Christine Keeler drama will not give osteopath 'easy way out' as fact is he 'groomed' victims, James Norton says

Christine Keeler (SOPHIE COOKSON), Stephen Ward (JAMES NORTON)  - WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' Digital Picture
Christine Keeler (SOPHIE COOKSON), Stephen Ward (JAMES NORTON) - WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' Digital Picture

Decades on from the Profumo Affair, Stephen Ward has come to be seen as the fall guy in the scandal.

But a BBC drama about the events will no longer provide Ward with an "easy way out", painting the society osteopath as someone who was generous and charming but who was guilty of “grooming” young women for sex with older men.

James Norton plays Ward in The Trial of Christine Keeler, which will be shown in three parts on BBC One from December 29. Its makers have said it will reappraise the affair in light of the MeToo movement.

Norton said: “I fell in love with him, as you often do with the roles you play. He was incredibly likeable; everyone who met him says he was charismatic, peculiar, but ultimately drew people in. He always saw the best in people and was very non-judgmental.

Christine Keeler (SOPHIE COOKSON), Mandy Rice-Davies (ELLIE BAMBER)
Christine Keeler (SOPHIE COOKSON), Mandy Rice-Davies (ELLIE BAMBER)

“The likeability came very easily. What we had to be careful of was to not give him too easy a way out. With the court case and what was ultimately a miscarriage of justice, he has been dealt a relatively easy hand in history.

“But the fact is, he did groom them. He would always say he was giving them an opportunity, but at the same time he was using them as his ticket into the boys’ club so he had a lot to answer for.”

Ward introduced the teenage Keeler to John Profumo, Minister for War, during a weekend at Cliveden in 1961. He also provided an introduction to Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval intelligence officer. Keeler was to have relationships with both men.

Stephen Ward (JAMES NORTON)
Stephen Ward (JAMES NORTON)

When the scandal erupted 18 months later, forcing Profumo’s resignation, Ward ended up in court charged with living off immoral earnings. In reality, Ward was comfortably off and the sums of money cited were small amounts given to him by Keeler and her friend, Mandy Rice-Davies, for rent and bills.

His society friends deserted him, and the judge in the case delivered a damning summing up to the jury. On the eve of the verdict, he took an overdose of sleeping pills and died in hospital three days later.

The Denning Report into the Profumo Affair described Ward as “utterly immoral”, but that report is now viewed by many as a whitewash.

Aloysius 'Lucky' Gordon (ANTHONY WELSH), Stephen Ward (JAMES NORTON) 
Aloysius 'Lucky' Gordon (ANTHONY WELSH), Stephen Ward (JAMES NORTON)

Keeler is played in the drama by Sophie Cookson, who described her character as “wilful, vibrant, irrational, petulant and yet totally lovable”.

She said the public were misled by how sophisticated Keeler appeared in photographs. “She grew up in a converted railway carriage that didn’t have any hot water or electricity until she was a teenager. She had a very humble background.

“The version of her you saw, being dressed up like a 35-year-old woman - that’s not the 19-year-old we are trying to portray,” Cookson said.

hristine Keeler (SOPHIE COOKSON)
Christine Keeler (SOPHIE COOKSON)

Ellie Bamber plays Rice-Davies, who provided comic relief at Ward’s trial when she was told that Lord Astor had denied knowing her and she giggled: “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

Bamber said she was full of admiration for Rice-Davies. “She was an extremely bright young woman who went on to have a successful life. I think her way of always meeting a troubled situation with a smile on her face is really heroic and something I really came to love her for,” she said.