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TV review: Keeler, Profumo, Ward and Me, The Trial of Christine Keeler, and Chris Packham: 7.7 Billion People and Counting

31 January 2020


James Norton as Stephen Ward in The Trial of Christine Keeler

James Norton as Stephen Ward in The Trial of Christine Keeler

ANOTHER own goal for Christian morality. Keeler, Profumo, Ward and Me (BBC2, Sunday) — the veteran journalist Tom Mangold’s account of the affair — acted as a factual endorsement of the docu-drama The Trial Of Christine Keeler, whose final episode had just screened on BBC1.

It gives me a welcome excuse to revisit that series, which, surely, especially in its penultimate episode, reached moving heights of greatness. James Norton’s portrayal of Stephen Ward became unexpectedly profound. He was a deplorable character, eager to use his undoubted gifts and talents to further snobbery and ambition; he was welcomed, because of the promiscuous young women he brought along with him, at the haunts of the great and good. But he remained loyal to these supposed friends, all of whom, without exception, when the tide turned, abandoned him.

Mangold was very close indeed to the action — he was the last man to see Ward alive — and presented an even more damning indictment of the political and judicial establishment’s employment of every underhand trick to make Ward the scapegoat. Newly uncovered evidence emphasises the extent of the crimes: deliberate police suppression of evidence, intimidation of witnesses, vindictive (Christian) judge’s summing-up, MI5’s refusal to acknowledge that Ward was working for them.

It seems reasonable to see all this as the angry death-throes of a dying epoch, a world of deference to privilege which would be blown apart by the 1960’s pop revolution. As Mangold made clear, much of the sensation was stoked by the hugely influential newspapers, which cynically deplored the loosening of moral standards while bribing those involved to feed them the most salacious details they dared to print.

Christian morality was tainted because our entirely proper championing of marital fidelity was undergirded, however unknowingly, by political corruption and public hypocrisy. This is surely more than the raking-over of a 50-year-old scandal: it pinpoints an ever-present temptation for the Church, with our hopeless track record of failing to realise when we’re being suborned and manipulated.

Chris Packham: 7.7 Billion People and Counting (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) demonstrated a larger picture of epochal transformation: a portrait of the growth of human populations, our frantic devouring of the world’s resources, and a plea for reducing that growth.

Packham sought to be even-handed, celebrating the astonishing ability of our species to thrive in the must unpropitious circumstances, and our brilliant record of finding solutions to catastrophe — which made it as a programme less coherent than single-minded, punchy polemic. And the most effective contraceptive? Educate women to university level.

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