccine worked so well that smallpox has been eradicated all around the world, saving millions of lives.
After I was given the smallpox vaccination I was very unlucky and got very sick, developing full blown vaccinia virus with a rash all over my body and a high fever. Christine took me to her doctor who gave her some very stark news. Doctor Green was a heavy set man with lots of curly black hair that he wore like a big wig. He sat behind a large mahogany antique desk, one of those with a green leather top and he told Christine that I was very ill, indeed I may not live through the night! Her son’s situation was quite desperate and there was nothing anyone could do, Christine needed to keep a close eye on me until the fever had broken, and then he sent us home.
I remember my mother sitting at the end of my bed that night, opening and closing windows to ventilate my room, keeping me cool but not too cold. Christine would tell people about that desperate night and how afraid she was for her son’s life that night. How she watched over me and that correctly ventilating the room probably saved my life.
When I was older I asked her why wasn’t I sent to hospital, if I was that sick why were we sent home?
“I’m not sure he was a very good doctor” Christine replied.
A year or two after the ventilated room we went to see Doctor Green again, his curly black hair now with a few waves of grey. I can’t remember exactly why we were there but at the end of the visit Christine mentioned how hard it was to get me to go to bed at night.
“I can give you something for that,” he said as he scribbled out a prescription. “Give him just half a tablet a night”
Christine bought the tablets and that night I had half of one and fell asleep for about 14 hours. Understandably Christine was very worried and asked Professor Dennis Evens what he thought, he was a chemistry professor who was a great friend of hers. “Oh no Chris, that’s Valium. That doesn’t sound right, and that is a very big dose of Valium. I don’t think you are meant to give that to children”.
We stopped seeing Doctor Green and, as for the Valium, “I’ll have those to help me relax,” Christine said.
Many years later Christine had brought a flat in Bruce Grove, in north London, I had moved in to help her fix it up so it would have been around the year 2000. Christine would have been in her late fifties. The flat needed a lot of work and we were stripping walls, painting and even dealing with damp around one of the windows with Christine holding my belt as I leaned out of a second floor window with a silicon gun. One morning I was late for work, I can’t remember why, and Chris said, ”Jump in the car, I’ll drop you off.” We were in a hurry and when we got to the top of the stairs on the landing, she slipped. Christine was a few steps behind me so I was able to stop her from falling too far but she had already bounced down a few steps. She stood up said she was fine and we carried on jumping in the car and she dropped me at work. It was a few hours later I got the call from the hospital: my mother wasn’t very well.
When I arrived, Christine was still in accident and emergency. She was sitting up in a bed with pads on her chest and wires everywhere, checking her heart and with a mask on for oxygen.
Christine told me when she got home she couldn’t breathe, and that she had really hurt herself coming down the stairs, it had knocked all of the air out of her, but didn’t want to say. The hospital had done tests and they had found scarring on her lungs. “Emphysema or something,” she said.
It was the first time she seemed fragile to me, and this time I had to make sure she took her tablets and rested in bed. Christine didn’t like being looked after or being told what to do, so it was not long before she was up and about. Looking back I think something was different and her breathing was never the same.
Twenty years later I wonder what Christine would say about the website and all the work people are doing to clear her name, all the people trying to look after her now.
It has been a very busy week.
We now have a first draft of Christine Keeler’s “Petition for Mercy”. When looking at the transcripts from the original trial, police records, and newspaper reports from her later trial, I think there is a powerful argument that Christine should not have gone to prison on 1963. Pulling all the different stands together has needed a talented legal mind and I must say I would not be here without the humbling help I continue to receive. People can indeed overwhelm you with their kindness.
I am still asked why am I bothering to do this, “Isn’t it not enough that the BBC drama was nice about your Mum?” people have asked. In truth I have lots of reasons, like the grandiose: I believe it’s important for history to understand Christine’s motivation through much of the Profumo scandal. My closest friend told me this week that he thinks I am actually doing all this for me, as a last act of love.
My daughter, Christine’s granddaughter, told me about a boy who this week said to her, “Everyone knows boys are more important than girls. Girls don't matter, my Dad told me”
Nearly 60 years later, it’s like 1963, girls don't matter. That was Christine Keeler’s story in 1963. Lucky Gordon thought he owned her. The two witnesses to her assault felt no obligation after seeing a woman attacked in the street. John Hamilton-Marshall thought it was perfectly acceptable to talk about beating a woman. Stephen Ward posted bail for Lucky Gordon on the morning of her attack and he knew the danger Gordon posed to Christine.
All the men in that 1963 story thought woman were not important - they all thought boys were more important than girls. I have lots of reasons for doing all of this.
Back In January 2019 I wrote a foreword for the touring exhibition Dear Christine - A tribute to Christine Keeler. The exhibition was curated by the quite amazing Fionn Wilson and there is a page on the website dedicated to its art, music and poetry.
I like the idea of Christine Keeler being an inspiration for art and creativity, In fact I can’t think of a greater tribute than that.
When I wrote this forword I was in a different place - my mother’s death was still quite raw, articles and stories threw pity at her and not understanding. I was still mourning. It was the first time I had sat down to write anything about Christine. It was all too personal, even the flowers in this story were part of a silly argument we had had.
And here I find myself writing about my mother. It’s been over a year since she passed, and in that time she has never been far from my thoughts.
Like it or not, my mother is a sixties icon. She was terrifically famous in the early sixties, in fact, world famous. It’s not easy to appreciate just how big a story the scandal was, now that we look back. There’s a famous picture of her sitting on a chair, a chair that people now call a “Keeler chair” and she sits back to front on it in what is now called the “Keeler pose”. It is very strange to me that a picture of my mother sitting on a chair could be so famous.
She changed her name to Christine Sloane, so I never even met Christine Keeler. I grew up in the seventies where it was mostly just me and my mother, a single parent. I remember there being a lot of love, she was a warm and devoted mother who made a point of making sure I always knew I was loved. I’m not sure you can say a better thing about a parent. There were very few men in her life while I was growing up, and I’m sure she was probably lonely. We were poor, crushingly poor. I think we were wealthy when I was very, very young, but in the early 1970s something changed and that all went away - I think a lot of her friends did as well. We stayed in squats, the odd friend’s house and eventually a council flat. Being as poor as we were made the idea that my mum was famous frankly ridiculous, so I think it was only when the film Scandal hit the screen that I began to understand how massive the events of the early 1960s had been.
There was a cost in so many ways and she paid a price for all that fame. She could be sad, she could be angry or frustrated, but in all my life I never saw her afraid, even when she was sick. She was no coward.
All of that was more than 50 years ago and today there is an art exhibition and, honestly, I’m not sure what she would make of it all. Like all of us, she was still a bit vain and didn’t like pictures where she wasn’t young and beautiful. She could be dismissive of art when she didn’t like it or didn’t understand it, but she could always appreciate beauty in nature and life.
I have a painting up in the hall of three sunflowers - she brought it as a gift from a thrift shop ten years ago. I think a proud parent probably put it in the shop, because it is terrible, but there was something about it that she liked. For her, the three sunflowers meant family (Me, my wife and our daughter) and family meant something beautiful. So, as terrible as it is, I have it on my wall to remember her.
I think she probably understood art better than me.
I’d like to thank everyone who is paying tribute to my mother. She was a very brave woman.