Wednesday, December 2, 2015

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

An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo by Richard Davenport-Hines. Hardcover book published by HarperPress HarperCollins 2013, 400 pages with some black and white photographs.

Published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Profumo scandal, An English Affair is a sharp-focused snapshot of a nation on the brink of social revolution. Britain in the early 1960s was dominated by the legacy of two world wars. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, the Edwardian stalwart, led a Conservative government dedicated to tradition, hierarchy and, above all, old- fashioned morality. But the tide was changing. A breakdown of social boundaries saw nightclub hostesses mixing with aristocrats, and middle-class professionals dabbling in criminality. Meanwhile, Cold War paranoia gripped the public imagination. The Profumo Affair was a perfect storm, and when it broke it rocked the Establishment. In An English Affair, the masterly biographer Richard Davenport-Hines introduces us to the key players and brings seedily glamorous Swinging London to life, The cast list includes familiar names such as louche society doctor Stephen Ward, good-time girls Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, and Secretary for War John Profumo himself.

50 years!!! I guess we're all getting older, even this humble bookseller can feel the years behind him when he realises that he was alive at the time that John Profumo and his comrades were poncing around in 1960s London. Sure, I can't remember it, as I was only a babe in arms at the time, living in a completely different country and in a completely different social environment. (This means that I was a newborn, living in Australia as part of a migrant family... as apposed to living in London and moving (?) and poncing in the diplomatic circles of the time.) Nevertheless, despite my lack of years, foreign upbringing and social background, I am aware of what this book is all about. Why this is, is a little unclear to me at this point in time. But I've got a fair grasp of the story. The question is, does any one else here in Australia has a grasp and if they do, do they really care enough to buy a book about it?

I'd like to think that the answer is yes, but if you ask anyone under 30 here in Australia who Christine Keeler was, I'm fairly certain that 99% of the time you would get a complete blank as an answer. So how do we get people to pick up a book such as this. Well, the answer is very simple, put a picture of someone who looks like, or rather, dresses like, John Cleese on the cover, and then people will pick up the book. It's not John Cleese on the dust jacket, but my first thought upon seeing it was that here was a book about Mr Cleese or Monty Python. It isn't. But it did get me to pick up the book and figure out what it was and hey presto here we are in Blog land writing about a book that I don't think the kids will go for. Let's hope i'm wrong.

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