Tag Archives: Profumo

Woman who links John F Kennedy, the Profumo sex scandal & a film producer

Harry Alan Towers: an interesting man

Questionable Harry Alan Towers

A couple of days ago, I stumbled on the decidedly ropey 1972 film version of Treasure Island on the Movie Mix TV channel. It was produced by Harry Alan Towers.

Now there was a man with a life like a movie plot.

I first heard of him years ago as a prolific and rather shady B-movie producer; I heard some of his films were set up simply to launder money internationally. In its obituary, the Independent said “he acquired a legendary reputation as the most prolific – and occasionally elusive – independent producer in the business.”

He made over 100 quickly-made films. Variety‘s obituary claimed he was “known for his sometimes questionable practices”.

Starting as a child actor, he became head of the RAF radio unit with the British Forces Broadcasting Service then, in 1946, with his mother, started a company called Towers of London which syndicated radio shows around the world. He then started producing film series like the The Adventures of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1956) which he sold to ITV in the UK.

In 1962, he started making feature films in places such as South Africa (under apartheid), Hong Kong, Ireland and Bulgaria. This was when the Cold War was at its height.

He continued producing movies well into his 80s and died in Canada, aged 89, in 2009. At the time of his death, he was working on post-production of a film adaptation of Moll Flanders directed by Ken Russell.

Stephen Ward: fall guy for the Profumo scandal

Stephen Ward: fall guy for Profumo scandal

The interesting year in his career is 1960. In February, he was allegedly introduced to Czech-born Mariella Novotny by ‘society osteopath’ Stephen Ward at a party held by American millionaire Huntington Hartford.

But there are other versions of what happened.

According to the November 1983 issue of Lobster magazine:

Maria and Towers didn’t meet at the party, but Towers must have recognised her: four days later a letter arrived suggesting a meeting at Claridges to discuss some possible modelling work. The letter was actually signed by Tower’s mother, Margaret, who Novotny claims had an extraordinary influence over him, and from whom he took his instructions. At the meeting Towers was brisk to the point of rudeness. He told her that he could make her a top television model doing commercials in America. Although she didn’t like Towers, she found it difficult to turn down the contract, which offered upwards of $50,000 a year. Over the next days the contract was sorted out and Maria was introduced to some of Towers’ friends, one of whom tried to have sex with her in Paris. Towers, over the next year, made no sexual advances towards Maria but didn’t mind pushing his friends on her. She signed to Towers’ modelling agency and he gave her a large deposit. 

But there are other versions of what happened.

According to Novotny herself, what happened in London was that Towers invited her to his flat to meet his mother and a group of Americans, one of whom – having asked her into another room to speak privately – promptly stripped off his clothes. “I was anxious to do well in New York,” she wrote, “so I shrugged and decided to do whatever was necessary… Neither Towers nor his mother gave any indication of knowing what we had done on our return to the drawing-room.”

Mariella’s uncle, Czech president Antonin Novotny in New York in 1960

Her uncle, President Antonín Novotný, in New York in 1960

Maria (Mariella) Stella Novotny was born in 1941 in Prague. The story goes that her father was brother to the President of Czechoslovakia and they lived in the Royal palace until she was 6 years old. The President supported the Communists, but Maria’s father was actively anti-Communist. The President warned Maria’s father that the Soviets were liable to arrest him and advised him to leave the country. Instead, he joined the underground, making arrangements for Maria to leave the country with a family called Rutter. They escaped in a railway truck hiding under some corn, and crossed the border into Austria.

Unfortunately, they ended up in the Soviet sector where they were put in a displaced persons camp. In 1948, Maria was released, apparently through the efforts of a Mrs Capes, who had known her father when he was a university student in England. Maria went to England, where she lived as the daughter of Mrs Capes. When she became a teenager she went into modelling and was determined to make it into a successful career.

But there are other versions of what happened.

According to Christine Keeler in her 2001 book The Truth at Last, Mariella was born in 1942 London and her real name was Stella Capes but she changed it to Mariella Novotny because it “had a more whiplash ring to it.” After the death of her father, she became a striptease dancer to support her widowed mother and worked as a prostitute in London. Christine Keeler claimed: “She was a siren, a sexual athlete of Olympian proportions – she could do it all. I know. I saw her in action. She knew all the strange pleasures that were wanted and could deliver them.”

Maria/Mariella married Horace/Hod

Maria/Mariella married Horace/Hod

What seems agreed is that, aged 18, Mariella met Horace ‘Hod’ Dibden, aged 57, an expert on English antiques and furniture. They met at his Black Sheep Club in Piccadilly and got married in January 1960. Dibden was a friend of Stephen Ward.

