The Profumo Affair

According to a Kensington News report in 1961 ‘the Notting Hill district was being ripped apart by the jukebox parties, the pimps and the prostitutes... Portobello Road, Talbot Road, Ledbury Road, Powis Square, Colville Terrace, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, lined with expensive flashy cars, loud with the shouts and screams of the women and the arguments, and worse still the fights of the men.'

In the early stages of the Profumo affair, Rachman's girlfriend Christine Keeler went on west London slumming expeditions depicted in the film 'Scandal', accompanied by the socialite doctor Stephen Ward. After first meeting the West Indian hustler Lucky Gordon at Frank Crichlow's El Rio café at 127 Westbourne Park Road, Christine found herself at a blues party where she noted the only other whites were peroxide blondes and ‘civil service type men', much vigorous dancing and pot circulating.

When Rachman died in 1962 his story was moving inexorably from race riot aftermath into political sex scandal and taking the history of Colville with it. Peter Rachman suffered a fatal heart attack aged 43 on November 29. The next day the creditors began arriving at his Hampstead mansion to pick over the bones. By the time they had finished his estate was valued at a mere £8,000. This official conclusion of the Rachman business empire was disbelieved by pretty much everyone, apart from Shirley Green, who explains it as the collapse of his millionaire façade.

Meanwhile Christine Keeler had split up with her West Indian boyfriend Johnny Edgecombe. On December 14 she went to visit Rachman's other girlfriend Mandy Rice Davies at Stephen Ward's flat in Wimpole Mews, Marylebone, followed by Edgecombe in a cab. The Profumo affair political sex scandal was launched when, on being refused entry, he fired seven shots at the door. Rumours of Christine's other affairs with the war minister John Profumo and a Russian naval attache Eugene Ivanov duly spread; causing the minister to lie to the House that: 'There was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintance with Miss Keeler.' 

Finally on June 5 1963 Profumo was forced to admit that he had lied about his relationship with Christine Keeler and resign. Lucky Gordon was given a three year prison sentence for assaulting her, and Stephen Ward was arrested and charged with living off her immoral earnings. As the police compiled a list of Christine's boyfriends, to check if any were of eastern European origin, Peter Rachman's name first came into the frame.

On July 8 Harold Wilson unleashed the Paddington MP Ben Parkin with his Rotting Hill revelations. He announced that the 1958 race riots were "the consequence of the social conditions created by unscrupulous landlords. And to many people in the area the name Rachman was synonymous with the landlord." Parkin also brought up the unsubstantiated rumour that he had faked his death. "It would be a very easy thing to switch bodies, dead on arrival at Edgware General Hospital."

In the ensuing Rachmania press frenzy the Kensington News led with: ‘The Rachman We Knew – the man in the white suit and dark glasses. He was a legendary figure in North Kensington, a man whom everyone knew something about, but no one knew everything. His maroon Rolls PR23 was a familiar sight in the shabby streets.'

Harold Wilson recounted a Notting Hill slum anecdote in which Rachman kept a drain defective for six months, so the stench would drive out the sitting tenants. Then he asked, 'Is that what honourable members opposite mean when they say, ‘Life's better under the Conservatives'?'

But there was a good word for him in the Guardian from Bessie Kelly, an 86 year old Irish woman who had been a Rachman tenant on Powis Gardens: "He was always polite and I found him a charming man. I was shocked by these ugly rumours about him. He always showed me the utmost consideration and kindness."

As a result of the Profumo affair, Stephen Ward committed suicide, and Christine Keeler and Johnny Edgecombe went to prison. Lucky Gordon lived up to his name and was acquitted, and Rachman remained dead despite rumours to the contrary. Harold Macmillan resigned as Prime Minister and Harold Wilson's Labour won the 1964 election. The Milner Holland report played down Rachman and ‘Rachmanism', concluding that bad landlords were ‘not confined to persons of his type' and ‘much of what was said of him has been open to challenge on the ground that it was highly coloured.' Labour's 1965 Rent Act made it an offence to evict tenants without a court order and introduced a fair rents system in place of the Tory rent controls.

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