How the Profumo report covered up a FAR more sensational sex scandal

How the official report into the Christine Keeler affair covered up a FAR more sensational sex scandal… and this Tory Minister’s kinky antics made Profumo look like a choirboy

  • Harold Macmillan helped to suppress Cabinet Minister’s escort arrangement
  • The then-PM ‘colluded to cover up scandal of Transport Minister and a prostitute’
  • Prostitute ‘was paid to dress Ernest Marples in women’s clothing and beat him’ 

Ernest Marples, Transport Minister under Harold Macmillan’s Government, is pictured above with wife Baroness Ruth Marples. A prostitute was paid to dress him in women’s clothing and beat him

Few judicial reports become bestsellers but then it is rare for an official inquiry to cover espionage, hypocrisy in high places, sado-masochistic orgies and a mysterious ‘man in a mask’. 

But such was the Denning Report, the sensational concluding chapter to the Profumo affair, the scandal that convulsed post-war Britain and one that is dramatised in the popular BBC series The Trial Of Christine Keeler.

In the wake of the scandal, Lord Denning, the Master of the Rolls, was commissioned to assess the security risk posed by Keeler’s notorious relationships with War Minister John Profumo and Yevgeny Ivanov, a Russian spy.

The 1963 Denning Report would also prove to be a landmark: an eye-opening account of the sexual peccadillos enjoyed by some of the most powerful people in the land.

The public was agog to read its accounts of ‘good time girl’ Keeler, her friend Mandy Rice-Davies and the upper-class sex parties they attended. The report flew off the shelves.

Yet there was one scandal that Denning refused to include in his report – a ‘degrading’ sexual relationship between a senior Conservative Cabinet Minister and a prostitute. It was a true security risk more serious than anything involving Keeler and one which, had it been known, would almost certainly have toppled the Tory government of the day.

Today, I can reveal compelling evidence that then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and Lord Denning colluded to suppress a long-standing arrangement between Transport Minister Ernest Marples and a prostitute who was paid to dress him in women’s clothing and beat him. 

There is good reason to believe that the woman was then paid off to prevent her story appearing in the press.

The official account of the episode remains classified, locked up in government archives for decades to come, but I have obtained the diaries of Denning’s secretary, Thomas Critchley, a respected civil servant who recorded the drama as it unfolded.

Denning’s investigation into the Profumo scandal had been close to its conclusion when, at 12.15pm on Tuesday, July 9, 1963, a woman calling herself variously Mrs Ann Bailey or Mrs Smith turned up at his Whitehall office as a voluntary witness.

Lord Denning, left, is pictured with Thomas Critchley outside No10 with the report into the Profumo affair. The 1963 Denning Report would also prove to be a landmark: an eye-opening account of the sexual peccadillos enjoyed by some of the most powerful people in the land

She was, wrote Critchley, ‘… 40ish, very painted with a bright vivacious manner who spoke quietly and fluently, and plunged straight into her tale’. Mrs Bailey told Lord Denning that she had been a full-time prostitute and had been paid for a long sexual relationship with a very senior member of Macmillan’s Cabinet. 

His sexual preferences were unusual and she disclosed them in great detail, including how he brought women’s clothes and wore them for their sex sessions, describing their colour and frills.

‘It was impossible to doubt that she was telling the truth,’ wrote Critchley after he had heard the woman’s evidence. Next she described his further tastes of which, she said, ‘whipping was the least sickening’. 

Before continuing into even more detail, Mrs Bailey looked at Denning’s female shorthand writer and suggested she best leave the room as she would not want to hear what came next.

I can reveal compelling evidence that then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan (pictured above) and Lord Denning colluded to suppress a long-standing arrangement between Transport Minister Ernest Marples and a prostitute who was paid to dress him in women’s clothing and beat him

To Critchley and the astonished Lord Denning, the prostitute described with ‘perfect composure the ultimate in depravity. His requirements were very difficult and sometimes she had needed an assistant… the Minister’s habits and requests had got worse.’

She also testified that even after their relationship ended, a series of ‘annoying, obscene and filthy’ letters signed by the Minister with the initial E had reached her, describing the services and practices he still required. 