It was Stephen Ward who may have introduced Novotny to Harry Alan Towers at the party in February 1960. He also introduced Towers to Mandy Rice-Davies (this was three years before the Profumo scandal broke).

Horace Dibden and Mariella Novotny held their own parties.

In her autobiography, Mandy (1980), Mandy Rice-Davies described what happened when she arrived at one of these parties in Bayswater:

“The door was opened by Stephen (Ward) – naked except for his socks… All the men were naked, the women naked except for wisps of clothing like suspender belts and stockings. I recognised our host and hostess, Mariella Novotny and her husband Horace Dibbins, and unfortunately I recognised too a fair number of other faces as belonging to people so famous you could not fail to recognise them: a Harley Street gynaecologist, several politicians, including a Cabinet minister of the day, now dead, who, Stephen told us with great glee, had served dinner of roast peacock wearing nothing but a mask and a bow tie instead of a fig leaf.”

Sometime that same year, Harry Alan Towers started an affair with Novotny and promised to get her work in US TV commercials. Towers flew to New York in December 1960, followed by Novotny. She later told a friend that “I wanted to be famous and show my mother that I could make a go of life myself.”

After two weeks in the US, Towers allegedly arranged a lunch for her with actor Peter Lawford, the brother-in-law of soon-to-be President John F Kennedy. She was introduced to Kennedy and later, at a party held by singer Vic Damone, almost immediately shown into a bedroom where she had sex with Kennedy. They were not gone very long before there was a commotion in the main room. Damone’s Asian girlfriend had made an unsuccessful suicide attempt and had been found in the bathroom with her wrists slashed. The apartment quickly emptied. Kennedy disappeared with his bodyguard and his associates and the incident was hushed up.

The quick departure could have had something to do with the fact that, according to Novotny, an FBI man was known to attend these parties.

Novotny being arrested by the FBI

Novotny being taken into custody by a rather cliché FBI man

On 3rd March 1961, Novotny was arrested by the FBI and charged with soliciting. Three days later, Towers was accused of transporting her from Britain to New York for the purpose of prostitution. It was claimed that Towers ran a call-girl ring at a New York hotel. And a call-girl ring at the UN was also mentioned.

Novotny told the FBI that, in New York, “Towers took me to the Great Northern Hotel… The following afternoon Towers brought a prostitution date to me, who paid me $40 to commit a sexual act. Thereafter I entertained prostitution dates regularly and earned approximately $400 a week. I gave Towers about $300 of this money… Towers was present when prostitution acts were committed.”

In her FBI statement, she also claimed: “Towers was a Soviet agent” responsible for “providing the Russians with information for the purposes of compromising certain prominent individuals”.

On 12th April 1961, Towers appeared before a US grand jury on five counts of violating the White Slave Traffic Act. On 25th April, he pleaded not guilty to all five charges.

By the time his trial was due to begin on 16th May 1961, he had jumped bail and fled back to Britain, then to Eastern Europe (at the height of the Cold War) where he started producing low budget thrillers financed through Liechtenstein and other tax havens.

Novotny returned to running sex parties in London, which were (according to a Guardian article in 2009) “attended by so many senior politicians that she began to refer to herself as the government’s chief whip.” The parties allegedly included British politicians John Profumo and Ernest Marples as well as foreign leaders including (allegedly) Willy Brandt and Ayub Khan.

In June, 1963, FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover wrote an internal memo on the current Profumo Scandal:

J.Edgar Hoover - a man of many files - in 1961

J.Edgar Hoover, dressed in men’s clothing, 1961

For information. John Profumo was British Minister of War until his recent resignation following disclosure of his relations with Christine Keeler. Stephen Ward, London osteopath, has been arrested in London charged with living on the earnings of Keeler and Marilyn Rice-Davies, prostitutes. Ward’s operations reportedly part of a large vice ring involving many people including many prominent people in the US and England including other Ministers of British Cabinet… Other individuals involved include Yevgeny Ivanov, aka Eugene Ivanov, former Soviet Naval Attache, London, who patronised Keeler and who reportedly requested Keeler to obtain information from Profumo… Horace Dibben, British citizen, in whose residence sex orgies were held is husband of Maria Novotny; Maria Novotny is prostitute who operated in NYC and was victim in white slave case involving her procurer, Alan Towers. She fled to England and has participated in orgies at Ward residence. Alan Towers… is reportedly now permanently residing behind Iron Curtain. Novotny alleges Towers was a Soviet agent and that Soviets wanted information for purposes of compromise of prominent individuals; Lord Astor of England on whose Cliveden Estate sex orgies reportedly occurred: it was here that Profumo first met Keeler; Douglas Fairbanks, Jnr, movie actor; Earl Felton, American screen writer; and many others also involved.

