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The Genius of Giles

January 7, 2020 in Comment

Rupert Besley writes:

Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies are back in the news.

It’s become something of a festive tradition to bemoan the lack of good viewing in the Christmas schedules. ‘Absolutely nothing on telly,’ goes the cry. ‘Last year was bad enough and this year is worse.’ And so it has seemed this last month.

The BBC’s star contribution to the season has been The Trial of Christine Keeler. It has been well received. I’m sure it is well written, well acted and well done, but I only half-watched the first episode before deciding to give it a miss. The main facts are well enough known, with characters too self-indulgent and story too sordid to grab my interest. As Peter Cook put it, ‘I go to the theatre to be entertained. I don’t want to see plays about rape, sodomy and drug addiction. I can get all that at home.’

The Macmillan era was far from Britain’s finest hour. The Tory government was led by a patrician figure hamming it up as quirky and characterful but trustworthy elder statesman straight off the grouse moors, ready to gull the public into believing they had never had it so good (remind you of someone?). On one thing Macmillan was right: the unpredictability of politics, with its potential for everything to be brought crashing down by things unexpected. ‘Events, dear boy.’

The Profumo story unfolded in the summer of 1963. That was the year that ‘sexual intercourse began’ (Philip Larkin). Sex came out from under the covers and dared to speak its name on the front pages of reputable newspapers.

Cartoonists had a field day, few more so than Giles. I was about to turn 13 and had little interest in or understanding of politics at the time. But I well remember the cartoon above appearing in my mother’s Sunday Express and the amusement it gave at breakfast. Then, as now, I marvelled at the genius of Giles and secretly hoped (in vain) that one day I might work out how to do something similar. I can’t, of course, and never will. The talents of Giles are not given to all, but it has been fun to see what magic he brought to the pages of a newspaper.

The cartoon above begins with a strong idea, even if that comes from the common cartoon device of bringing a larger issue down to a personal level that we can relate to. In lesser hands, that idea could still have fallen pretty flat. What makes this cartoon so wonderful is all that Giles brings to the artwork. The composition is masterful. Without need of great detail, he conjures up the comfortable, sunny world of the well-heeled Establishment, about to get one hell of a rocking. Instead of putting the central figures at the centre of the artwork, he has them already racing off to the left; this, together with the papers still in mid-air above the garden lounger, deftly conveys the urgency of impending crisis. Centre-stage is the small dog, yapping at heels and loving every moment. What member of the press or public could not identify with that dog? What puts the cherry on the cake is the expression captured on the face of each of those racing over the grass, especially the wife with long-held suspicions now rampant. Two days later, Giles followed the cartoon up with this (below) in the Daily Express. Genius.