Wednesday, February 1, 2017

European RC #2

I read this book for the European Reading Challenge

An English Affair:  Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo - Richard Davenport-Hines

The Profumo affair was a British political scandal that came out of a brief sexual relationship in 1961 between John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War in PM Harold Macmillan's Tory government, and Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old model who like to party. The first two-thirds of the book is a readable and fascinating description of the time, the post-WWII UK, with an emphasis on the middle 1950s and early1960s. The remainder, a blow by blow account of the affair, cover-up, or fall-out overwhelms with copious detail and the contempt a sapped reader feels for such deceitful types as high-level politicians.  

Davenport-Hines asserts that the strict socialist regulations of the immediate post-war years were to blame for recalcitrant rule breakers trying to get around investment-unfriendly red-tape. Money guys were looking to cash in on the construction boom and develop bombed out sites in the City and shopping complexes in the suburbs of cities. Mixed in with their avarice and power-hunger, of course, was the usual lust of middle-aged guys for young women. Like Roger Ailes, they were generally so misogynistic, oafish, and ugly that they needed money, power, and connections to meet and then set up party girls, models, and other would-be celebs in apartments. The story is all about what is bewildering about the species called the wealthy: that money and power and recognition are never enough, greedy men are always insatiable, they despise the people they con and cheat and use, they demand loyalty from the same subordinates that they would leave twisting in the wind.

But this book indicates that just about every man in a position of power in the public and private sectors were getting it on with younger, poorer girls and boys. John Profumo, the secretary of war, had enough smarts to skate through Harrow and Oxford where he made plenty of connections. He had a good WWII. He needed his breezy charm to balance what his fellow stupid conservatives called his Eye-tie name, which brought to mind women’s scent.

Christine Keeler came from terrible circumstances, coming to maturity in old railway car with no electricity, plumbing, or privacy. As a babysitter, she was routinely groped and fondled by fathers of the kids she sat. Her step-father’s sexual advances forced her to sleep with a knife under her pillow. She as desperate to get away from home and start leading a glamorous life. She started working in a nightclub in London where she met Mandy Rice-Davies. They got themselves into society through older men. They weren't angels but nobody deserves the treatment they had to endure.

Finally, as a writer for the right-wing magazine Spectator, Davenport-Hines takes predictable swipes at the left, but, to his credit, castigates the police and press for objectionable practices. The language used by the the papers is shocking in their anti-women venom.  Police procedures to demoralize and coerce persons of interest will disgust readers and frighten people who assume they live in a democracy, not a police state. Davenport-Hines also observes that the public itself fed this corruption with hypocritical attitudes and by purchasing the newspapers. Nobody get away unscathed in this brilliant and riveting overview of that time and place.

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