In 1978 Novotny announced that she had started work on her autobiography which would include details of her work for MI5. She claimed that her book would include details of a “plot to discredit Jack Kennedy”.

In 1980, all charges against Towers were dropped after he paid a £4,200 fine for jumping bail.

Mariella Novotny was found dead in her bed in February 1983. Reportedly, “Shortly after her death her house was burgled and all her files and large day-to-day diaries from the early sixties to the seventies were stolen.”

So it goes.

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Ignore the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, this is how the Profumo political sex scandal really happened

John Profumo, the UK’s Minister for War

John Profumo, the UK’s disgraced Secretary of State for War

A couple of days ago in my blog, there was a discussion between one of my Facebook Friends and writer Harry Rogers about whether people accused of sex crimes should be named in the press before they are prosecuted.

There is another interesting angle to this which Harry Rogers knows a bit about. Not a sex crime but a sex scandal… The Profumo sex scandal of 1963 which ultimately brought down Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.

But this blog is really about Johnny Edgecombe, whom I think I probably met at Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich in the 1990s. By then, he was known as Johnny Edge. I have a vague recollection that Malcolm introduced me to Johnny Edge once; but I can’t be certain.

What interests me about Johnny is how small incidents in apparently insignificant individuals’ lives can change history.

For those too young to remember, the Profumo Affair involved ‘good-time party girl’ Christine Keeler having sex with John Profumo, the UK’s Secretary of State for War. This was not good, given that he was married to actress Valerie Hobson. Worse though, given that Profumo knew Britain’s entire defence secrets and this was the height of the Cold War, was that Christine Keeler was also having sex with Yevgeni Ivanov, a senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in London. All military attachés are assumed to be spies.

In October 1962, the United States and the USSR almost stumbled into a nuclear war over the Cuban Missile Crisis.

At the same time, in London, Johnny Edgecombe was Christine Keeler’s boyfriend and allegedly her pimp. Before that, Keeler’s boyfriend had been drug dealer ‘Lucky’ Gordon. When she split from Gordon, he attacked her with an axe and held her hostage for two days. She then became Johnny Edgecombe’s girlfriend.

Just before Christmas 1962, she split from Johnny Edgecombe. What happened then resulted in a court case in which John Profumo’s name was mentioned in open court and the whole Profumo scandal became public knowledge.

Johnny Edgecombe went to prison for what happened in the mews.

I had a drink with Harry Rogers last night.

Harry Rogers in Greenwich last night

Harry Rogers remembers Johnny in Greenwich last night

“I met Johnny Edge just after he came out of prison,” Harry told me. “I think the intelligence services knew very well what was going on with Christine Keeler: that she was having an affair with Profumo and was also seeing Ivanov.”

“What had Johnny done before the Profumo thing?” I asked.

“He’d been friends with lots of jazz musicians in London,” Harry told me. “And he’d worked for Peter Rachman.”

“The dodgy slum landlord?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Rachman bought a lot of properties up and, when he had trouble getting people out of a property, he would get Johnny Edge and a couple of others to go and take over the basement in the building and set up a shebeen. A shebeen is an illegal drinking establishment with lots of loud music pumping all night. So Johnny’s role was to set up the shebeen and get musicians to come in there and party. They had a great time and the people got so fed up with the noise they left. It was like constructive dismissal – constructive eviction, really.”

“But eventually,” I said, “he met Christine Keeler, she left him and that triggered off the whole thing.”

“Yes,” said Harry. “When Christine Keeler left him – he was kind of pimping her in a way; he was living off her earnings, anyway – he wanted money and he needed money and also Johnny was in competition with Lucky Gordon, who was out to get Johnny. He saw him as the person who had taken ‘his Christine’ away from him – cos he’d been pimping her too.

“Lucky Gordon had caught up with Johnny in the Flamingo club in Wardour Street in Soho and there had been a big running fight through the club. They were chasing each other about all over he place. Lucky Gordon was going to beat up Johnny, but Johnny pulled a knife and ‘striped’ his face.

“After that, Lucky Gordon was really, really angry and so he got a machete and he was threatening to cut Johnny Edge’s head off. And that’s why Johnny got a gun. And the gun that he got was Christine Keeler’s. She had a Luger pistol.”

“Why did she have a gun?” I asked.

