Society osteopath Dr Stephen Ward (1912-1963) was indirectly responsible for the most infamous political sex scandal in the 1960s that brought down a Prime Minister and cost Ward his reputation then his life. He was the link that brought together the 3rd Viscount Astor, Secretary of State for War John Profumo, Russian military attaché Yevgeny Ivanov and nightclub hostess Christine Keeler. None would emerge from the Profumo Scandal unscathed.
The son of a Hertfordshire vicar, Ward’s early life was peripatetic but undistinguished. In 1934 he began a four-year osteopathy course in Missouri that allowed him the title Dr in the US but not the United Kingdom where osteopathy was still an alternative therapy unrecognised by the medical profession. Neither was Dr Ward accepted by the Royal Army Medical Corps who turned him down in 1939. As a private in the Royal Armoured Corps, he served as a stretcher-bearer in World War Two.
In 1944 Ward was posted to India where his evident skill as an osteopath resulted in his treating Mahatma Ghandi: ‘the most important meeting of my life’ according to Ward. Following a nervous breakdown and admission to a psychiatric unit, Ward was repatriated and discharged from the Army in 1945. Working first from the Osteopathic Association Clinic in Dorset Square then his own practice in Cavendish Square, Dr Stephen Ward’s card was passed between those in the highest circles including Winston Churchill.
Affable and amusing, Ward was welcomed on the periphery of London Society but it was his own parties – where a phalanx of pretty young girls oiled the wheels of the social mix – that made him the man to know. Ward’s professional and social success is reflected in the two visits he makes to Henry Poole & Co in 1947 and 1948 when his address is listed as Flat 1 Harcourt House, 19A Cavendish Square. The 1948 order – a fawn Shetland tweed SB jacket and trousers lined alpaca – is settled in cash by Christopher E. North begging the question whether it was payment in kind.
According to Ward ‘the truth is that I loved people of all types. And I don’t think there are many people the worse for having known me’. As well as his osteopathy practice, he studied at the Slade art school and became famed as a portrait artist. He was commissioned by the Illustrated London News to produce a series of portraits of the royal family including Prince Philip and Princess Margaret making Ward even more of a darling on the social scene in London.
According to one of his girls, Mandy Rice-Davies, ‘just to be in his company was absolutely mesmerising. Everyone loved Stephen’. To paraphrase Miss Rice-Davies’s most famous utterance from the witness box at the Old Bailey, ‘they would, wouldn’t they’. He befriended influential men, collected party girls and seemed to delight in introducing one set to the other at his flat in Wimpole Mews, in Soho’s cabaret clubs or the cottage he rented from the 3rd Lord Astor on the Cliveden estate.
A patient of Ward’s, Lord Astor had given his popular friend the Cliveden cottage for a peppercorn rent in 1956; allegedly as a thank you for introducing the peer to London’s demi-monde. Ward would usually bring one or two of his London party girls (his ‘alley cats’) to Cliveden for the weekend. Ward met teenage Christine Keeler at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho in 1959 where she was a dancer and hostess. She would live with him platonically in Wimpole Mews seeming to confirm the 4th Lord Astor’s opinion that Ward was ‘the ultimate voyeur … a perverted Professor Higgins’.
Writing in The Spectator, the 4th Lord Astor says, ‘as children we were all slightly frightened of him … Stephen Ward was an arch manipulator. As an osteopath he manipulated his patients physically, He equally manipulated young, often vulnerable girls psychologically. Few who remember him speak with any genuine affection for him. He had charm and was a gifted artist but he used these talents to wield a sinister hold over his victims’. Astor’s verdict was written many years in retrospect and neither Keeler nor Rice-Davies seem particularly innocent when seen from the same perspective.
It was a summer weekend in July 1961 that the 3rd Lord Astor’s house party including John Profumo chanced upon a naked Christine Keeler in the pool at Cliveden. The cabinet minister and the nightclub hostess began an affair conducted in Ward’s Wimpole Mews flat. Keeler was also sleeping with another of Ward’s friends, Yevgeny Ivanov, who British Intelligence suspected of being a member of the KGB. It seems incredible in today’s information age that the Profumo-Keeler affair was kept quiet until 1963 when Christine Keeler tried to sell her story. Profumo was forced to deny the affair in a statement to the House of Commons only to resign from cabinet when the police investigation – and Ward – revealed his guilt.
There is no doubt that Stephen Ward’s appearance at the Old Bailey in 1963 was a show trial to convict a scapegoat. Keeler and Rice-Davies were implausible witnesses for the prosecution who claimed that the successful osteopath and artist lived off the immoral earnings of party girls such as they. Ward was vilified by the press such as the News of the World who wrote ‘if he ever did good, it was but a means of doing something far worse’. He took an overdose of barbiturates before the guilty verdict was read in absentia and never woke from a coma. In one of many suicide notes Ward wrote ‘the ritual sacrifice is demanded and I cannot face it’.