Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christine Keeler: 1942-2017 an obituary by John Lawton

With the death earlier this month of Christine Keeler, fellow author John Lawton asked for the chance to write an obituary. As well as being acquainted with some of the players in the infamous Profumo Affair, Lawton wrote a fictionalised account of the scandal as the subject of his Inspector Troy novel, A LITTLE WHITE DEATH.

I am about to write an obituary (sort of) for someone I never met. Tricky, but here goes.

Christine Keeler: 1942-2017

She was a tragic figure.
Notoriety can be transmuted into fame, and, as Mandy Rice-Davies proved either one can be turned into success. Christine Keeler’s life after ‘the scandal’ strikes me as little short of wasted, and on a Channel 4 talk show in the late 1980s she herself described her life in the 1970s as ‘more existing than living’. She came across as the perpetual victim, and no amount of verbiage (she co-wrote seven books on the Profumo Affair) could create the sense of triumph that might have lifted her out of that condition.
At roughly that time I was writing a history of the year 1963. A more diligent historian might have sought Christine out … perhaps I wasn’t diligent at all — offered the chance to interview David Frost I declined for no better reason than that his onscreen persona had always struck me as obnoxious. Willie Rushton advised me to at least make the approach as ‘he’ll get annoyed if he hears you’re writing about the satire boom without talking to him’ which only reinforced my wish to work around Frost rather than with him. Instead I talked to Peter Cook who told me that the one thing he regretted in life was saving Frost from drowning — not a remark anyone need take seriously. Frost was also ‘the bubonic plagiarist’ to Peter — a remark you can take seriously.
I did not pursue Christine Keeler for very simple reasons. What in seven books (although it was probably only about five in 1990) had she not said already? And I could only see myself as causing pain by asking questions. I left her alone. I’m not sure anyone could have left her in peace.
Mandy Rice-Davies on the cover of Private Eye magazine

Mandy … Mandy I had known for several years before Hodders commisioned my book. I had no qualms about ringing her up.
“OK. But it’s the last time I ever give an interview on that subject.”
I doubt mine was the last interview (the Cook certainly was) but I’ve no doubt she meant it to be.
Notoriety to fame to success? Of course but the degree of success never ceased to amaze me. I once blotted my copy book by asking if the Picasso on the wall of her Knightsbridge flat was real.
“You think I’d have a fake Picasso?”
The Kandinsky was real too.
Mandy was the only person ever to serve me caviar as a mid-morning ‘snack’ … and if lunch beckoned she’d whisk me to Langan’s and order Veuve Cliquot. I’ve never cared for either, but that’s by the bye, they’re milestones on the journey from notoriety to fame.
Christine, meanwhile, was living in a council flat in Pimlico. Her greatest asset, her looks (Daily Herald reporter Diana Norman described her to me as ‘the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen’), fading fast. Poverty grinds. Mandy never lost her looks. If anything she was more attractive at fifty that she’d been at seventeen. She was the matured version of the girl in the gigantic poster my thirteen-year-old girlfriend (I was fifteen) had pinned to the back of her bedroom door in 1964. The girlfriend even took to calling herself Mandy … signing letters as Mandy (that’s a sign of the times ... she sent brief, intense love letters on blue Basildon Bond paper folded over many times … so bollox to Twitter).
That iconic status worked for both Mandy and Christine. They became instant heroes to us adolescents … Mandy very much for her quick wit and utter refusal to let court and cops intimidate her. (She admitted to me she had felt intimidated, but was good at putting on her brave face.) I think Christine was terrified. She had no ready wit in her defences. Interviewed by the charmless plods of Scotland Yard seventeen times and eventually serving a prison term. The system grinds.
The ‘scandal’ became instant mythology. I suspect one of the reasons Christine wrote seven books was that every few years some tabloid hack would come along and say ‘dig up a couple of new facts and we can re-package the whole thing all over again’, and, forever skint, she would agree. The last book, published in the wake of Profumo’s death some ten years ago, had this as title and sub-title :

‘Secrets & Lies : Now Profumo is dead I can finally reveal the truth about the most shocking scandal in British Politics.’