“I think for protection,” Harry replied. “Anyway, Johnny took her gun and he was carrying it because he knew that, if Lucky Gordon did catch up with him – if he wasn’t protected – Lucky was going to kill him.

1964 book on the scandal

A 1964 book on the Profumo Scandal

“When Christine left Johnny and went to Stephen Ward in the mews, Johnny got a taxi to the house. Christine was there but wouldn’t come to the window. Mandy Rice-Davies came to the window and told Johnny Christine doesn’t want to speak to you – Here’s some money – Go away! – and threw a handful of fivers out the window.

“That made Johnny angry, so then he decided he was going to go in and talk to Christine. So he tried to do what they do in the movies. He tried to shoot the door open by blowing the lock off the door with the gun.

“That didn’t work, so then he got back into the taxi…”

“The taxi driver,” I asked, “had just been sitting there twiddling his thumbs through all this?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “The cab driver was still waiting. Johnny got back in the cab. And they drove off.

“Meanwhile, the police had been phoned. They caught up with Johnny and arrested him and charged him with attempted murder. They said he’d actually tried to shoot Christine Keeler from the street through the window. He never did that. But they needed a court case to break open the whole thing so they could officially look into everything that was going on. And, from that point onwards it all came out.

“What Johnny told me was that not only was Stephen Ward supplying various members of the Establishment with women… There were a number of them: Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies, Rona Ricardo and two or three other girls were involved in this circle, this kind of call girl ring that he was running… They would all go down to Lord Astor’s place (Clivedon in Buckinghamshire) and have the swimming pool, the weekend orgies, all the rest of it… not only was Stephen Ward doing that, but he was also supplying lots of Members of Parliament and the aristocracy with marijuana.”

“Which would be a big thing then,” I said.

“Which was a big thing then,” Harry agreed. “And which Johnny Edge was supplying to Stephen Ward.”

“How did the Russian get involved?” I asked.

The Daily Mirror reports Profumo’s resignation

Profumo resigned because he lied to MPs

“Well,” explained Harry, “Stephen Ward would host parties which diplomats and all sorts of people would attend – He was just a military attaché. I don’t think there was any attempt to screw information out of Profumo. There’s no way that Christine Keeler was pumping Profumo for information to give to Ivanov, who she called her ‘Russian teddy bear’. It was all just sex and drugs, really. But spooks, being what they are, often read a lot more into the situation than is there.

“Profumo was a pretty honourable man. He just liked screwing.”

“You’ve heard about the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical that’s being written about Stephen Ward?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Johnny Edge told me Stephen Ward was a great guy and it was terrible the way he was vilified out. Really, he was just serving a need.”

“And was driven to suicide,” I said.

“And,” said Harry, “Johnny was sent to prison. He spent about six years inside. The Labour Party – Bessie Braddock in particular – said, as soon as they got into power, they would ensure he was released. But, of course, what happened when the Wilson government came in? They left him there to rot. He kept writing to them from prison trying to get them to honour what they had said they were going to do, but they left him there.

“He’d been sent to Dartmoor! For a while he shared a cell with Frank Mitchell.”

“The Mad Axeman?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Harry. “Everybody was really frightened of Frank in there. Not just the prisoners, but all the Screws. He was like an animal. But he took a liking to Johnny so, consequently, life was easy for Johnny inside because he had total protection. In those days, it wouldn’t have been easy being a black West Indian like Johnny in prison.’”

“And you met him soon after he got out?” I asked.

“When he first came out of prison,” explained Harry, “he didn’t go back to Notting Hill, he moved to a flat in Blackheath, then later he moved to a flat on a council estate by what’s now the Up The Creek comedy club.

“His aim was, if he could ever make enough money, to go out to the West Indies and buy a boat like his dad had had. Of course, it never happened.

“He would wake up in the morning and smoke a joint. Then he would get washed and dressed. Smoke another joint. Have breakfast. Smoke another joint. Then he was set up to go out for the day. He was always stoned. Always.

Johnny Edge in later life

Johnny Edgecombe in later life + one of his cigarettes

“He decided he was going to make money from selling chess sets. He met somebody who had access to a whole load of reproduction fancy chess sets: the Lewis chess set, the Reynard The Fox one, a Mexican carved crystal one and an erotic chess set – pornographic, basically – the bishops had little boys sucking them off. They weren’t cheap. He made a good mark-up on them.

“Also, if you wanted to buy half a pound or a pound of dope, Johnny knew where to go. In 1971, you could probably get a pound of dope for £500 and he’d charge you £550. He wasn’t a big dope importer or anything, but he was big mates with Howard Marks, who was.

