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Mandy’s Little Outburst

Mandy Rice-Davies died today, aged 70, a nonentity who achieved lasting fame for a dismissive one-liner at a famous trial.

The most banal entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations may be that remark, which she made at the trial of Stephen Ward in 1964.  It provided what may be the enduring epigram of the Profumo scandal, in which John Profumo was forced to resign as Secretary of War after admitting that he had engaged in a casual affair with Mandy’s fellow party girl and sometime flatmate, Christine Keeler.  

Both girls had lived with Ward, a society osteopath and man-about–town, who supposedly used his connections in London’s salon society to introduce prominent men to ladies of easy virtue, and was now on trial for living off the immoral earnings of Rice-Davies, Keeler, and others. 

In the course of a cross-examination in court, it was put to Rice-Davies that Lord Astor, a friend and mentor of Ward’s, had denied the claim that he had slept with her.  “Well, he would, wouldn’t he,” she replied, with studied insouciance. 

The press seized on the phrase with unashamed glee.  We chortle over it still, half a century later. 

That innocuous quote probably contributed more to the ruin of Astor’s status as a pillar of the Establishment than any of the revelations of weekend sex parties at Cliveden, his family seat, or any of the other saucy shenanigans with which the press regaled us then, allegedly involving an entire telephone book of figures from London’s haut monde society.

Mandy Rice-Davies was a peripheral character in the scandal.  She admitted to having slept with Ward, but the source of her notoriety was her long affair with Peter Rachman, a property developer reputed to be London’s worst slum landlord.  Keeler was the central figure in the Profumo affair.  Her brief fling with Profumo was said to have posed a national security risk because of her simultaneous friendship with the Defence Attache at the Russian Embassy, one Colonel Ivanov. 

But it was Rice-Davies who ultimately stole the show.  Keeler was only marginally pretty, and always assumed in public the pathetic, downtrodden air of one of life’s victims.  Rice-Davies was blonde and ebullient, and because she was plainly prepared to cock a snook at the upper-class figures falling over each other to save their reputations, a clear and present danger to the high and the mighty.  

Where Keeler in her later years became a bitter recluse after a single awful marriage, her features destroyed by booze and self-neglect, Rice-Davies remained irrepressible, retained her looks, married several times, ran night-clubs and even carved out a minor acting career.  She would, wouldn’t she?

She provides only a minor footnote in British political history, but thanks to that mundane little courtroom outburst, a permanent one.

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