Early on in the book she warns the reader off the 1989 film ‘Scandal’, in which she was played by Joanne Whalley — it wasn’t like that. But if you watch the film she is credited in the ‘thanks to’ and at least one of her books is listed as a source. If Michael Caton-Jones got it wrong she had only herself to blame. Mandy told me she would give the film-makers the rights to her memoir, but would do nothing further to assist in the promotion of the film. As I recall she stuck to that. Christine accepted £5000 to attend the premiere. Mandy had moved on. Christine was never in a position to move on. 
One day in Knightsbridge, Mandy remarked that it had been a trying day.
“I nipped out for lunch at my local restaurant, where the maitre d’ has known me for years. I’d just sat down when he approached me and said ‘I hope this isn’t a problem, but Mr and Mrs Profumo have reserved a table at the same time as you.’ Where’s the back door? I said.”
“I suppose the last thing you’d want is a Sun reporter catching you and Profumo together again?”
“Again? I’ve never met the man!”

John Profumo

I felt like an idiot. What this showed me is that I’d bought the all-pervading myth that had been hashed and rehashed for the best part of thirty years. That the Ward-Profumo affair had been some kind of social circle in which all the players knew one another … an idea which fosters some ill-conceived notion of equality … and that loosely brings me to the point … to the nature of the tragedy: to the victims.
John Profumo, Baron of the Two Sicilies, Oxford graduate, former member of the Bullingdon Club – that cradle of upper class twits – was not a victim. The victims were people who might have thought they were his friends — Christine Keeler and Stephen Ward.
The first book on the Profumo Affair, predictably, was an instant bestseller — 4000 copies sold in the first hour (I should be so lucky). What’s odd is that this was the Denning Report, written by Lord Denning, Britain’s senior judge, Master of the Rolls, in the summer of 1963 at the behest of the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, and published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Lord Denning

When it appeared on September 23rd, Ward had been dead almost two months and Christine had been charged with perjury, for which she received a nine month sentence in December. Profumo had already retired from public life and begun his work for charities.
What charity did he show to Ward and Keeler? I’ll come back to that.
The Denning Report into ‘The Profumo Affair’ has no interview with Profumo. Denning did not call him. A curious omission.
The report reads like a novel. Strangely prurient, with sub-headings such as The Darling Letter, The Slashing, The Shooting and The Man Without a Head, more reminiscent of pulp fiction than HMSO. Above all it reads as though Denning was enjoying every minute.
Andrew Roth, the journalist who first broke the story, confirmed this to me: “The story [Denning] asked me about concerned a well known man who took Christine Keeler for a ride in his open car and she’d performed fellatio. Denning said ‘What’s that?’ I looked at the verbatim reporter, a middle aged, very spinsterly lady ... and for the life of me I couldn’t think of anything but ‘cocksucking’. I said he’d have to look it up in a dictionary. I was so surprised he’d asked me that question I went and looked up his record – he’d been in the divorce courts for a long period.  It was all just judge’s technique.”
It was all just Denning cranking up the tabloid content to create what in the end was a whitewash — no one in the establishment, no politician could possibly to blame. Certainly not Jack Profumo, and I rather think that to Profumo his real offence, his only offence, had been lying to those complacent bastards, the House of Commons.
Denning’s own verdict on his report is bluntly put at the end of his introduction to the 1992 reissue: “The report did good.” Yeah, right.
But … Profumo was allowed to withdraw from public life, and with the award of a CBE some ten years later was held to be ‘redeemed’, invited to Thatcher’s seventieth and seated next to the Queen. The ranks had not so much closed around Profumo as warmly embraced him.
Meanwhile, Stephen Ward, ‘society’ osteopath, was hounded to death. He did, after all, work for a living and so was not ‘one of us’— and Christine Keeler, once the desirable lover was written off as a tart. She could never be ‘one of us.’
What charity did Profumo show to Ward and Keeler? None that I know of. Not a single word uttered in their defence, yet he must have known that Ward was innocent of the charges brought against him and that Keeler had been harassed and bullied into the perjury that led to her conviction and in the long run to a sad and tragic life.