“After the chess sets, he got into buying VW camper vans in Amsterdam and filling them up with Second World War leather jackets and overcoats he bought in a warehouse near where he bought the VWs. They looked like Nazi overcoats but weren’t – most were actually Dutch motorcycle police coats, but they looked the business.

“So Johnny would fill the camper vans with these coats, bring them back to Britain and sell them. The rock singer Chris Farlowe used to run a Nazi militaria shop and Johnny Edge used to sell him these Dutch police overcoats as genuine Nazi wartime overcoats at a massive mark-up.

“Needs must when the Devil drives. There was no way he was ever going to get employed in a straight job; he was so stoned all the time.

“He was a very likeable guy. He was a great guy.”

“And he died just over two years ago,” I said. “What did he die of?”

“Lung cancer,” said Harry.

So it goes.

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Steve From Up North is introduced to someone famous by Malcolm Hardee

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee has been called the greatest influence on British comedy in the last 25 years. He knew everybody.

His friend Steve Taylor looked at the 95 photos of Malcolm’s infamous Tunnel Palladium club mentioned in my blog of a couple of days ago – and the references to Johnny Edgecombe, the man who triggered the Profumo sex scandal which brought down the Conservative government in 1964 – and it reminded Steve of one occasion in the 1980s when Malcolm Hardee introduced him to someone else who was very famous…

“At the time,” Steve tells me, “I was running my Laughingas comedy clubs (which I started with Phil Cool) in various Lancashire venues and I used to visit London often looking for new acts.

“I had been told about Malcolm’s club The Tunnel by Jasper Carrott‘s manager. I just introduced myself to Malcolm and tried to sell him Phil Cool, who was on the verge of the big time. Phil came down with me the next week and soon after that played The Tunnel and stormed it.

“After that, I often stayed with Malcolm and his partner Pippa and was rewarded with the honour of lending him money and cooking. With limited facilities it was usually a roast dinner and, of course, Malcolm being Malcolm, he often managed to get a lot of it down the front of his shirt and jacket.

“On this particular visit, for some unknowable reason, Malcolm felt obliged to treat me like a real tourist.

“On my previous visit, I had been roped-in to drive the van and play Wizo’s part in a Greatest Show on Legs tour. We did Salford University, Theatr Hafren in Wales, the Royal College of Egham and a couple more. No comedy clubs, just theatres and the Uni. I did most of the Greatest Show on Legs routines but sadly not the naked balloon dance. I was obviously far too pretty. The time before that, I had helped Malcolm move house.

“But this time, for some reason, he decided I was a tourist.

“So Malcolm says OK, Steve from Up North, what do you fancy doing today?

“I suggested we could go into town and maybe he could introduce me to some of his famous showbiz mates.

“He said that we would sail into the centre of London in his boat.

“This was always a risky proposition, but we got there safely and moored somewhere near Waterloo. (The return trip took hours as the tide was stronger than the motor on the boat.)

“Anyway, I found myself outside Waterloo station and Malcolm took me over to a guy selling flowers and introduced me to him with the words: Oy Oy, This is Steve from Up North.

Pleased to meet you, the guy says and we leave.

There you are, says Malcolm as we walk on, That was Buster Edwards, the Great Train Robber… If you want, I can introduce you to a bloke who knows Charlie Kray….. and there was me thinking we might have been having dinner in Langan’s with Michael Caine!

“Did Malcolm react to this anti-climax? Of course not.

“Every minute in Malcolm’s company was quirky.

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One man can change the world with a bullet (or six) in the right place….

(A version of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post under the title What Links Dead Comedian Malcolm Hardee, Gangster Mad Frank Fraser & a British Political Sex Scandal?)

My local handyman (who is a very interesting person; he was at university – UCL, London – with the mother of Kate Middleton, our possibly future Queen) came round to mend my side gate yesterday. He was telling me he hated reading Charles Dickens and could not understand what people see in Dickens’ writing.

“Just caricatures,” he fumed. “Just caricatures. But,” he continued, “Horace Walpole is worse. “The Castle of Otranto is utter shit yet people thought it was a great piece of writing at the time and they thought Horace Walpole’s name would be remembered. Now, quite rightly, no-one remembers him except dusty academics. He’s a footnote. Who knows which ‘famous’ people’s names are going to survive from the 20th century? It’s pot luck.”

Also yesterday, Bill Alford sent me a Facebook message telling me he had posted on Flickr ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… photographs he took in the years 1985-1987 at the late Malcolm Hardee‘s legendary – nay, notorious – seminal alternative comedy club The Tunnel Palladium.

