Spartacus Blog

Mandy Rice Davies, Christine Keeler and the MI5 Honey-Trap

John Simkin

Mandy Rice Davies first contacted me in March, 2009. She was upset by an article I had written about her that had been published on my website. Mandy objected to a quote that I had used from Christine Keeler about her involvement in the John Profumo scandal. In her autobiography, The Truth at Last (2001), Keeler stated: "I thought Mandy Rice-Davies was a true tart. There was always shock on her face whenever she thought she might have to do more than lie on her back to make a living. Or swing from chandeliers. In the years since we first met I feel she has misrepresented events and put me down. She must have liked my style though - for she impersonated it in her fantasies, taking over my life. Mandy handed out quotes as readily as her sexual services. I hope the sex was better value. However unwittingly, she contributed through her silly stories to the official cover-up of the political upheaval of the early Sixties. Yes she was young and heedless but, still, she caused serious trouble to me and others by her antics." (1)

I agreed that the comments were harsh but I explained that the intention was to show students that the role of historians was to consider a wide-range of different sources before interpreting the past. Over the next few weeks we had several long telephone conversations. Mandy invited me to her home, but at the time that was impossible as I was looking after a terminally ill wife. I refused to remove the offending quotation but did agree to publish a statement that reflected her current views on the case. (2)

Mandy Rice-Davies leaving the Old Bailey
Mandy Rice-Davies leaving the Old Bailey

The relationship between Mandy and Christine had clearly broken down. However, in her autobiography, Mandy (1980), she was fairly kind to Christine: "It is difficult to equate the public image of Christine, as the hard bitten go-getter, with the Christine I knew. She was shy and quiet, domesticated in that she liked to cook and play house, at the same time sweet and amusing company. She had a good sense of humour, not particularly witty because she was never sharp in that way, but light, easy company. She had not enjoyed a happy childhood, but there was no bitterness about her. She flipped through life, a day, a night at a time, not bothering about what would follow." (3)

Stephen Ward, Christine Keeler and two unnamed women.
Stephen Ward, Christine Keeler and two unnamed women.

One of the things that Mandy confirmed to me was that Ernest Marples was the politician who was at the party held by Mariella Novotny in December 1961. (4) According to Christine Keeler, there was "a lavish dinner in which this man wearing only... a black mask with slits for eyes and laces up the back... and a tiny apron - one like the waitresses wore in 1950s tearooms - asked to be whipped if people were not happy with his services." (5) Mandy Rice Davies later explained: "The door was opened by Stephen (Ward) - naked except for his socks... All the men were naked, the women naked except for wisps of clothing like suspender belts and stockings. I recognised our host and hostess, Mariella Novotny and her husband Horace Dibben, and unfortunately I recognised too a fair number of other faces as belonging to people so famous you could not fail to recognise them: a Harley Street gynaecologist, several politicians, including a Cabinet minister of the day, now dead, who, Stephen told us with great glee, had served dinner of roast peacock wearing nothing but a mask and a bow tie instead of a fig leaf." (6)

Horace Dibben and Mariella Novotny
Horace Dibben and Mariella Novotny (January, 1960)

During our long conversations it became clear that her main objective was not to attack Christine Keeler but to protect the reputation of Stephen Ward. I was therefore interested in watching the recent BBC drama serial, The Trial of Christine Keeler. There was very little in the production that was factually inaccurate. As with most of these historical dramas, the main problem is with what is left out. Mandy died of cancer on 18th December, 2014, but if she had been alive, she would have been keen to say something about the important role played by James Burge in the conviction of Ward.