Christine Keeler

I find that unforgivable. He threw them to the wolves and the society, the ‘us’ to which he belonged, devoured them.
On the matter of the great English ‘us’ I find, however much out of left field, that the oft-uttered, oft-sung words of Grace Slick come to mind :

“Up against the wall motherfuckers.”

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Is Mykonos Destined to be Europe's Las Vegas?


Five years ago I wrote a book with what some thought a “preposterous, never happen” premise: a plot centered on turning Mykonos, the Aegean Greek island I call home, into Europe’s Las Vegas.  How foolish of me to suggest that Mykonians would ever countenance such a terminal end to their treasured island paradise’s ways. 

I remember delivering a copy of that book to the newly elected mayor in his office at the town hall. I also remember what I said to him at that time.  “Mister Mayor, if what I wrote comes true, it will happen on your watch.”  He promised me it wouldn’t.

Here’s an excerpt from Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis’ fifth mystery-thriller, Mykonos After Midnight, highlighting the concerns that triggered my warning to the mayor:

“Can you imagine what a casino would do for Mykonos?  It would turn the place into the Las Vegas of the Mediterranean."

“And that's a good thing?  ... Don't you think the island has gone about as far off in the ‘nightlife direction’ as the Mykonians can take?”…

“If we'd commit as a community to turning our island into a worldwide entertainment destination, a Las Vegas on the sea, it would become a year-round tourist attraction, and not just a place for partying…in the summer…But none of that is ever going to happen…The big boys here have all the juice and the big boys elsewhere don't want Mykonos to have a casino.  And you don't have to look very hard to see how nasty some of them are willing to play… Those boys play for keeps. So, unless you're prepared to play by their rules, stay away.”

“[H]ere we are…on the verge of bringing…[foreign organized crime] to Mykonos… Wholly different rules.  No one, not a child, mother, you name it, is off limits.”...

“And once here, they'll want a piece of everything they can get their hands on.”…

“Las Vegas may not be a bad comparison for the way Mykonos could end up.  I hear it's surrounded by desert filled with never to be discovered bodies.  Mykonos has the Aegean.”

“Let's hope it doesn't go that way.” 

“What's to stop it?  If all it takes is money to do whatever you want, those with the most get to call the shots.”…

“If you're right, there's nothing you or I can do to affect the end of that story; it's all up to the Mykonians.”


That’s what I wrote in 2012, now take a look at this excerpt from an article appearing four days ago (December 12, 2017) in Casino News Daily titled, “Opposition Mounts to Mykonos Casino Construction Proposal”:

Municipal authorities of the Greek island of Mykonos have launched a process for gathering signatures for a referendum on the potential construction of a casino. The move came after it was announced that the Greek government was considering a gambling bill that, among other things, would expand the country’s casino industry.
Under the bill, three new casino licenses could be issued for each of three Greek islands, with those being Mykonos, Crete, and Santorini. All three are among Greece’s major tourist hubs.
Local media reported that Mykonos Mayor Constantinos Koukas recently proposed the launch of a signature collection process. The move was approved by the Mykonos council without objection and was launched shortly after.
It is understood that Mykonos officials are trying to collect enough signatures for a referendum at which residents will be able to voice their opinion on the proposed casino. According to local media, the island’s Mayor and council undertook the move in hopes to prevent the construction of the gambling venue
Greece’s casino expansion effort came as part of the government’s plan to overhaul the nation’s gambling industry. The changes have been pushed for by the Ministry of Finance for quite some time now…
It is believed that the Greek government will vote on the casino expansion proposal before Christmas. And according to reports from local media, the bill has already gained quite a lot of momentum and will likely be passed
The legislative piece contains provisions that will create a licensing system for foreign gambling operators to be able to participate in the country’s market.