In among the early photos of Keith Allen, Clive Anderson, Phil Cool, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield, Jeremy Hardy, Ainsley Harriott, Jools Holland, Eddie Izzard, Phill Jupitus, Josie Lawrence, Neil Morrissey, Mike Myers (yes, that Mike Myers), Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Screaming Lord Sutch, Squeeze and many others at Malcolm’s Tunnel Palladium, there is a photo of a trendy-looking gent captioned Johnny Edge.

All ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… of Bill’s photos are interesting – a nostalgic flashlight on an earlier comedy era – but the photo of Johnny Edge was the one which interested me most because I never met Johnny Edge.

I only knew of him by reputation.

He died almost exactly a year ago, on 26th September 2010.

He was just an ordinary bloke living in south east London, whom most people had never heard of yet, when he died, he merited very lengthy obituaries in the Daily Telegraphthe Guardian and the Independent.

In that sense, he was a bit like Malcolm Hardee.

Most people in Britain had never heard of Malcolm Hardee but, when he drowned in January 2005, such was his importance to the development of British comedy, that he merited near full-page obituaries in the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard, the Guardianthe Independent and The Times – indeed, he managed to get two obituaries in the Evening Standard and two in the Guardian.

Malcolm had told me tales of Johnny Edge coming to his comedy clubs and, when I showed the Flickr photo to a friend who worked at Malcolm’s later comedy club Up The Creek, she immediately recognised him:

“Oh yes. I recognise him. He was a regular. He always seemed to me to be on his own. I didn’t know who he was, but other people seemed to know him and treat him with respect, like he had been in known bands or something, He looked ‘reggae’ and he held himself well, maybe just because he was older and quiet. He seemed nice. I think if he had been in a rock band I would have heard which one, which is why I wondered how people were familiar with him… Now I come to think about it, maybe Malcolm always put his name ‘on the door’ so he got in for free. Logically, I think that is highly likely.”

When Malcolm had told me about Johnny Edge being a regular at his clubs, I could feel the slight thrill he had in being able to say he had met and, to an extent, known him.

Johnny ‘Edge’ was a nickname. He was actually Johnny Edgcombe. What he did in 1962 was the catalyst that triggered the Profumo Scandal in 1963 which played no minor part in bringing down the Conservative government in 1964.

Edgecombe had fired six shots at osteopath Stephen Ward’s mews flat, where Edgecombe’s ex-girlfriend Christine Keeler was hiding.

Malcolm’s barely-contained thrill at having a link with Johnny ‘Edge’ was the same thrill I could sense in him when famed 1960s South London gangster Charlie Richardson came to a party on Malcolm’s floating pub the Wibbley Wibbley. It is the same thrill some people feel if they have an even tenuous link with the Kray Twins.  I have heard more than one stand-up comic joke about the TARDIS-like capacity of the Blind Beggar, seeing as how most of the population of East London appears to have been in the pub the night Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.

It is the thrill of one or two degrees of separation from important historic or society-changing events.

Malcolm had three degrees of separation from the Krays, which I think he always cherished and which is mentioned towards the start of his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (now out-of-print, but currently available from me via Amazon at  the remarkably reasonable price of £49.99 + p&p).

When Mad Frank Fraser, the Richardson’s ‘enforcer’ was shot in the thigh during a fight at Mr Smith’s Club in Catford, he was eventually left lying in the front garden of Malcolm’s aunt Rosemary and uncle Doug. The shooting was part of the bad blood and linked events which led to the shooting in the Blind Beggar which brought the Kray Twins and, to an extent, the Richardsons down.

Links within links within links.

To an extent, I share Malcolm’s thrill with one or two degrees of linked separation from national, international or parochial history. Everything and everyone is inter-linked.

Malcolm never met Mad Frank Fraser. I have and I am glad to have met and chatted to him a couple of times: the man who once lay bleeding in Malcolm’s aunt and uncle’s front garden.

Links within links within links.

Once, Mad Frank told me he worried “a bit” what people would say about him after he was dead, because what people are seen as being is ultimately not what they are but what people write about them in retrospect.

A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazonian jungle really can change the world. Ordinary unsung individuals can be part of the chain that creates historic events. Or, to quote anti-hero Mick’s line in Lindsay Anderson’s trendy 1968 film If….

“One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place…”

Or six bullets.

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Private Eye magazine – shining a light on a naughty world

How soon current affairs become history.

I’m sadly old enough (just) to remember the satirical magazine Private Eye starting up. At the time, I was not a vast fan. It seemed to me a bit too much like privileged public schoolboys biting the Establishment hand that paid their fees. But it has been admirably bitey over the years, publishing what other publications would not dare to print.