Horrified, Critchley and Denning both reached the same conclusion after Mrs Bailey had departed: ‘Every word of her story was true.’

Mrs Bailey recalled ‘servicing’ the Cabinet Minister on occasions at his luxurious house at 33 Eccleston Square in London.

Her detailed description of the interior of the house was confirmed the following day. Critchley understood the gravity of the information they now possessed: ‘If what Mrs B said was true (and Denning didn’t doubt it) [the Minister] was in a worse state than Profumo. 

He was exposed to Blackmail (sic) and had been so exposed for years. He could be blackmailed into giving away the country’s secrets… knowing what we did, ought we not at once to warn No 10?’

The owner of 33 Eccleston Square was the Rt Hon Ernest Marples, Privy Counsellor, Minister for Transport and a former Postmaster General. Today he is remembered for implementing the Beeching cuts to the railway system, for introducing Premium Bonds, and for fleeing the country when under suspicion of tax fraud.

But he was a figure of considerable influence and, as a member of the Privy Council, had access to some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets. Privy Counsellors are handpicked for their discretion. 

They are informed first if a Prime Minister wants to send troops into action and will normally be given first notice of significant Royal developments involving, for example, the health of the Sovereign.

London in 1963 was a hotbed of spies from the Soviet Union and its satellites, all with instructions to target and blackmail vulnerable politicians, journalists and civil servants. The very fact that Mrs Bailey had come forward showed just how vulnerable to blackmail Marples was.

Critchley was convinced the prostitute had been deliberately encouraged to approach the Denning inquiry by a national newspaper so that once her evidence was authenticated and published in Denning’s report, the newspaper would be clear to pay her and publish her life story. 

This, in turn, would almost certainly have led to the collapse of the already scandal-ridden government.

As the final test of Mrs Bailey’s story, Denning decided to mount a confrontation between her and Ernest Marples on the afternoon of August 1. 

As they met in Denning’s office, Mrs Bailey jumped up, but Marples spoke first. ‘Eh, Ann,’ he said in a broad Lancashire accent. ‘You’ve changed.’ They shook hands like old friends.

Afterwards, Marples had no doubt that, according to Critchley, ‘Mrs Bailey would do all in her power to gain Lord Denning’s acceptance of her story so that, well embroidered, she would be able to sell it for a sensationally large sum of money’.

For several days, Lord Denning and Critchley held the government’s fate in their hands.

Christine, the day she was freed from jail

Tonight’s concluding episode of the BBC’s The Trial Of Christine Keeler sees the 22-year-old, played by Sophie Cookson, released from Holloway prison after serving half of a nine-month sentence for perjury. 

On the day Keeler was freed – June 9, 1964 – she posed for these photographs by Ray Bellisario in a series of locations. 

David McCleave, who owns the copyright to the pictures, said: ‘She thought they were some of the best pictures she had ever had taken. She told me, ‘They’re not sexual… they show exactly how I feel – it’s freedom.’

In June 1964 Christine Keeler was released from Holloway prison after serving half of a nine-month sentence for perjury. She is pictured on the day of her release

On the day Keeler was freed – June 9, 1964 – she posed for these photographs by Ray Bellisario in a series of locations


David McCleave, who owns the copyright to the pictures, said: ‘She thought they were some of the best pictures she had ever had taken’. She is seen left in a hairdryer, and right posing with a cigarette on the sofa

As Critchley recorded in his diary: ‘Lord Denning’s dilemma in this situation was acute… (his) inquiry had been set up in the first place because confidence in the integrity of public life had been badly shaken by Mr Profumo’s conduct and the subsequent flood of rumours concerning Ministers. 

If he were not to deal faithfully in his report with them he would be accused of covering up and the object of the inquiry would be defeated. Yet if he did attribute names to the rumours he would imperil the life of the whole government.’

Denning at first argued for his judicial independence and full publication of the Marples scandal, while Critchley warned him that the revelations ‘could ruin the lives of individuals but could damage the country’s standing both at home and abroad – for the inquiry was attracting international attention’.

