"Since the First World War Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical and unbelievably dull; and there is a subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation."

Norman Mailer
"The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China--why then it will be spring."

"This new history of yours," said McPhee, "is a wee bit lacking in documents."

C.S. Lewis

Synchronicities this week

  • June 24 Midsummer/St. John’s Day
  • June 24, 1947 The first flying saucers are sighted over Mount Rainier by pilot Ken Arnold.
  • June 24, 1542 St. John of the Cross, Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet, is born.
  • June 24, 1938 500 ton meteorite lands near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
  • June 24, 1717 First Free Masons' grand lodge founded in London.
  • June 24, 1374 A sudden outbreak of St. John's Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.
  • June 24, 1314 Battle of Bannockburn; Scotland regains independence from England.
  • June 24, 843 Vikings destroy Nantes.
  • June 23 Midsummer’s Eve
  • June 23, 1972 Nixon & Haldeman agree to use CIA to cover up Watergate.
  • June 23, 1942 Germany's latest fighter, a Focke-Wulf FW190 is captured intact when it mistakenly lands at RAF Pembrey in Wales.
  • June 23, 1888 Frederick Douglass is 1st African-American nominated for president.
  • June 23, 1848 Workers’ insurrection in Paris.
  • June 23, 1713 The French residents of Acadia are given one year to declare allegiance to Britain or leave Nova Scotia, Canada. They choose the latter, migrate to Louisiana, and become Cajuns.
  • June 21 Summer Solstice (11:28 a.m.).
  • June 21, 1964 Three civil rights workers-Michael H. Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James E. Chaney-are kidnapped and murdered by the Klan in Mississippi .
  • June 21, 1948 The 33 1/3 RPM LP record is introduced by Columbia Records.
  • June 21, 1944 Ray Davies of the Kinks born in London.
  • June 21, 1916 Mexican troops beat US expeditionary force under Gen Pershing.
  • June 21, 1877 The Molly Maguires, ten Irish immigrant labor activists, are hanged in Pennsylvania prisons.
  • June 20, 1947 Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, gangster, the “man who invented Las Vegas,” shot dead in Beverly Hills, Cal.
  • June 20, 1909 Errol Flynn, greatest of the swashbucklers, born in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • June 20, 1944 Congress charters Central Intelligence Agency.
  • June 20, 1943 Detroit race riot kills 35.
  • June 20, 1893 - Lizzie Borden acquitted in murder of parents in New Bedford Mass.
  • June 20, 1871 Ku Klux Klan trials began in federal court in Oxford Miss.
  • June 20, 1837 Queen Victoria at 18 ascends British throne ; rules for 63 years ending in 1901.
  • June 20, 1756 146 British soldiers imprisoned in the "Black Hole of Calcutta." Most die.
  • June 20, 1631 The Irish village of Baltimore is attacked by Algerian pirates.
  • June 20, 1214 The University of Oxford receives its charter.
  • June 20, 451 Germans & Romans beat Attila the Hun at Catalarinische Fields.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

This Week in the Secret History: The Magickal Roots of "Swinging England"

Christine Keeler and the Famous Chair

The Profumo Affair...There has always been something about this story that begged the discovery, or invention, of an array of subtexts.

In 1963, British Secretary of War John Profumo and his wife, a retired movie actress, were very much at the center of "swinging London" society . One night in July 1961, Profumo was at the Cliveden estate of Lord "Bill" Astor when he was first introduced to 19-year-old Christine Keeler, frolicking naked by the Cliveden pool. Keeler was at Cliveden as a guest of Dr. Stephen Ward, a society osteopath who rented a cottage at the estate from his friend Lord Astor. Keeler, from an indigent background, was working as a showgirl at a London nightclub. Ward had taken Keeler under his wing, and they lived together in his London flat. He encouraged her to pursue sexual relationships with his upper-class friends. Ward introduced her to his friend Yevgeny "Eugene" Ivanov, a Soviet naval attache who some suspected was a spy, and she began a sexual relationship with the Soviet diplomat. Several weeks after meeting Profumo at Cliveden, she also began an affair with the war minister.

On March 21, 1963, Colonel George Wigg, a Labour MP, raised the issue in the House of Commons, inviting Profumo to affirm or deny the rumors of his improprieties. Profumo vehemently denied the charges. This defused the scandal for several weeks, but in May Stephen Ward went on trial on charges of prostituting Keeler and other young women. In the highly sensationalized trial, Keeler testified under oath about her relationship with Profumo. On June 5, Profumo resigned as war minister.

Prime Minister Macmillan was widely condemned as being old, out-of-touch, and incompetent. In October, he resigned under pressure from his own government. In the general election in 1964 the Conservatives were swept from power by Harold Wilson's Labour Party.

Stephen Ward committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. Christine Keeler was convicted of perjury in a related trial and began a prison sentence in December 1963. John Profumo left politics after his resignation and dedicated himself to philanthropy in the East End of London.

Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies on their way to court

And now about those subtexts...

American novelist R.V. Cassill, in his 1970 best-seller, Dr. Cobb's Game, makes Michael Cobb, the Stephen Ward character, not only a playboy and man about town, but a magician who is dedicated to bringing about a psychic rebirth of poor old shabby, war-broken England.The way he intends to do this is by...sex magic! Good old, Merry Old Pagan English sex magic of the D.H. Lawrence one with nature, feel your deep self variety. Cobb initiates Cecile Banner (Christine Keeler) into the erotic mysteries, then sends her out to gather a representative new England around her, including the creative and artistic, the successful, the marginalized, the very good, the very bad, the weak and the very powerful. This last includes Richard Derwent (John Profumo), England's Minister of War, whose potential to play Arthur to his Merlin particularly interests Dr. Cobb.

But then things start to go wrong. On the one hand the old gods become unruly, on the other the Establishment finally takes notice and bares its claws, looking for a scapegoat for the unholy mess Cobb and Derwent have unwittingly created. Caught between the two forces, Cobb takes his own life. And Cecile goes on to become the muse of Swinging England.

It is true that part of the fascination of the Profumo Affair for the general public is that it opened a window into an aristocratic netherworld of campy occult-tinged perversity, which is probably what suggested the whole scenario to Cassill.

On the grittier side, English investigative journalist Anthony Summers, author of Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, in his book Honeytrap, maintains that Stephen Ward was a British intelligence asset who was working with MI5 to turn Ivanov into a double agent by compromising him sexually. Of course, his suicide was no suicide; he was murdered by British intelligence, having become a liability when the whole affair blew up.

Interestingly, one idea that Cassill and Summers share is that Ward (like millions of others) was traumatized by the Cuban Missile Crisis, and was working desperately, through his vast web of contacts, to set up unofficial meetings between Soviet and British citizens to prevent another confrontation.

All of this was turned into a wonderful movie, Scandal (1989), with John Hurt as Stephen Ward, Ian McKellen as John Profumo, Bridget Fonda as Mandy Rice-Davies, and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer as Christine Keeler.

Here's a great clip from Scandal as Christine and Mandy apply warpaint to the tune of "Apache" by the Shadows.

No comments:

Post a Comment