It looks like the “big boys” off the island—and perhaps on—decided a casino on Mykonos wasn’t such a bad idea after all, nor is bringing in foreign gambling operators.  I wonder what the referendum will show the Mykonians to think about all of this, not that their referendum at this late a date in the process will likely affect the outcome. 

What I wonder even more is whether the mayor was thinking of our conversation when he called for the referendum.  After all, he was warned not just by me, but by the international criminal mastermind in Mykonos After Midnight who, after thwarted in its (fictional) efforts to build a casino hotel on Mykonos, said this:

“I want you to go back to Mykonos and wait.  We will forget about this hotel deal… Still, a seed has been planted, and the possibility looms in the minds of those who matter that there is great profit to be made for those willing to sell their birthright.  We just must be ready for the opportunities.  They will come in many forms as Greeks struggle to find a new direction.”

Ah, yes, fiction.  How I love it when it shows the way. And hate it when it comes true.

Jeff’s Upcoming Events

My ninth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, AN AEGEAN APRIL, publishes on January 2, 2018 and here is the first stage of my book tour:

Thursday, January 4 @ 7PM
Poisoned Pen Bookstore,
Scottsdale, AZ (joint appearance with Thomas Perry)

Saturday, January 6 @ 2 PM            
Clues Unlimited
Tucson, AZ

Monday, January 8  @ 7PM
Vromans (on Colorado)
Pasadena, CA

Wednesday, January 10 @ 7PM                   
Tattered Cover (on Colfax)
Denver, CO

Saturday, January 13 @ 2 PM                      
Book Carnival 
Orange, CA

Sunday, January 14 @ 2 PM
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA

Wednesday, January 17 @ 7 PM      
Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park)
Seattle, WA

Thursday, January 18 @ 7 PM
Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Readers Literary Salon
Berkeley, CA

Sunday, January 21 @ 7 PM
Book Passage
Corte Madera, CA

Thursday, January 25 @ 7 PM
Mysterious Bookshop
New York, NY

Friday, February 2 @ 7PM
Centuries & Sleuths (Forest Park)
Chicago, IL

Saturday, February 3 @ 12 PM
Once Upon A Crime
Minneapolis, MN

Friday, December 15, 2017

What would you put into Room 101?


There are some  things in crime fiction that  drive me mad. When I reach that point in the book, I want to throw it at the wall, where it will rebound to the floor where it will be attacked by any  cats or dogs present.

 During my whirlwind round about tour of here and there, I have been interviewing authors- and interviewing the audience when it seemed appropriate, about what they would banish into the dreaded room 101.

Here’s  my top ten  crime fiction no-nos.

1)      Never going to the toilet, eating or blowing their nose.
 I think Cagney and Lacey were the last tv detectives to go to the loo. Some detectives do of course, do nothing but eat. Frost can’t get to the first ad break without a bacon sarnie.

2)      Never growing old
Those weird characters who live a half life in some temporal ether; they exist but they do not age. Their kids go to uni, but their hips don’t wear out. And nobody ever pensions them off.

3)       Not suffering the consequences of physical injury.
This really winds me up.  A dislocated elbow on page 208 will still bring tears to the eye on page 232. And, in one famous book the hero is stabbed, shot, knocked unconscious then buried underground – shallow grave that was filled in with earth – for a few chapters. Then his hand appeared, scraping at the ground, bullet in the head, and suffering from a loss of blood and credibility.

4)      In serial fiction,  no carry over of PTSD, as if reborn emotionally in the gap between one book and the next. People who suffer loss carry it with them in real life and should do so in fiction.

5)      An ailing relative for no reason than to give a cardboard cut out hero a  bit of empathetic back story.  This was a common one talked about during the tour, not one I had noticed in my reading but it really gets the goat of some Tartan Noir authors. I sat red faced, as my fictional fiscal (Coroner type)  has just put his wife into a  home with early onset dementia. I did point this out, and they replied that I was really following point 2. People get to an age where stuff like that happens.


