Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Trial of Christine Keeler (BBC, 2019)

The Beeb's flagship drama for the festive season comes with a good deal of personal, if slightly salacious interest.

Although my mother was not herself a member of the Astors' Cliveden set, she was really only one step removed, as Joy, one of her closest friends, was a fully paid-up participant and when the film Scandal was released in 1989, the last time Keeler and co were a hot topic, both women were contacted by the kind of journalist that Hugh Grant habitually disapproves of, indeed the sort that features herein as a series of stock caricatures. 

Meanwhile, my father was perhaps even closer to events as depicted, for he used to play chess with Dr Stephen Ward at his flat. Ward was then 50 and my father 35, so although it is fun to see James Norton inhabiting the innately creepy 'society osteopath', he is possibly a bit young for the role. 

This inter-marriage period in my father's life has always been a little murky and now that he is no longer with us, likely to remain so. Some people, including members of my family, adhere to the possibly apocryphal narrative that he 'dated' Christine Keeler for a while before she moved on to representatives of the British and Soviet adminstrations. 

I once tried to deftly interrogate him about this and was treated to one of his discouragingly vague denials. He did however admit to having seen Ward and Keeler together 'from the window of his office'. The trouble is that in 1960-62 I'm not sure which office he could have been referring to, and wasn't quick-off-the-mark enough then to question this little detail. 

And to make matters worse, I have surely transplanted a false memory onto this conversation, as each time I recall it, the view that springs to mind looks down onto Charing Cross Road at the Cambridge Circus end, and I have no idea why.

This was a period in which he boasted of a 'bachelor' pad in Cheyne Walk and enjoyed bromances with a coterie of sybaritic individuals who occupied mews flats. 

One of these, Belgravia antique-dealer Kenneth Sweet, would end up as best man at my parents' weddingg and was possessed of a tiger rug in the entrance of his Kinnerton Mews digs that I have never quite shifted from memory. 

He it was who intercepted a massive slab of gorgeous blue and grey granite destined for the palace of some Saudi sheikling, added appropriate legs and flogged it to my father as a dining room table. 

This is now my proudest possession, yet regretably it remains back in Blighty and I am waiting for the global economy to do another nosedive, which might allow me to import it via Santo Tomás de Castillo. 

One way or another it will end up in Guatemala, precisely because my mother never wanted it to. 

Whilst I do tend to regard the 60s as a bit over-sold, the three or so years either side of the inception of the decade do really fascinate me. Where the giant ugliness that is Centre Point now stands, there was a labyrinth of dirty old Victorian buildings (plus gaping holes left by Nazi bombs) which housed the jazz culture described in the novels of Colin MacInnes. Absolute Beginners, City of Spades etc. 

(A fun pic of my uncle David from that very era...)

I'm almost certain that V was the only Guatemalan present on the lawn outside the Palace of Westminster on November 20, 1990 in the hours after Margaret Thatcher's resignation. 

We then witnessed a scene almost out of the Hollywood playbook, with row upon row of reporters with microphones speaking to camera in almost every language imaginable and we rubbed shoulders with our former 'Father of the House' Ken Clarke, in that moment cast very much as the villain of the piece. 

V claimed to have a personal interest in as much as her erstwhile friend and colleague, Margarita Ascencio, now of Finca Colombia fame, was then widely referred to by the apodo 'Margaret Tatcha' here in the colonial city. 

The point of this recollection is that right then, a year after Scandal's release, Harold Macmillan and his contemporaries — I do remember them speechifying during the Thatcher years — had by then vanished into the mists. 

And now, when I think about the Iron Lady and her boys, they too have disappeared into written history. If I live long enough, I may yet get to see this happen a third time. 

Keeler died a few months after my father, though she was almost a generation younger. She has now been given a sensitive re-treatment for the #metoo zeitgeist

One wonders how we Brits will remember her in 30 years' time, if at all. Perhaps we will be scouring more recent timeframes for our myths of decline.

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