On August 14, 1963, there was a crisis meeting between the Prime Minister, Critchley, Lord Denning and Macmillan’s permanent private secretary, Tim Bligh, at Admiralty House. Critchley took his own notes. 

The Prime Minister grandly stressed that he did not wish to influence Denning’s final report in any way and that he did not want the conduct of particular Ministers relegated to confidential annexes.

Critchley’s diary reports that Denning, presumably with fingers crossed behind his back, then told Macmillan that he was satisfied that none of the evidence before him showed that national security had been or might be endangered and he proposed to report this formally. This was an outright lie.

Published in October, the Denning Report enthralled the public with its details of sexual misconduct, which included a sado-masochistic sex party attended by society osteopath Stephen Ward, who had been at the heart of the Profumo scandal, and Mandy Rice-Davies. 

A ‘man in a mask’ had appeared naked except for a masonic apron and a sign saying, ‘If my services don’t please – whip me’.

But for all the salacious material he did choose to include, Denning failed to name Marples’s relationship with Mrs Bailey or to discuss the risks involved.

He balked at warning the Prime Minister that Mrs Bailey’s appearance before his inquiry could itself have been an attempt to extort money from a senior Cabinet Minister and Privy Counsellor.

He omitted to say that there was a real danger that Marples’s ‘degrading’ sexual relationship with her might well appear in a Sunday newspaper with all the implications for the Conservative government. But then Macmillan already knew that as he had been kept secretly informed throughout.

The Denning Report enthralled the public with its details of sexual misconduct, which included a sado-masochistic sex party attended by society osteopath Stephen Ward, who had been at the heart of the Profumo scandal, and Mandy Rice-Davies. Ward is pictured centre, with Christine Keeler, right

Instead of quizzing Lord Denning for details, the PM hinted at a curious compromise, suggesting to Denning that it might be ‘appropriate at a later stage to write confidentially to the Prime Minister drawing his attention to suspicions of discreditable conduct on the part of Ministers in their private lives.’

In other words, Lord Denning could assuage his judicial conscience by informing the PM of Marples’ behaviour and vulnerability to blackmail – but only after the Profumo storm had passed and in secret. The public would never be told.

The subsequent release of the official archives relating to the Macmillan government in 1994 revealed that the Prime Minister was apprehensive about the contents of Denning’s impending report. 

He wrote that he did not want to bring his long premiership ‘to an ignoble end… I did not wish to go down to history as a Prime Minister who had been drowned by filth which had seeped up from the sewers of London’.

On August 2, 1963, Macmillan noted in his diary: ‘I fear that Lord Denning’s report… will condemn one important Minister… this will be another great shock and make my position impossible.’ In the end, however, Denning decided to defy his brief – and his responsibility to tell the truth – and excluded the Marples story altogether.

To add to the duplicity, he wrote in the report: ‘I would normally regard… perverted practices with a prostitute as creating a security risk at any rate if it was of recent date.’

Which makes his omission of Marples more deceitful still.

Marples continued in office until the following year. It might seem significant that he and Thomas Critchley became firm friends and spent holidays together.

Marples even sent Critchley a gift of wine thanking him for all his help during ‘this beastly business’.

As for Mrs Bailey, why did she fail to sell her sensational story to the News of the World or one of its rivals? Critchley’s diaries have nothing to say about this.

But what we do know is this: former Prime Minister Sir John Major, having recently read the full set of Denning papers locked up in the Cabinet Office, deemed them so ‘explosive’ (the word he used in a private conversation with my contact) that he thought they should remain secret for a 100 years. Sir John declined to comment when I contacted him.

I suspect – although I do not pretend to have the evidence – that the real reason the papers will not be declassified in our lifetime is that Mrs Bailey negotiated a handsome payoff with Lord Denning in return for her silence. What other reason could there be?

Such a deal would have involved taxpayers’ money buying off a prostitute to keep her quiet to save the government of the day. I calculate that the amount would have been equivalent today to about £250,000. Now that really would have been a scandal.

The Trial Of Christine Keeler concludes on BBC1 tonight at 9pm. Tom Mangold’s documentary Keeler, Profumo, Ward And Me is on BBC2 tonight at 10pm.

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