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The Profumo Affair: The Making of 'Scandal'

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IAN MCKELLEN
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I heard Mandy Rice-Davies on the BBC this week. She sounds in good shape. She's the survivor. Today is the 50th anniversary of the day when Conservative MP and secretary of state for war John Profumo told the House of Commons that there was "no impropriety whatever" in his relationship with Christine Keeler, a watershed moment in what we now call 'The Profumo Affair'. Not a good name for a movie, so we called it Scandal.

We were originally going to do it at the BBC, who can forget Jonathan Powell in his office on Shepherds Bush Green licking his lips, it was going to be three x 90 minutes. I wrote the whole four and half hours. But Jonathan kept running into people who knew people and a lot of these people were still lurking round the Palace of Westminster. This was 1988, Margaret Thatcher was on a roll, the men who threw John Profumo to the wolves were still in high office, Profumo was still alive in a kind of purgatory. A lot of people thought it just wasn't cricket. The BBC wilted. Those were the days when the Tory grandees could just pick up the phone and the BBC did what it was told. Does that still happen 25 years later? Is the Pope a Catholic? Jimmy Savile had a lot of friends in high places.

Robert Maxwell picked it up, but he couldn't get it on the air. Nik Powell and Steve Woolley got hold of Harvey Weinstein and we made a 90-minute movie for Miramax. We left a lot out. Bishops in east London got the parish to all blow their horns when we were shooting in the street. We had to go 100 miles out of London to find a stately pile with a swimming pool, we had MI5 parked outside the house.

John Profumo was hard to cast: nobody's agent with one eye on a knighthood would allow their clients to face the flak. David Suchet, Ian Holm and that ilk all passed. Ian McKellen did it because he was mad at the government. Suchet would probably settle for the CBE.

The Profumo story is a story about the press. Fleet Street all knew about Profumo, Christine Keeler was defenceless (that was the secret of her allure), she talked to anybody with a pulse, Stephen Ward was a gossip, Mandy Rice-Davies could do sums in her head. But the press was regulated in 1963. Those were the days. It was called a D-notice, like a super-injunction. The papers played it the way they always did. The Express would have a story about Profumo and slap a half-page photo of Christine on the same page. They couldn't print what they knew until the Tories pulled Profumo out of bed in the middle of the night and told him what to say. He was full of sleeping pills. He got up the next day and did his duty and took the hit.

These days, it would all go viral overnight. A super-injunction lasts 60 seconds. There are no secrets anymore.

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