If it was not always part of the Establishment, it is now.

Yesterday, I went to a talk by Private Eye co-founder and former editor Richard Ingrams to plug the publication of a new book about the Eye. Ingrams now edits The Oldie.

According to Ingrams, Private Eye struck lucky early on because, just one year after it started publication, the Profumo Scandal broke: ideal fodder for the new satirical magazine.

The people at Private Eye knew absolutely nothing at all about the details of the scandal or what had happened but, again, they struck lucky by encountering Claud Cockburn, a writer who did know all about it, had copious contacts in very high places and who edited a special Profumo edition of Private Eye for them.

Once people think you know everything, then they will tell you almost anything: a great bonus if you are in the market for printing secrets or, at least unknown facts.

The Profumo Scandal eventually brought down Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Party government… although, yesterday, Richard Ingrams claimed Macmillan had actually resigned “by mistake” because he thought he had terminal cancer and, when it turned out he did not, he was more than a little angry.

Private Eye was also the first publication to name notorious London gangsters the Kray Brothers after the Sunday Mirror had published an article linking the Krays with showbiz peer Lord Bob Boothby; the Sunday Mirror had not named Boothby (who had also been having a long-term affair with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s wife).

But, while Richard Ingrams was away on holiday, comedian and Private Eye owner Peter Cook edited the magazine and he named the Krays, then perhaps wisely left the country. With Ingrams still on holiday, the next issue’s guest editor had to take all the flak – pundit Malcolm Muggeridge.

Also involved with the Krays was Labour MP (and rumoured Soviet spy) Tom Driberg who liked a ‘bit of rough’ and one of whose criminal boyfriends stole from Driberg’s flat a newly-written draft of The Times’ obituary of Harold Wilson, the then very-much-alive British Prime Minister. He sold it to Private Eye for £10.

Shortly afterwards, Richard Ingrams was at No 10 Downing Street and asked Wilson: “Would you like to see what your obituary in The Times will say?”

Wilson apparently responded: “They never liked me.”

Private Eye, established by public schoolboys, was now part of the Establishment to such an extent that the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret would phone up their Grovel columnist Nigel Dempster with unflattering tales of Princess Diana, knowing they would be published.

People thought the Eye had gone too far when they printed items about Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal Party, trying to have ex-lover Norman Scott killed… until Thorpe was arrested and tried for attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. (He was controversially found not guilty.)

And then, of course, there were the legendary and seemingly endless writs for libel.

Corrupt newspaper publisher Robert Maxwell’s last writ, just two weeks before he ‘fell off his boat’, was about an ‘outrageous’ libel the Eye had printed about him dipping his fingers into his companies’ pension funds. Which proved to be true.

And the most famous series of writs, of course, was the James Goldsmith case which backfired. The day after Lord Lucan accidentally murdered his nanny thinking that it was his wife, his influential chums at the Claremont Club in Mayfair got together to talk about how they could best help the missing peer, who had done the proverbial runner. Private Eye published a story that millionaire financier, publisher and political wannabe James Goldsmith was at this meeting although it later turned out he had, in fact, not been present – he took part by telephone.

Goldsmith was supposedly outraged that the Eye printed he had been present at this meeting and had therefore attempted to pervert the course of justice and he went ahead with a two-pronged attack – suing Private Eye for the very obscure charge of criminal libel which could have seen Ingrams imprisoned and the Eye financially ruined… and threatening criminal libel cases against the magazine’s distributors and retail shops which sold it (like WH Smith) in a successful attempt to damage Private Eye’s circulation and sales.

As I understand it (not something mentioned by Richard Ingrams yesterday) this strategy backfired on Goldsmith because his Establishment chums held rather unsavoury grudges against him: he was felt to be ‘not one of us’ firstly because he was French-born and secondly because he was Jewish. It was felt he was an outsider who “did not understand” British culture because, although suing Private Eye for simple civil libel was acceptable and part of a game the Establishment and the Eye played, trying to destroy the magazine was ‘not on’.

And that is still the case.

Private Eye is a valuable self-regulatory asset within the Establishment to keep members of the Establishment from straying too far from generally accepted behaviour. People can stray into corruption within reason but not within plain sight. If they do, they are fair game for the well-connected Eye.

Yesterday, Richard Ingrams told a story about Stephen Ward, the osteopath who was at the very heart of the Profumo Scandal, coming round to, in effect, ask Private Eye how much they knew.

Stephen Ward was, said Ingrams, trying to keep things under control and still believed at this point that the Establishment would stand by him and protect him.

