19 Dec 2014

Mandy Rice-Davies: her role in the Profumo sex scandal

Mandy Rice-Davies, at the centre of the Profumo affair which rocked Harold Macmillan’s government, has died aged 70. Last year she revealed she was “still angry” about the way she had been treated.

Fifty years after the affair, Rice-Davies said she was angry about the way she and society osteopath Stephen Ward had been scapegoated and “shot down” (watch video above, which includes ITN archive of Rice-Davies and Ward from 1963).

A spokesman for the Hackford Jones PR agency, which represented Rice-Davies, said: “It is with deep sadness that the family of Marilyn Foreman, also known as Mandy Rice-Davies, have confirmed that she passed away yesterday evening after a short battle with cancer.”

The 1963 Profumo affair scandalised Britain, with disclosures about high society sex parties and claims that war secretary John Profumo had shared a mistress, Christine Keeler, with a Russian defence attache at the height of the cold war.

Profumo resigned from the cabinet in disgrace after lying to parliament about his relationship with Keeler and spent the rest of his life working for the Toynbee Hall charity in London’s east end.

Rice-Davies, a nightclub dancer, gained notoriety when in the witness box of the Old Bailey she dismissed a denial by Lord Astor that he had slept with her, reputedly saying: “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

In the swinging sixties, her remark seemed to encapsulate a new lack of deference towards the old establishment.

Stephen Ward, Christine Keeler and John Profumo (ITN archive, 1963)

Her claim to have had an affair with Lord Astor, whose mansion at Cliveden was the setting for the scandal, was denied many years later by his wife, but Rice-Davies always stuck to her story.

“What was Bill (Lord Astor) doing? I didn’t seduce Bill. I didn’t even flutter an eyelash at him. I wasn’t a temptress. He seduced me. In those days women did not leap upon men,” she said.

Born in Solihull in 1944, Rice-Davies was drawn into the scandal through her friendship with Keeler, a fellow dancer whose fling with Profumo destroyed his career and almost brought down the Conservative government.

Through Keeler (pictured above with Rice-Davies), she met Ward, who was renowned for organising parties bringing together high society types and pretty girls.

He was charged with living off the immoral earnings of Keeler and Rice-Davies and it was at his trial that she made her famous comment about Lord Astor.

Ward, seen by many as the scapegoat for the whole affair, committed suicide, taking a fatal overdose of pills at his London flat the night before the jury returned its verdict of guilty.

After the trial, Rice-Davies lived life to the full – dancing, acting, writing and marrying three times.

She had a relationship with the notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman, and while Keeler ended up in penury, she became wealthy, with homes in Miami, the Bahamas and Virginia Water, Surrey.

Although she wished the affair had not happened, she continued to talk about it, in the hope of putting the record straight.

“The only reason I still want to talk about it is that I have to fight the misconception that I was a prostitute. I don’t want that to be passed on to my grandchildren. There is still a stigma,” she said.

Last year she attended a news conference supporting the launch of a book claiming Ward was innocent.