Ludovic Kennedy, who wrote The Trial of Stephen Ward (1964), was very surprised that Ward had chosen Burge to represent him. "Mr. James Burge was not a Q.C., as might have been expected in a case of this importance, and I understood that that was because Ward had been so pleased with his handling of the case at the Magistrate's Court that he had decided to retain him for the trial.... Mr. Burge was a very nice man; indeed, as the trial went on, I began to think that alongside Mr. Griffith-Jones, he was almost too nice a man. He was a civilised being, a person of wit and humour. I had been told by one of his colleagues that he was one of the few men at the Bar who could laugh a case out of court. The atmosphere here, as I think he realised, was not conducive to this sort of approach, but I was told he had tried it once or twice at the Magistrate's Court with some success. In addition to his quip about Mr. Griffith-Jones making a honeymoon sound obscene, he had also said that he had no objection to some of Mr Griffith-Jones's leading questions, as they were not leading very far." (7)

Mandy considered Burge to be corrupt rather than incompetent. She told me that they had gone over what she was going to say in court. However, he failed to ask the questions that would have given her the opportunity to make it clear that Ward was not living on her immoral earnings. According to Mandy, Burge was part of the conspiracy to hide what was really going on. "Regina v Ward was undoubtedly one of the most vindictively rigged trials of the 20th Century. The Macmillan government, plagued throughout their office by spy cases, were eager to shift the security aspects of the Profumo business out of the spotlight. Aristocratic by nature and clinging to the old values of a swiftly vanishing past, they cast about for lessor, more expendable mortals on who to pin the blame. The establishment aimed their arrows at Stephen Ward and a couple of teenage girls who were doing nothing more than chasing a good time. The police with Machiavellian cunning threw in a couple of known prostitutes to muddy the waters." (8)

One of the aspects of the case the BBC drama serial, The Trial of Christine Keeler, did not cover was the American connection. Ben Bradlee, a close friend of President John F. Kennedy, revealed in his book, Conversations With Kennedy (1984): "Kennedy had devoured every word written about the Profumo case. It combined so many of the things that interested him: low doings in high places, the British nobility, sex and spying. Someone in the State Department had apparently sent him an early cable on the Profumo case from David Bruce, the American ambassador to Great Britain. Kennedy ordered all further cables from Bruce on that subject sent to him immediately." (9)

Seymour Hersh pointed out in The Dark Side of Camelot (1998) that the president's interest was far from academic. The same young women who had been having sex with Britain's Cabinet ministers had also been providing their services to American politicians, including Kennedy. This included Mariella Novotny and Suzy Chang. Novotny would "tell reporters later, she and Chang had serviced Jack Kennedy before and after the 1960 presidential election." The president turned to Robert Kennedy to use his influence as Attorney General to keep this information from the public. (10) Another woman born behind the Iron Curtain, Ellen Rometsch, also began an affair with Kennedy after she was introduced to him by Bobby Baker, who the Quorum Club, a private club in the Carroll Arms Hotel on Capitol Hill. (11)

Ellen Rometsch
Ellen Rometsch

On 11th June, 1963, J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, cabled Charles Bates, the FBI's legal attaché in London and ordered to "stay on top of this case and... keep bureau fully and promptly informed of all developments with particular emphasis on any allegation that U.S. nationals are or have been involved in any way." (12) Defence Secretary Robert McNamara was also concerned by these developments: A FBI memo dated 20th June, 1963, stated "Mr. McNamara referred to a memorandum from the FBI dated June 14, 1963, advising that Air Force personnel may have had relationships with Christine Keeler." The next section is blacked out but it goes onto say: "McNamara said he felt like he was sitting on a bomb in this matter as he could not tell what would come out of it and he wanted to be sure that every effort was being made to get information from the British particularly as it affected U.S. personnel." (13)

Three days later, Dorothy Kilgallen, a journalist who had a good relationship with the FBI, published an article in the New York Journal-American on the John Profumo case: "One of the biggest names in American politics - a man who holds a very high elective office - has been injected into Britain's vice-security scandal." Kilgallen went on to describe one of the girls as "a beautiful Chinese-American girl now in London." She added that the "highest authorities" had "identified her as Suzy Chang." (14)

The secret that the British and American governments wanted to keep out of the media was that their intelligence services were using young women to gain political leverage over prominent politicians. One of the questions that I asked Mandy Rice-Davies concerned her visit to America in July, 1962. I am not convinced she told me the complete truth about this matter. She claimed that: "In early 1962 I received an offer to make a television commercial in the States. The producer had come to England to find a girl with a British accent, typically British-looking." Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler, arrived in New York City on 11th July, 1962. The commercial was never made. According to Rice-Davies she fell asleep on the beach and was badly sun-burnt and so was unable to take part in the commercial. (15)