Instead, of course, he was thrown to the lions at the Old Bailey and committed suicide on the last day of his trial on the highly dubious charges of procuring prostitutes and living off immoral earnings.

Private Eye occasionally tries its best to shine a light on a naughty world but one torch is of limited use in infinity.

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The News of the World, the Profumo Affair and the planned military coup

(This blog was later published in The Huffington Post)

I studied journalism at college – well, radio, TV and journalism.

The man in charge of the journalism part of the course was the Production Editor of the News of the World. So we got lots of good lecturers – people like Cecil King, who had created Mirror Group Newspapers and the then-all-powerful IPC.

As a result, we got a very good insight into the real workings of the press and occasionally some great anecdotes.

One was about Rupert Murdoch’s take-over of the News of the World in 1969.

At the time, obviously, there was a lot of publicity about the re-launch of the ‘new’ Murdoch version of the paper and the News of the World’s TV ads promised one big thing – the REAL story of the 1963 Profumo Affair which had brought down Harold Macmillan’s government.

The News of the World had been a major player in the 1963 scandal and had interviewed almost everyone involved in the affair on tape at the time and had sworn affidavits from all and sundry.

But, when Rupert Murdoch took over the News of the World in 1969, he realised that, sitting in the basement in boxes of tapes and papers, there was much that had gone unpublished in 1963 – in particular about the sexual proclivities of Profumo’s wife, actress Valerie Hobson… and about exactly what type of sexual services Christine Keeler provided to Profumo (the UK’s Secretary of State for War) and to Yevgeny Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London.

However, when the News of the World published their ‘new’ stories about the Profumo Affair, they were just the re-heated previously-published stories. There was nothing new or earth-shattering.

Apparently this was because there had been such unrelenting legal, political and financial pressure on the News of the World that they had backed off. There were even stories of the police listening to tape recordings in one room while, next door, News of the World staffers were busily erasing parts of tapes.

I am a great fan of Doctor Who and, boy, do I wish I had a fully-functioning TARDIS so that I could come back in 100 years or 150 years and find out what had really been happening during my lifetime.

Cecil King, our occasional lecturer at college, was an interesting man because, with some good reason, he had an ego that engulfed any room he entered. Years later, it was claimed or revealed (two words that expose a gulf of possibilities) that he had, in 1968, talked to Lord Mountbatten (who was later assassinated) about the possible overthrow of Harold Wilson’s government with Mountbatten replacing the Prime Minister.

It seems to have been a relatively low-key bit of idle ego-boosting by Cecil, as opposed to the more seriously-thought-through plans for a military coup to overthrow the Wilson government in 1974-1975.

This plan for a military coup in the UK was briefly mentioned in some editions of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times in 1987 but, I think, removed from later editions. The article does not seem to exist online at the Sunday Times, but I have the original newspaper cutting.

I did once ask the MP Dale Campbell-Savours about the ‘Cunard Affair’ – part of the plans for a military coup in the UK – as he had brought the subject up in the House of Commons. He asked me to phone him at home at the weekend, not at the House of Commons. I did. And he then told me he could not remember any details. “We were looking into a lot of things at the time,” he told me. “I can’t remember.” I always thought this was a little strange. However many murky affairs you were looking into, a planned military coup to overthrow the UK government (with a dry run during which tanks were taken to Heathrow Airport), might stick in the memory.

Only journalists or time travellers know the truth about history while it is actually happening.

The general consensus seems to be that the perceived necessity for a military coup in 1974/1975 lessened and became unnecessary when Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975 and subsequently won the 1979 General Election. The so-called Operation Clockwork Orange in which Margaret Thatcher’s close adviser Airey Neave (who was later assassinated) may have been involved may also have had some effect.

Clockwork Orange and the linked Colin Wallace affair, in which he was framed and imprisoned for manslaughter after he claimed the security services had tried to rig the 1974 UK General Election, surely has the makings of a feature film. A pity the title has already been used.

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories are always gripping entertainment, especially if they are real and who knows what is real?

Earlier in this blog, I specifically wrote that both Lord Mountbatten and Airey Neave were peripherally involved in political machinations and were both later assassinated.

Paranoid conspiracy theorists could have a field day with that. But, of course, they were both assassinated by Irish terrorists for reasons totally, utterly unconnected with the alleged plots: they were assassinated because they were high-profile targets.

As for other matters, I always think it is healthy to maintain a certain level of paranoia. There was a saying circulating in the 1960s: No matter how paranoid you are, they are always doing more than you think they are.

I wish I could get a time machine and go forward 100 years to see what was really happening in the world during my life.

If only.

If only.

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