Jamaican music has long chronicled political and social events, even when there are no lyrics. Ska songs, most notably those by the Skatalites, frequently bear the titles of politics, popular culture, and events of the day. Perhaps the most popular example of this is the Skatalites’ song “Christine Keeler,” a peppy little number with seductive horns that bear witness to the political scandal, the Profumo Affair, that rocked Britain, and therefore Jamaica, which was at that time was a newly independent nation. It was a cover song of “Comin’ Home Baby” by Ben Tucker, recorded by The Dave Bailey Quintet, Mel Torme, and Herbie Mann before the Skatalites recorded their re-titled version. It was likely that Coxsone Dodd at Studio One gave it the name “Christine Keeler” since the salacious name would sell better than “Comin’ Home Baby.”
Keeler, who died on December 4, 2017 at the age of 75, was a siren. She was a beautiful model who had an affair in 1961 with the British secretary for war, John Profumo, and the Soviet attache Yevgeny Ivanov. This resulted in the resignation of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1963. It was the stuff of spy scripts, and was too alluring not to commemorate in song.
Add to this another layer of Jamaican linkup, quite literally, as Keeler had a relationship with Aloysius “Lucky” Gordon, a Jamaican jazz vocalist who had immigrated to the UK. Gordon’s obituary in the Guardian last March, which was written by Chris Salewicz, discussed the connection:
“On 7 August 1961, in the Rio Cafe in run-down Notting Hill, west London, Aloysius ‘Lucky’ Gordon, a Jamaican jazz singer and hustler, met Christine Keeler for the first time. It was an encounter that would unravel a scandal and help to secure the downfall of the Conservatives at the 1964 election, ushering in the Labour administration of Harold Wilson. Gordon, who has died aged 85, was affected by its consequences for the rest of his life.
He was selling marijuana, and Keeler was looking to buy. With her were two men: Stephen Ward, the mysterious society osteopath, a pimp-like mentor to the soon-to-be-notorious Keeler, and John Profumo, secretary of state for war and Keeler’s lover, who handed the young woman cash for the drug.
Gordon was immediately besotted by the beautiful 19-year-old model. Soon he also became her lover, but their fractious relationship quickly disintegrated in violent encounters. In the second half of 1962 Keeler sought refuge from Gordon’s temper by hooking up with Johnny Edgecombe, an Antiguan shebeen owner. That led to a confrontation between Edgecombe and Gordon in October of that year outside the Flamingo Club in central London, in which Edgecombe slashed Gordon’s face with a knife, the wound requiring 17 stitches.”
The website, nickelinthemachine.com, takes the story from there:
“Gordon was treated for his wound at a local hospital but a few days later in a fit of jealousy, and rather unpleasantly, he posted the seventeen used stitches to Keeler and warned her that for each stitch he had sent she would also get two on her face in return.
Meanwhile a scared Edgecombe, along with Keeler, went into hiding from the police. Keeler even bought a Luger pistol in a bid to protect herself from the dangerous and still threatening Gordon.
On December 14th 1962 Keeler finished with Edgecombe, after finding him with another lover, saying that she would testify that it was he who had attacked Lucky Gordon at The Flamingo two months previously.
Keeler went to visit her friend Mandy Rice-Davies at Stephen Ward’s flat in Wimpole Mews with Johnny Edgecombe following her there in a taxi. When Keeler refused to speak to him he angrily shot seven bullets at the door of the flat. Frightened, the girls called Ward at his surgery and he in turn called the police who soon came and arrested Edgecombe.
Before Edgecombe’s trial, Keeler was whisked off to Spain, one assumes because somebody, somewhere, thought various people would be badly compromised if she was allowed to talk in the witness box. Conspicuous by Keeler’s absence Edgecombe was found not guilty, both for assaulting Lucky Gordon and the attempted murder of Keeler. He was, however, found guilty of possession of an illegal firearm, for which he got seven years and served five.
On April 1st 1963 Christine was fined for her non-appearance at court and Lucky Gordon was bundled away by the Metropolitan police, shouting ‘I love that girl!’ Not long after Keeler bumped into Gordon back at The Flamingo Club and again he had to be dragged away from her by other West Indian friends of hers.
In June 1963 Gordon was given a three year prison sentence for supposedly assaulting Keeler and in the same month Stephen Ward was arrested for living off Christine’s immoral earnings.
By now the whole story involving Profumo and the Russian attache/spy Ivananov was emerging, drip by drip. The chain of events that started with the fight of Keeler’s jealous ex-lovers at The Flamingo Club eventually caused the infamous resignation of the Secretary of State for War John Profumo, the suicide of high society’s favourite pimp, portrait painter and osteopath Stephen Ward, and ultimately, it could be said, the fall of the Conservative government.
In December 1963, after a drunken tape-recorded confession that she had lied about Gordon assaulting her, Keeler pleaded guilty of perjury and conspiracy to obstruct justice at Lucky Gordon’s trial. Her barrister had pleaded to the judge before sentencing: ‘Ward is dead, Profumo is disgraced. And now I know your lordship will resist the temptation to take what I might call society’s pound of flesh.’ It was to no avail and Christine Keeler was sentenced to nine months in jail which ended what her barrister termed, a little prematurely: ‘the last chapter in this long saga that has been called the Keeler affair.'”
According to Howard Campbell in the Jamaica Observer, “After his release from prison, Gordon worked as a cook in London for Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. He prepared meals for some of the label’s artistes including Bob Marley.”
Let’s listen to one good thing that has come from this horrible mess–that classic song by the Skatalites, “Christine Keeler.”