This may or maybe be true, but what we do know is that while the two women were in America their movements in the country were being monitored by the FBI. "It has been learned that Christine Keeler and Marilyn Rice-Davies arrived in the U.S. aboard the SS Niew Amsterdam on July 11, 1962. They registered at the Hotel Bedford, 118 East 42nd Street, New York City, July 11, 1962, and re-registered on July 16, 1962. Hotel records do not show a date of departure; however, they did leave the U.S. on July 18, 1962, by British Overseas Airways Corporation plane." (16)

On her return to London, Mandy Rice-Davies met Earl Felton, a screen-writer. Felton introduced her to Robert Mitchum and for a short time she worked as his personal assistant. Christine Keeler claimed in The Truth at Last (2001) that Felton was working for the CIA and the day after the News of the World published her story about how Eugene Ivanov had asked her to get information about nuclear weapons from John Profumo, Felton contacted her and suggested she leave the country. Keeler also claimed that Stephen Ward was passing "confidential information" to Felton. (17) Mandy told me that it was "risible to even suggest that Earl was a CIA agent... he was one of Hollywood's great screen-writers". (18)

Mandy was shocked when I told her the FBI knew all about her involvement with Felton. J. Edgar Hoover wrote a secret internal memo on the John Profumo scandal that stated: "John Profumo was British Minister of War until his recent resignation following disclosure of his relations with Christine Keeler. Stephen Ward, London osteopath, has been arrested in London charged with living on the earnings of Keeler and Marilyn Rice-Davies, prostitutes. Ward's operations reportedly part of a large vice ring involving many people including many prominent people in the U.S. and England including other Ministers of British Cabinet not yet identified. Other individuals involved include Yevgeny Ivanov, aka Eugene Ivanov, former Soviet Naval Attaché, London, who patronised Keeler and who reportedly requested Keeler to obtain information from Profumo; Thomas J. Corbally, U.S. citizen engaged in business in Britain, who reportedly gave wild parties in his flat; Michael H. B. Eddowes, British attorney for Keeler, now in the U.S. representing her interests re sale of her story to publications; Horace Dibben, British citizen, in whose residence sex orgies were held is husband of Maria Novotny; Maria Novotny is prostitute who operated in NYC, was arrested on March three, one nine six one, and was victim in white slave case involving her procurer, Alan Towers. She fled to England and has participated in orgies at Ward residence. Alan Towers was in NYC for two years prior to his arrest in above white slave case. He jumped bail and is now a bureau fugitive. He is reportedly now permanently residing behind Iron Curtain. Novotny alleges Towers was a Soviet agent and that Soviets wanted information for purposes of compromise of prominent individuals; Lord Astor of England on whose Cliveden Estate sex orgies reportedly occurred: it was here that Profumo first met Keeler; Douglas Fairbanks, Jnr, movie actor; Earl Felton, American screen writer; and many others also involved." (19)

Mandy Rice-Davies had originally contacted me because she hated the fact that Christine Keeler had described her as a prostitute and therefore refused to admit her role in the honey-trap that had been set up by MI5 and the CIA. In his trial, Stephen Ward, claimed that he had been working for the Secret Service. His contact was a "Mr. Woods of Room 393 at the War Office" who approached him "in early August 1961" and that he then passed on information about the activities of Eugene Ivanov, an naval attaché at the Soviet embassy, who MI5 wanted to become a double-agent. (20)

Mandy Rice-Davies leaving the Old Bailey
Mandy Rice-Davies

During his cross-examination of Ward, the prosecuting counsel Mervyn Griffith-Jones, suggested that his claim that he was working for MI5 was one of his many fantasies. As Philip Knightley has pointed out: "If he (Ward) had indeed been helping MI5 set a trap for Ivanov and had told his case officer, Mr Woods, about the Keeler-Profumo affair, then this would have greatly improved his standing in the eyes of the jury... But instead the jury was left wondering why, if Ward's account of his MI5 service was true, the defence had not called Mr Woods as a witness to confirm it. Ward's solicitor, Jack Wheatley, had indeed made attempts to locate Woods, but, of course, Woods was a cover name, and the War Office simply denied that anyone of that name worked for it." (21)

