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A grand day out

Published 2 February 1997
Style Magazine
187th article



Bonding: Roger Moore and Christina Tholstrup on the terrace at Cliveden (Arnold Crust)

I only met Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies once, in 1963, at the house of a Polish film producer. It was raining and they came in rather flustered. I left shortly after their arrival. It was later I realised that those few seconds joined me, tenuously, to one of the great British scandals. Years later I saw the first draft of Keeler's autobiography. It illustrated, as if clarity was called for, the horrific blood-lust of the British establishment hunting down those impertinent enough to reveal its sickness.

For those too young to remember, Miss Keeler, an old-fashioned good-time girl, had an affair with the minister for war. John Profumo gave his word to the House of Commons that he didn't even know her, but the Daily Mirror had love letters from him written to Miss K on war-office stationery, so the game was up. He resigned and has lived nobly in public service ever since.

Christine's mentor, Stephen Ward, a society osteopath and painter, was accused, ludicrously, of living off immoral earnings. He committed suicide before the trial was complete, while Miss Keeler was sent to prison for perjury, a rarely brought case.

These thoughts came to mind as I stood, with my friend Roger Moore, who had been osteopathed by Stephen Ward, in a basement restaurant at Cliveden, former home of Lord Astor, where many of the sexual shenanigans had taken place.

On the wall of Waldo's (one Michelin star) was a delightful drawing of Christine Keeler by Vasco Laszlo, flanked with drawings by Stephen Ward of Christine and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies. The unspeakable of the early 1960s had become the polite room decoration of the 1990s and a gentle reminder to visitors that Cliveden had housed much scandal in its diverse history. Also on the wall were drawings by Ward of someone called Jenny Gosschalk and one of the Duke of Edinburgh, who was another of Stephen's osteopathy clients.

It was Saturday. Roger Moore suggested we went to the country for lunch. I thought his lady-friend Christina, emanating as she does from foreign parts, might like the grandeur of Cliveden. She did. So did I. So did Rog.

A man whom I respect wrote telling me Cliveden was a rip-off and I should murder it. Others whom I respect somewhat less, reported it was terrific. As always, I kept an open, pure mind. The drive in past the wonderful stone fountain with winged cherubs, then the towering dovecote on the right, and up to the highly imposing facade, is a pleasure. We were greeted by Stuart Johnson, a director of the company that runs it, and given champagne in a lovely, grand lounge-type hall by an open log fire.

We ordered in advance, Christina and I, grouse, Roger, roast fillet of cod "forestiere" with roasted salsify on a red-wine sauce. Christina wanted white wine, so I splashed out and got some Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 1990 J Drouhin. In the Terrace dining room we sat with a stunning view of the parterre, a wide sweep of ornamental gardens down to fields and trees, nothing modern in sight. The guests were "event people", there because it was special, a particular outing.

A large group in the centre stared and whispered. Although you may think the contrary, I prefer to be anonymous. Then I can behave oddly without anyone noticing. But there was little to aggravate me. "I'm very glad to see the napkins are rough," said Roger, "so they stay on your lap. Nothing worse than shiny napkins." There's something I've never complained about! All the food was excellent to good. I had escalope of smoked foie gras char-grilled with a turnip and potato puree, wild mushrooms and grilled leeks on a truffle sauce to start. Then the grouse (very fine indeed), then a hot individual rhubarb crumble, with a mascarpone ice cream scented with lemon. Quite acceptable, not historic.

Roger was a bit put out there was no smoking in the dining room, but as a giver-up on cigars I didn't care. Then it was back to the fire, and a tour round the premises led by Mr Johnson. When we returned to the lounge, I observed that the sofa and chair that Mr Johnson said he'd keep now housed a mother, father and child. "It doesn't matter, we're not going back," said Roger. True, but it's little things like that I notice. My driving to London was unusually sedate. I dropped Roger and Christina off at the Sheraton Park Tower, thinking how exceptionally well I had behaved all day.



  • PS: When Christine Keeler's book was published many years after the scandal, the ITV companies refused to take advertising for it! Fair play lived on.



    Letters

    After reading the lovely Vanessa's description of the incompetent service you experienced at Richoux, Piccadilly, I felt emboldened to tell you of my own recent experience at their hands. On a quiet afternoon several months ago, the service was so bad, and when it did arrive, so sullen, that I wrote in complaint to the restaurant's proprietor, whose reply offered some weak sop about "empty restaurant syndrome". A few weeks later, I returned for an even worse afternoon. This time, I was given a ringside seat at a conversation between a woman we took to be the manageress and a waiter regarding the rather exotic sex lives of other Richoux employees. It was difficult to ignore their presence, as the waiter's aftershave was rancidly pungent. This conversation culminated with the manageress placing a finger in her mouth, in full view of a busy restaurant. Needless to say, when they had finished, they both returned to serving food. Alas, Richoux: invisible staff, rude service and, to cap it all, one of the most imaginative breaches of basic hygiene possible!
    Dominic Franklin London NW6.

    On seeing Vanessa Perry's article, I felt compelled to write about what it is like to be in the company of Michael and Vanessa while they are experiencing dinner. About two years ago I persuaded my husband to treat me to a weekend of pampering. We set off to the deepest Cotswolds and arrived at a well-known country house hotel Saturday mid-afternoon. We settled in and decided to visit the surrounding area, which was a delight. Returning to the hotel, we came across a blue Ferrari that earlier we had seen racing along the road. During pre-dinner drinks and canapes a couple flounced through, straight into the dining room. I really didn't take much notice but I had a fleeting feeling that I might have recognised the full-blown figure leading the female. We were ushered into the dining room, which by now was full, except for our table, next to guess who? Unfortunately, the tables were so close that it was impossible to ignore the goings-on beside me, try as I might to have an intimate conversation with my husband. Every time a course arrived at the next table it was examined closely and then a description dribbled into a hand-held tape recorder poised on the side plate. We were treated to a sarcastic running commentary about the colour, texture and taste of the food, plus comments on the colour and layout of the dining room. In fact, I was surprised not to be mentioned myself, as some of the other diners were, in derogatory terms. This should have been a time to savour a unique experience for me, but I became so mad that we had to retire to our room for coffee. An enjoyable weekend? Yes, except that it was spoilt by an obnoxious man.
    H M Bellamy Fleet, Hants.

    You really ought to try British cask-conditioned stout, Michael, before praising the overrated "cotton wool" Irish versions. True draught Guinness was one of the greatest beers in the world - now even the bottled version is filtered and pasteurised. Because real stout is unfiltered, unpasteurised, not served under a pressure of nitrogen and carbon dioxide, and not almost frozen solid, you can actually taste it as it is intended to be. You may not like it, but at least you will have judged stout properly.
    Keith Watkins Walsall, West Midlands