During the weekend of July 27, 1963 a mysterious, but impeccably dressed, man visited an exclusive Bloomsbury art gallery with a huge wad of cash, over £100,000 in today's money. He was passed a collection of paintings - all portraits of the Royal Family drawn by a talented amateur artist, Dr Stephen Ward. The pictures have never been seen again. But who was the man and why was he so desperately keen to acquire the paintings? For me the fact the transaction happened at the height of Ward’s trial for living off immoral earnings provides an intriguing clue.
Ward was the society osteopath who became the scapegoat in the so-called Profumo Affair. His clients ranged from Winston Churchill, to Elizabeth Taylor and Gandhi. Ward became embroiled in the scandal having inadvertently introduced the then Minister for War, Jack Profumo, to a young showgirl called Christine Keeler, during a weekend at a rented cottage on the Cliveden estate, home of Lord Astor. She went on to have a brief affair with Profumo. Unfortunately she also had what appears to have been a rather vodka infused one-night stand with the Russian naval attaché to London, "Eugene " Ivanov, known to be a spy.
Over a year later, the press got hold of the story. The thought of a showgirl sleeping with the war minister and a Russian spy at the same time was quality tabloid fodder. It was the height of the Cold War with reds under every bed imaginable. What secrets were passed? MI5 subsequently said zero. But Profumo denied his affair in the House of Commons and, when it was proven, had to resign from an already embattled Tory government.
Still, though, the Establishment needed a scapegoat. Who better than the guy who introduced Keeler to Profumo and the Russian? Two prostitutes said in court that he was their pimp – claims they later withdrew blaming police pressure - and Ward's reputation was in ruins. He committed suicide before the jury returned its guilty verdict. The judge’s summing up has echoed down the decades since, described by many commentators as one of the most biased in legal history.
To this day it is impossible to obtain a copy of that summing up which I believe suggests that it was both flawed and unbalanced.
Why else are the court proceedings shrouded in so much secrecy? And why is the evidence given by individuals to the subsequent enquiry by Lord Denning into the security aspects of the Ward case being kept secret until 2046? We know there were no security breaches. MI5 said so back in 1963. Is it because, as I’ve been told by someone whose integrity I trust implicitly, that the contents are “explosive”.
Lord Lexden raised this very question in the House of Lords in the summer. The minister said that those who appeared before the inquiry were assured that it would not be revealed in their lifetime.
But curiosity about Ward and the so called Profumo Affair, which actually was of minor consequence compared with say the Philby or Vassall spying debacles, refuses to die. Two weeks ago the distinguished human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson announced he was applying for a posthumous pardon for Ward on the grounds that he had been wrongly convicted.
If the story had been sent to me as an idea for a musical, I would have rejected it as unbelievable. But it's true and that's why I have composed the music for the show about it. I have also made this documentary for ITV.
Fifty years after Ward’s untimely death too many questions remain, not least of which is what happened to those royal paintings bought amid such secrecy. All we can say for sure is that there is no happy ending. But it’s not too late to provide Ward with the justice he was denied so vindictively by the heavy hand of the State.
Lord Lloyd Webber, December 2013