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LEARNING THE GAME
'The story must start with Stephen Ward,' Lord Denning was to write at the beginning of his report on the Profumo Affair. There was no reason why his report should start thus. The focus should have been on Minister for War John Profumo. Nevertheless, like Denning, we open our story with Dr Ward.
He was born Stephen Thomas Ward on 19 October 1912, the year the Titanic went down. One of those who perished in the shipwreck was millionaire Jacob Astor. His relative, young Bill Astor, one day to become Lord Astor and Ward's patron, was about to start school. John Profumo, the son of a line of Italian aristocrats, would be born three years later. Harold Macmillan, future prime minister, was about to go to Eton, the launch pad for political stardom and marriage to the daughter of a duke. Beside these lucky inheritors of privilege, Stephen Ward's silver spoon seemed somewhat dull.
Stephen was born to Arthur, a Hertfordshire vicar, and his wife Eileen. Reverend Ward, described by his bishop as 'a forthright preacher of fiery sermons and modern ideas', was scholarly and somewhat austere. Eileen Ward enhanced the social clout of the family. She came from the Vigors family of County Carlow in Ireland, landed gentry who had produced a steady stream of clerics, magistrates, High Sheriffs and officers for the British Army.
Later, Stephen Ward would make a point of telling people he was from a 'good' family. He had social aspirations, and his mother supplied excellent credentials. She doted on her boy and thought he was 'brilliant'. There were prayers at Stephen's christening for 'a happy and holy life', and Eileen told a close friend: 'One day my boy will be famous.'
As vicars must, Ward's father moved his family from parish to parish, eventually settling amidst the genteel seaside folk of Torquay. The Reverend Ward's church was St Matthias, still flourishing today. Young Ward had two brothers and twin sisters. He was educated first by a private tutor, then at a private 'prep' school, and finally sent to the empire-building academy of the old British class system, a public school.
Just as Ward was born into a middling-upper-class drawer rather than the one reserved for the crème de la crème, so his public school was—as a luckier acquaintance later sniffed—'second-rate'. Canford, in Dorset, was for those whose parents wanted their sons in a privileged school, but had to settle for less than the best. Stephen wanted to impress his father. 'I wanted to be good at sons in a privileged school, but had to settle for less than the best. Stephen wanted to impress his father. 'I wanted to be good at everything,' he was one day to tell his close friend the journalist Warwick Charlton, 'I wanted to pass exams brilliantly, to be noticed for my fine mind. I also wanted to be good at games.'
It did not happen. In a world of achievers, Ward was not especially good at anything. He was lazy, a bit of a dreamer, but he could not dream his way out of what public-school enthusiasts like to call their 'code'. Forty years later, at the height of the Profumo Affair, Ward told Charlton about an incident in the dormitory at Canford. Someone, not Ward, had hit a boy who was snoring during the night. In the morning, the boy was found unconscious with a fractured skull.
'Someone,' Ward said, 'had to be punished. If no one confessed, then the entire dormitory had to be punished. I knew who it was, but one was not supposed to tell. There would have been great fury if I'd said anything and in any case I was completely indoctrinated. I had a horror of being a sneak. The upshot was I was taken away and thrashed in front of the whole school and I jolly well nearly got the sack, too. Of course, all the other boys thought I was a famous fellow. I'd done the right thing. I hadn't split ...'
Long afterwards, Ward asked one of his former masters whether he and his colleagues had really believed he was the culprit. 'No,' came the reply, 'but someone had to be whacked. It just happened to be you.' During the Profumo Affair that ancient episode evidently still rankled. 'I suppose they expect me to go along with this stupid public- school convention that good chaps don't tell. Well, I didn't tell once. But not this time. If I'm going down then they're going with me. I promise you that.'
When it came to it, Ward died without splitting on his friends. At one stage he even lied in public to protect John Profumo. Like so many of its victims, he was bound to the public-school code to the end. Good chaps don't tell.
At the age of seventeen, after the dormitory incident, Stephen Ward told his father he wanted to leave school and get a job. 'He was puzzled,' Ward recalled. 'In my father's world young boys simply did not chuck up their schooling and get jobs for which they had no apparent training. Gentlemen's sons didn't behave like that.' In the twenties, gentlemen's sons certainly did not take jobs at the Houndsditch Carpet Warehouse. That is where Ward first worked, and it is here that he takes up his own story—in the memoir he drafted before he died.
'I was paid twenty-seven shillings a week and no overtime,' Ward said of the spell at the warehouse. 'It was rather amusing ... I spent the day turning over carpets and taking wholesale buyers to various departments. I wasn't there very long, I think the Christmas rush finished me.' Within months, he was off to Germany and a return to something a little closer to a gentleman's existence. Though his German was poor, an uncle found Ward a job as a translator for Shell Oil. He played football for a Hamburg team, joined the local British tennis club, took long weekend trips on the river—and went out with Lieselotte Peters, the Swedish consul's daughter.
Ward's sex life began in Hamburg. He recorded, without elaboration, how he 'explored the extensive night life of the famous Reeperbahn'. The Reeperbahn was then as now Hamburg's brothel district. The job in Germany, he wrote, ended the day 'I imprisoned my very fat boss behind a door and made him yell for mercy. Paris was next on the list.' Ward joined a young friend, Paul Boggis-Rolfe, who was studying in France. Boggis-Rolfe remembered Ward as 'a delightful person, awfully nice', and let him use a bed in his room at a Left Bank pension.
Ward registered for a course on 'Civilisation' at the Sorbonne, but did little studying. He supplemented his allowance by giving English lessons, guiding tourists and working in a nightclub called Chez Florence. The writer John Doxat, 'Britain's foremost thinking drinker', who met Ward in Paris, remembered him as 'an ebullient character, a bit of a laugh. He was doing a stupendous amount of drinking. I was just beginning, he was a past master.'
In later years, Ward drank only moderately. Living in the Latin Quarter, though, he formed some traits that would last. There, he cultivated the easy charm that would later make him popular in London. Ward perfected the insouciant pose, the white shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbow, the Gauloise cigarette at the lip, the black coffee in hand. He had a gift for portraiture, especially in chalks, and practised a lot in Paris—drawing girls.
Ward took parties of tourists to Le Sphinx, a famous brothel where 'the girls were all naked and danced with the customers'. As he put it later, 'It didn't take me long to find out that people were more interested in real live girls than in the Mona Lisa.' As Boggis-Rolfe remembers it, Ward himself showed little interest in actual sex with girls. That was how it would be in the 1950s and early 1960s. He would gather girls around him, draw them, and introduce them to wealthy friends. Many noticed, though, that he had little sexual appetite for them himself.
His friend Boggis-Rolfe would go on to become a soldier, then a member of MI6 during World War II. Ward returned to England in 1932, aged twenty, and breezed into county society and a whirl of hunt balls and parties. His mother at first proved generous with funds, and Ward acquired a red two-seater MG sports car. Then, when he had an affair with a married actress, a former Ziegfeld Follies girl, Ward's mother cut off his allowance. He left home for a while and, for the first and perhaps the only time, fell in love.
The girl was Mary Glover, the beauteous daughter of a local insurance man. She would recall: 'At first I thought Stephen rather arrogant, vain and snobbish, but as time went on I found myself in love with him.' Ward said, 'Mary gave me the confidence that I could accomplish anything I set my heart on.' There was talk of marriage, but Ward had no job and no money. In London, his uncle Edward Vigors, an Examiner of Standing Orders to both Houses of Parliament, decided to intervene. He introduced Ward to Jocelyn Proby, an aristocratic friend then playing a leading role in introducing the British to osteopathy. Proby, who had returned from the United States, where osteopathy originated, suggested Ward go to America to learn the profession. Ward saw that he had to 'make good' for Mary Glover, and agreed.
In the autumn of 1934, Ward found himself aboard the SS Mauretania, in third class, watching the towers of Manhattan appear on the horizon. By Greyhound bus, he travelled on to Kirksville College in Missouri, the home of osteopathy, and began medical studies that were to last four years.
Far in the future, during the Profumo Affair, the press would suggest that Ward was a quack doctor who had performed poorly at college. In fact, Ward worked hard and passed his examinations with credits. In the United States, an osteopath had to qualify fully in conventional medicine, and Ward devoured pathology, gynaecology and surgery. Jocelyn Proby said Ward 'could memorise whole paragraphs of Gray's Anatomy at one sitting'. In America, the young doctor discovered, there was an ample supply of bodies available for dissection—the corpses of poor black people, purchased from bereaved families for fifty dollars apiece. 'When we did obstetrics,' he recalled, 'we were often taken to remote farms, sometimes in winter over deep snow and on snowshoes. We did surgery on kitchen tables, and deliveries of the most abstruse type, without help.'
Soon came a blow, a letter from home telling Ward that his sweetheart Mary Glover had decided to marry someone else. Ward hurried home to try to stop the marriage, but failed. 'This was my first brush with pain,' he wrote, 'I wondered how anyone could possibly reject me like that ... I decided that I would never again become so seriously involved with anyone.' He never did have a stable, long-term affair with a woman.
