The Trial of Christine Keeler: Why do women always get blamed for sex scandals?

PUBLISHED: 15:42 07 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:44 07 January 2020

Sophie Cookson, left, as Christine Keeler in the BBC's The Trial of Christine Keeler. We've always been intrigued by scandal, says James Marston

Sophie Cookson, left, as Christine Keeler in the BBC's The Trial of Christine Keeler. We've always been intrigued by scandal, says James Marston

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James Marston says that since the Christine Keeler scandal, we haven’t moved on much when it comes to our attitudes to women and sex

I didn't think it would ever happen to me.

But this Christmas as I sat in our sitting room opening gifts with my family instead of a nice bottle of eau de cologne or a bottle of Canadian Club whisky - one of my favourite tipples - I unwrapped a harbinger of middle age - a pair of slippers. I know this was a portent of middle age because in my twenties and thirties I might have been somewhat less impressed.

But this time instead of my usual ruse of asking for the receipt and making plans to exchange them for something more exciting in the new year, I was, in fact, rather pleased to receive them. A pair of slippers, it seems, is just the right gift for a man of the cloth of a certain age, a gift of comfort and joy. I must be getting older. Indeed next year I shan't be surprised if I don't get a pipe to go with them.

Among my other gifts, and this one really excited me and somewhat thrust home the fact that I'm a newly minted clergyman, I received a bible. Not the ordinary sort of bible that we are all used to but The Tabloid Bible - a rendering of the scriptures in newspaper style. For, me, as a newspaper man, you might guess this is a great gift, a reminder of the convergence of my two vocations in life - to tell stories and to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This bible reports biblical stories with quite clever headlines. Such as "Arking Mad, Father of Three builds bumper boat", and "Would you Adam and Eve it? First Humans expelled from garden", as well as "Oi is that my Donkey you're coveting? Adultery out as Moses gets commandments."

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Talking of adultery, I have been following on television The Trial of Christine Keeler. It is enjoyable Sunday evening viewing. Indeed I like the tale of politics, adultery and scandal and I'm rather relishing in the portrayals of John Profumo and Miss Keeler and all the other characters. I'm also enjoying glimpsing into the newspaper world of the 1960s and I can't help thinking this political scandal remains high in our consciousness not least because it was perhaps the first such sex, money, class, and political scandal of the modern media age. Indeed, as a little aside, I wonder if nowadays such as scandal would fit nicely into the Me Too agenda - I'm sure a contemporary Miss Keeler would describe herself as a trafficked, and almost certainly as a victim.

Journalism, of course, reflects public opinion as much as it forms it. And the combination of an abuse of power, sex, money, class is a cocktail that sells. People want to be titivated, entertained, to look at pretty girls, and ultimately to pass moral judgment on others. Pictures of young women sell, stories about the sex lives of others sells too. This scandal, from reading a bit around the subject, seems to have dogged Miss Keeler for the rest of her life. The public animosity towards her - perhaps borne simply because she highlighted the hypocrisy of all of us and certainly the hypocrisy of our ruling classes - was quite vitriolic, and she was, until she died, a figure that always divided opinion, warranted a story, and always hit the headlines. Indeed, even after her death, perhaps she still is.

What I find difficult is the element to which we all pass moral judgments on others.

As I get older I find it increasingly clear to me that none of us are without our faults.

Yet judging others for their behaviour is rather an English obsession - a hangover, certainly when it comes to sex, from Victorian middle class morality - a morality that was, of course, always false and fake.

With the critical distance of time, perspectives change but it intrigues me that on a Sunday night, as this story is told afresh, we are still making moral judgments about the lives and behaviour of others, we are still titivated by this scandal and others; we still enjoy the lurid details, we still blame "the media" when we hear something we don't like, we often still automatically blame women, we rarely look deep inside ourselves, we still damage people's lives at the court of public opinion.

The clothes and the cars, and the language we use around the same subjects, might have changed but we are just the same as we were then, we haven't really grown up at all.

But maybe I'm just getting old.

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