However, Woods did exist and his real name was Keith Wagstaffe. According to declassified files the two men went out to dinner on 8th June, 1961: According to Wagstaffe's report: "Ward asked me if it was all right for him to continue to see Ivanov. I replied that there was no reason why he should not. He then said if there was any way in which he could help he would be very ready to do so. I thanked him for his offer and asked him to get in touch with me should Ivanov at any time in the future make any propositions to him... Ward was completely open about his association with Ivanov... Despite the fact that some of his political ideas are certainly peculiar and are exploitable by the Russians, I do not think that he (Ward) is of security interest." (22)

The two men went back to Ward's Wimpole Mews flat and Christine Keeler made them coffee. She also claimed Roger Hollis, the head of MI5, had also visited the flat: "Stephen brought Wagstaffe round after they had been out to dinner and I made them coffee. There was no mention of me making coffee for Hollis, his boss. Stephen was on the couch and Wagstaffe sat on the sofa chair. He wanted to know about Stephen's friendship with Eugene. We knew that MI5 were monitoring embassy personnel so this was quite a normal interview in the circumstances." Wagstaffe asked Ward: "He's never asked you to put him in touch with anyone you know? Or for information of any kind." Ward replied: "No, he hasn't. But if he did, naturally I would get in touch with you straight away. If there's anything I can do I'd be only too pleased to." (23) Wagstaffe later admitted that he was introduced "to a young girl, whose name I did not catch, who was obviously sharing the house with him." (24)

Wagstaffe was an MI5 officer who worked for DI(a) Operations, a section of the Counter-Intelligence branch, and was based in Room 393 at the War Office. Ward was introduced to Wagstaffe by Colin Coote, the editor of the Daily Telegraph. Coote was also the man who put Ward in contact with Eugene Ivanov. The three men, plus David Floyd, the newspaper's correspondent on Soviet affairs, had lunch together at the Garrick Club on 21st January, 1961. Ward suggested that they take a walk together after lunch, Ivanov readily agreed. Ward then invited Ivanov to his cottage on the Cliveden Estate. He agreed and it was at Cliveden that Ivanov met John Profumo and Christine Keeler. (25)

In his autobiography, Editorial: The Memoirs of Colin R. Coote (1965) Coote plays down his role in introducing Ward to Ivanov. He claims that he met Ivanov when he and several other Soviet officials visited his newspaper building. "He (Ivanov) seemed an agreeable personality and spoke excellent English. When I heard Stephen Ward's difficulty about a visa, I thought this lead might be useful, and had the two of them to lunch together with our Daily Telegraph specialist on Communist affairs. Ivanov seemed willing and able to help, and it was agreed that Stephen Ward should discuss the time and purposes of a visit to Moscow when the visa came through." (26)

Anthony Summers provides a very different explanation of these events. Summers was told by "intelligence sources" that Coote deliberately brought together Ward and Ivanov as part of a "honey-trap operation". Attempts were going to be made to persuade Ivanov to become a double-agent. This was a tactic that had successfully been used by Soviet intelligence. One of the victims of this was the right-wing Conservative MP, Anthony Courtney, who during a visit to the Soviet Union, when he had a brief sexual relationship with Zina Volkova (a guide with Intourist, the Soviet tourist board). Later, intimate photographs of Courtney and Volkova were sent to Alec Douglas-Home, leader of the Conservative Party. (27)

Keith Wagstaffe later admitted to Philip Knightley that while working for MI5 he recruited Stephen Ward as an agent as part of an entrapment operation. "I felt rather sorry for the poor chap at the end of the day." he said. Another, more senior M15 officer involved in the operation said it was a pity that Ward's true role had not been revealed at the time of his trial. "I think that everyone involved did feel very sorry about Ward and the final outcome.... MI5 had no idea that the operation would end in the manner it did... We didn't expect the final outcome and we were very cut up when we learned he was dead." (28)