6)      Stupid women, running in graveyards at midnight because they heard a noise. Leaving the mobile phone, the pit bull and the hatchet behind.  Sometimes they move so quickly they don’t have time to put clothes on the poor darlings.

7)      The mobile phone coming to the rescue…on page 320. It has been in their pocket since page 1, so why didn’t they just call Police Scotland, The FBI and Auchtermurchty Tourist Rescue on page 2 and save us all the bother. Having said that, the mobile signal in Auchtermurchty is iffy at best.

8)      Too much harping on about soap box issues. If you want to be an activist, then do so, but leave the crime fiction to tell its own story and the reader will get the idea by osmosis.

9)      A really stupid argumentative boss. How often do we see that? Drives me mad. The boss wouldn’t be more superior in ranking than the hero if he didn’t have some talent for the job surely. Personality conflicts ok, conflicts of interest ok but not a lack of the little grey cells.

10)   Bending facts just a wee bit too far……fiction is fiction. But there are boundaries to what I acceptable. And if it has to happen to make the plot work, then the writer should go back to the drawing board with a rubber.


So what twists your lemon?

Caro Ramsay 15 12 2017 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A weekend in Porto

Michael - Thursday

On route to a conference in Lisbon, I squeezed in three days with long-time friend and wine fundi Neil Pendock in Porto.  We’d been there before some six years ago, and remembered it for the wonderful scenery along the Douro, the wonderful food, and, of course, the excellent wine and superb port.  Indeed, this I where all true port originates and can be tasted in its natural habitat, so to speak.

We arrived early on Saturday morning after a trip from South Africa on TAAG (Air Angola), which is a story in its own right. After a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel (which told us to come back in eight hours when the rooms were ready), we took a walk around the sleepy town as the mist started to lift.

With its key setting near the mouth of the Douro River, Porto has been settled since around 300 BC. The Romans occupied it, and then the Moors took over in 711 and held it for 150 years. In 1387, John I of Portugal married Philippa of Lancaster starting the alliance with England that has lasted ever since. Their son—Prince Henry the Navigator—set off the age of exploration when his fleet sailed from Portugal to explore the coast of Africa. Not that it’s all been smooth sailing since then, what with Napoleon, revolutions, and a few world wars.

North bank Porto from the river

From the bridge
Seagulls have no respect for the heroes of the past
Wonderful porcelain tile mosaics at the main station

Did I mention the fresh fish?
I really should have mentioned the fish
The Douro is the world’s oldest declared and controlled wine appellation. This time we focused on the port, and we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Graham’s—one of the premier port houses—with the very knowledgeable and delightful Isabel Monteiro as our host.

Although England’s love affair with port started around 1700, W & J Graham’s was founded in 1820 when the two Graham brothers, who had been trading in textiles at Porto, decided that making port would be more lucrative and, presumably, a lot more fun. 

John and William Graham
Graham’s was bought by the Symington family in 1970. It remains a family owned and operated business and now includes several other respected port houses. Graham’s, however, remains their flagship.

The Symington family
Isabel took us down to the cellar to see the vats and barrels where the port matures quietly over the years.

VV Old Tawny means from the 19th century
Port comes in a variety of styles. The tawny ports are the ones that age for decades in old wood, generating their smoothness and complexity in a way similar to, for example, bourbon. Once bottled, they remain essentially unchanged, waiting to be opened and enjoyed. The ruby ports are more similar to wine, continuing to age in the bottle. Each producer declares only a few vintage years, blending the others. Graham’s is among the most particular, careful to preserve their vert high reputation for quality. Their recent vintage years are 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011.

The view from Graham's
We finished with a stunning tasting of their high-end wines, each more remarkable than the previous one, and finishing with the 1972 single harvest tawny.

Six Grapes, 2000 vintage 10, 20, 30 year old Tawny, Single Harvest
Isabel Monteiro discussing the great wines
A never to be forgotten afternoon!