Stephen Ward is both pointed and revealing


The shocking story behind a major British political scandal.

by Allen Therisa in Musicals



Clever, funny and rude, Stephen Ward tells the story of the 1963 Profumo affair, with a focus on the establishment figure of Stephen Ward, widely seen as the fall guy in the scandal, who took his life after being taken to court for living off immoral earnings.

Heavy on the biting satire and revealing in the saucy details of the affair (the bed-hopping, threesomes and S&M sessions, etc), as well as the juicy Fleet Street stories that filled the papers at the time, Stephen Ward also has something to say about how the establishment worked then and, by inference, how it continues to work today.


A major shock to early 1960s British politics, the Profumo affair was triggered when it was revealed that John Profumo, Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan's Conservative government, had an extramarital affair with the 19-year-old model Christine Keeler. Profumo denied the affair in the House of Commons. A police investigation then exposed the truth, proving that Profumo had lied to parliament, damaging the credibility of Macmillan's premiership and contributing to the Conservative government's defeat in the 1964 general election.

When the scandal broke, public interest was heightened by reports that Keeler may have been simultaneously involved in a relationship with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché, thereby creating a possible national security risk.

Keeler knew both Profumo and Ivanov through her friendship with Ward, an osteopath and socialite at the time. The exposure of the affair generated rumours of other scandals and drew attention to the activities of Ward himself, who was subsequently charged with a series of immorality offences. Ward then took a fatal overdose during the final stages of his trial (which found him guilty of living off the immoral earnings of Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies).

Ward's conviction has subsequently been described by some commentators as an act of establishment revenge, which is a major theme of Stephen Ward the musical.


Very much in the Evita mould (not entirely surprising as Stephen Ward is also from Andrew Lloyd Webber), the show was budgeted at £2.5 million with lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton.

All that talent pays off.

It is a hummable show of memorable tunes and delicate melodies containing an intelligent and provocative message.


Stephen Ward's premiere took place at London's Aldwych Theatre in 2013, where it received mixed reviews from critics. Despite an initial announcement that the show would extend to 31 May, it closed on 29 March 2014, with some questioning whether the subject matter was of significant interest to modern audiences.


Stephen Ward also offers the memorable song and dance numbers We've Never Had It So Good, a sort of My Fair Lady pastiche with Benny Hill overtones ("Stroke me, somebody stroke me, punish me, rod and poke me. Smother me in strawberries and lick me"), I'm Hopeless When It Comes To You (I Know Him So Well for the Facebook generation) and the very pretty This Side of the Sky.


Despite the salacious details of the Profumo affair, which are frankly acknowledged in Stephen Ward, the show also reveals the human tragedy at its centre and the dishonest political manipulation at its heart.

More than a collection of expertly crafted musical numbers and ticklish jokes, Stephen Ward is also instructive concerning the power of the media (highly pertinent today), the role that misdirection and manipulation play in politics (now as then) and establishment hypocrisy.

It is an entertaining ride, as well as a sobering story, told with some poignancy.

Recent articles: