Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames were the band that rocked so hard that they brought down the government. Unwittingly of course, but in 1963 Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames kicked off a chain of events which led, it could be said – mainly by me at this point – to the fall of the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan.
In 1962 Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames were the house band at the Flamingo Club at 33-37 Wardour Street in London. They were white guys playing jazz and R&B to ‘black American GIs, West Indians, pimps, prostitutes and gangsters’, to quote Georgie himself. The Flamingo was something of a home-from-home for the GIs, mainly based at suburban London air and army bases like Ruislip and Northolt. Georgie played their kind of music, despite the fact that he was a small, white 19 year old Northern bloke who was known as Clive to his mum, Mrs Powell from Lancashire.
Spotted knocking out tunes in an East End pub by Lionel Bart, he was recommended to famed impressario Larry Parnes, who liked what he saw and immediately hired him as his charge Billy Fury’s piano player, on the condition that ‘Clive Powell’ became ‘Georgie Fame’ on the spot.
In March 1962, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames landed at the Flamingo club for the the All-Nighter, the after-hours club that opened at midnight and ran till dawn. They did two sets a night, at 1.30am and 4am and in the end were there for three years. Their gigs are the stuff of hushed Mod legend, but fortunately there is a document of how good a live act they were. It’s an LP called Rhythm & Blues At The Flamingo which was recorded genuinely live in September 1963 in front of a loyal, noisy audience of All-Nighter regulars.
But how did they bring down the government? I hear you cry. Good question, here’s the answer.
At the Flamingo All-Nighter on Saturday 27 October 1962, there was a fight between Lucky Gordon, a West Indian part time musician and dealer, and another West Indian drifter/dealer called Johnny Edgecombe. The fight went outside to the Wardour Street pavement where Edgecombe slashed Gordon’s face with a knife. The police were called and names were taken. Lucky Gordon was the former boyfriend of a girl called Christine Keeler and Edgecombe was the current boyfriend. She had also been for a short time the previous year the mistress of John Profumo, who as it turned out happened to be the Minister of of State for War. Oh, another of her lovers had been Eugene Ivanov, cultural attache at the Soviet Embassy which we all know was Cold War speak for ‘spy’.
Hubristically indiscreet in the way the British upper classes thought only they could be in those days, everyone got to know about their dalliance, including the newspapers, although none were yet bold enough to print an expose. However when they saw Christine Keeler’s name in the police report of the Flamingo fight, their interest was suddenly reawakened. They were further reminded a couple of months later when a now-jilted Edgecombe was arrested for firing several shots at the door of the house she was staying in at 17 Wimpole Mews W1.
What follows is a fantastic tale of intrigue, grudges, revenge, backstabbing, press, MI5, old school ties, public school solidarity, espionage and the power of the press. The Press arrived at Wimpole Mews before even the police did and offered Keeler £1000 for her story. Profumo’s Establishment friends panicked, despite Profumo assuring the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and the rest of the cabinet that it was all tosh, and tried to pay off Keeler, who by now was talking to everyone. Terrified by what she might say at Edgecombe’s trial where she was to be a witness, she was mysteriously spirited her out of harm’s way to Spain and was unable to testify. The press smelled a rat and convinced of Profumo’s guilt, pressed ahead with some serious inquiry, finally getting a Labour MP to ask a tricky question in Parliament under privilege, which they could then legitimately report. Profumo, forced into making a statement to the house, issued the same denial of impropriety he had given to the PM and the Cabinet. They may have taken him at his word but the HM Opposition and the press weren’t having it.
Labour kept the pressure on, knowing full well he was lying through his teeth. The press too were ready to print more stories saying he had lied to Parliament, so after a weeks of extraordinary pressure, a tipping point was reached and Profumo had to go. He resigned on June 4 1963. Harold MacMillan, already rather old and doddery and looking totally out of touch with the new mood of the 1960s with the Beatles, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and all that, succumbed to the stress of the whole affair and resigned due to ill health. His aristocratic but admittedly slightly less doddery successor the Earl of Home – quickly de-nobled to plain Alec Douglas Home – led the Conservatives into the 1964 General Election but lost by just four seats, thanks mainly to a brilliant campaign by the Daily Mirror playing on memories of the Profumo affair to depict the traditional Conservative ruling class as out-of-touch and over-privileged toffs.
If Labour had been beaten in 1964, it would have lost four elections in 13 years. Who knows what would have happened to the Labour Party then?