Back in America, Ward threw himself into his studies—and into exploring the continent. He travelled to every state in the Union and to Mexico. He hitchhiked to Florida and survived a bear attack in Wyoming. He went to Hollywood to meet the film star Madeleine Carroll, who was a relative by marriage—the beginning of his fascination with show business. In Chicago, he met the gangster Ralph Capone, Al's brother, and—following a pattern he would keep to in every great city—he made for the red-light district.
Ward like sexual game-playing. He told his friend Warwick Charlton that he had vastly enjoyed the 'petting' ritual then much practised in America: 'You touch the girl's hand. She must make a sign of withdrawal. Never take this seriously. From the hand you move to the lips. You kiss. The lips, of course, are closed. Once you have kissed, then you caress. More expertly, more lingeringly. You may touch the body. But petting must be staggered over a period. There's an art in this sort of stimulation. I found it an exciting emotional experience.'
'Stephen,' Charlton thought, 'refined the art of petting until it became almost a perversion. Consummation was never supremely important to him. A sort of body closeness, a hint of dangerous pleasures to come, a smoothly placed hand, a dextrous slip of silk against skin. These were the delights of Stephen Ward. Pleasure was always to be round the corner. Never to be taken now.'
In 1938, still only twenty-six, Ward brought his medical experience home to England. Dr Stephen Ward, the gifted osteopath, set up a practice in Torquay, close to the clock tower on the Strand. He became sought after for his medical skill, and his social charm soon made him a favourite in the county set. In January 1940, the South Devon Debating Society's records show, he spoke at a debate on 'Modern Sex Problems'. A female acquaintance remembered first hearing about him because 'he had young girls staying in his tent' during a Dartmoor camping holiday. Ward might have remained obscure enough, in the West Country, had World War II not intervened.
As soon as war broke out, Ward volunteered for the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was rejected, for the army did not recognise osteopathy. Conscripted instead into the Armoured Corps, Ward was sent for training at Bovington Camp. Once installed, he got his own way in any case. The colonel in charge of the regiment discovered his talents, and Ward was soon running an unofficial clinic from his very own Nissen hut. This lasted only until the medical officer—whose name was also Ward—objected. Ward was commissioned and transferred to the Medical Corps. He was banned from practising medicine, however, because he had obtained his qualifications abroad. Ward began a campaign to get the Army to recognise osteopathy.
However naïvely, he believed that an individual could beat the system, that justice would be obtained if he took his case to the very top. It was a notion that would remain with him until scandal burst around him in 1963, when he fired off letters to the Home Secretary and other public figures. As it would fail Ward then, it failed him during the war.
In March 1945, Ward was aboard ship beginning a posting to India. There were compensations—3,000 young women on a vessel carrying only 300 men. 'The longer it took,' said Ward, 'the happier we were.' In India, and with the war winding down, Ward was in his element. His osteopathic prowess won him friends from exclusive clubs to maharajahs' palaces. When Ward treated Gandhi for a stiff neck, the Indian leader greeted him with: 'It is strange to have a visit from a British officer who has not come to arrest me.' Years later, when Winston Churchill in turn became a patient and was regaled with the Gandhi story, he grunted: 'Pity you didn't twist it [the neck] right off.'
Meanwhile, Ward's tussle with the military bureaucracy had not ceased. With the Army continuing to ignore his qualifications, using him merely to draw anatomical specimens for other medics, he fought to have osteopathy recognised. By the time his military service ended, he had appealed in vain to Churchill, even to the King. Eventually Ward suffered some sort of nervous collapse. According to Dr Ellis Stungo, a psychiatrist who knew him in India and later became a friend in London, he was shipped home in 'an anxiety state'. He returned to England aboard a hospital ship in October 1945. Once home, he recalled, he was permitted off base to go to art classes in Oxford—accompanied by a military policeman. Ward was discharged soon after, the record shows, 'on account of disability'.
Dr Jocelyn Proby, the osteopath who had first encouraged Ward to become a doctor, thought his protégé became seriously disturbed during this period and 'may have attempted suicide'. Psychiatrist Stungo knew of no suicide attempt at that time, but knew from first-hand experience of one a few years later. Ward's was a fragile ego, and his reaction to rejection was always extreme. Dr Proby, who liked Ward and continued to help him, was one of the first to understand the instability behind the smiling charmer that was Ward's front to the world. He remained, he thought, 'utterly irresponsible and emotionally immature, someone who could not settle down and was largely ruled by the impulse of the perverse.'
In 1946, with Proby's help, Ward began to practise as an osteopath in London. He was employed, at first, to practise at the Osteopathic Association's clinic in Dorset Square, tending to clients not wealthy enough to go to a private consultant. The starting salary was ten pounds a week.
Excerpted from THE SECRET WORLDS OF STEPHEN WARD by Anthony Summers, Stephen Dorril. Copyright © 2013 Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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