If MI5 admitted that Ward was indeed involved in an entrapment operation this would have brought his trial for living on immoral earnings to an end. However, it would have raised some very embarrassing questions. Why would MI5 have drawn Ivanov into a honey-trap that already included John Profumo, the Minister of War. Why did they not warn Profumo about the operation? Maybe, because they were also trying to put Profumo in a position which would give MI5 leverage over government policy. They were also aware that another Cabinet minister, Ernest Marples, had been attending sex parties held by Mariella Novotny. It is probably no coincidence that Novotny was also used by the CIA to entrap John F. Kennedy. The fact that Novotny had been born in communist Czechoslovakia made her particularly effective if you wanted to blackmail a politician into following policies in the interests of the intelligence services. After all, the major problem for Profumo was that he was sharing Christine Keeler with Eugene Ivanov, a Soviet spy.

In 1978 Mariella Novotny announced that she had started work on her autobiography which would include details of her work for MI5. In November 1980 she claimed that her book would include details of a "plot to discredit Jack Kennedy". She added, "I kept a diary of all my appointments in the UN building. Believe me, it's dynamite." The book never appeared. Novotny was found dead in her bed in February 1983. It was claimed by the police that she had died of a drug overdose. Christine Keeler later wrote: "The Westminster Coroner, Dr Paul Knapman, called it misadventure. Along with people in Moscow, I still think it was murder. A central figure in the strangest days of my life always believed Mariella would be killed by American or British agents, most probably by the CIA." (29) According to Stephen Dorril "Shortly after her death her house was burgled and all her files and large day-to-day diaries from the early sixties to the seventies were stolen." (30)

References

(1) Christine Keeler, The Truth at Last (2001) page 58

(2) Mandy Rice Davies, statement sent to John Simkin (23rd March, 2009)

(3) Mandy Rice Davies, Mandy (1980) pages 44-45

(4) Mandy Rice Davies, statement sent to John Simkin (23rd March, 2009)

(5) Christine Keeler, The Truth at Last (2001) page 211

(6) Mandy Rice Davies, Mandy (1980) page85

(7) Ludovic Kennedy, The Trial of Stephen Ward (1964) pages 47-48

(8) Mandy Rice Davies, statement sent to John Simkin (23rd March, 2009)

(9) Ben Bradlee, Conversations With Kennedy (1984) page 230

(10) Seymour Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (1998) page 391

(11) Bobby Baker, Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator (1978) pages 78-80

(12) J. Edgar Hoover, declassified cable to Charles Bates (11th June, 1963)

(13) Alan Belmont classified memo to Clyde Tolson (20th June, 1963)

(14) Dorothy Kilgallen, New York Journal-American (23rd June, 1963)

(15) Mandy Rice Davies, Mandy (1980)

(16) FBI document (July, 1963)

(17) Christine Keeler, The Truth at Last (2001)

(18) Mandy Rice Davies, interviewed by John Simkin (23rd March, 2009)

(19) J. Edgar Hoover, internal memo on the Profumo Scandal (June, 1963)

(20) Ludovic Kennedy, The Trial of Stephen Ward (1964) page 163

(21) Philip Knightley, An Affair of State (1987) page 253

(22) Keith Wagstaffe, report on Stephen Ward to MI5 (8th June, 1961)

(23) Christine Keeler, The Truth at Last (2001) page 85

(24) Richard Davenport-Hines, An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo (2013) page 246

(25) Philip Knightley, An Affair of State (1987) pages 69-70

(26) Colin Coote, Editorial: The Memoirs of Colin R. Coote (1965) pages 286-287

(27) Anthony Summers, Honeytrap: Sex, Security - The Devastating Expose of the British Establishment (1987) pages 124

(28) Philip Knightley, An Affair of State (1987) page 253

(29) Christine Keeler, The Truth at Last (2001) page 252

(30) Stephen Dorril, Lobster (November 1983)


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