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date: 19 October 2019

Davies, Marilyn Rice (known as Mandy Rice-Davies)free

(1944–2014)
  • Richard Davenport-Hines

Mandy Rice-Davies (1944–2014), by St Cross Features, 1963

Davies, Marilyn Rice (known as Mandy Rice-Davies) (1944–2014), businesswoman, was born on 21 October 1944 in The Lynch, Mere, Wiltshire, the daughter of Ronald Woodford Rice Davies (1914–1997) and Eluned Lewis, née Jones (1908–2001). Her father, who was then serving as a private in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, had been prevented by his father’s early death from studying medicine at university, and instead had disappointing pre-war work as a private tutor in mathematics and as a policeman. Her mother, the daughter of a coal miner, had been an unsuccessful actress. Both her parents had been married before, and they married in 1965. She had three half-siblings and a younger brother. After the war, her family settled at Shirley, near Solihull, where her father worked as a security guard at the Dunlop rubber factory.

At home and at Sharmans Cross secondary modern school Rice Davies experienced the routines of tranquil pessimism that characterized a Midlands lower-middle-class upbringing. She was an intractable, wilful girl who seemed more knowing than her parents. In 1960, when working in the China department of Marshall & Snelgrove’s Birmingham store, she got her first catwalk experience modelling a mink coat. Austin Motors sent her to London to ornament its stand at the Motor Show. Determined to avoid the monotony of the Midlands, and eager for the main chance, she obtained a job at Murray’s cabaret club. There she met Christine Keeler, with whom she shared a flat in Baron’s Court.

Rice Davies was attracted to Jewish men, and had affairs with the property developer Walter Flack and the slum landlord Perec (Peter) Rachman. Her other lovers included the fraudster Emil Savundra and the third earl of Dudley, but not, as some people averred, Flack’s co-director Charles Clore. Rachman established her in a flat in Bryanston Mews West, near Marble Arch. She enjoyed smart restaurants and glitzy clubs, she liked to laugh, and did not see why men should have all the sexual choices and women none. She professed an innate aversion to unhappiness. At a time when men were admired for wide sexual experiences, but women despised for it, epithets such as call-girl, show-girl, and tart were flung at her by misogynists and puritans.

While Rice Davies was being visited in Rachman’s flat by Keeler in December 1962 two gun-shots were fired by Keeler’s ex-lover Johnny Edgecombe. This involved both young women in police investigations. Keeler was induced by reporters who had paid for her story to claim that during her short affair in 1961 with the minister for war, John Profumo, she had also gone to bed with the Soviet naval attaché Yevgeny Ivanov, and that there had accordingly been a security risk. This false claim became the driving force beneath the campaign by newspapers and the Labour Party which forced Profumo’s resignation in June 1963.

Keeler and Rice Davies became the focus of intense press and police attention, although the latter never met Profumo. In an interview for which the Daily Express paid £500, she claimed to have been the lover of his friend William Waldorf Astor, third Viscount Astor. Subsequently, at a magistrate’s hearing, when told that Astor denied having been to bed with her, she gave the pert reply, ‘Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ (Observer, 30 June 1963). It delighted her that this quip was later included in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

The Home Secretary asked the Metropolitan Police to collect evidence against Stephen Ward, who had introduced Keeler to Profumo, so as to obtain a criminal conviction under the Sexual Offences Act 1956. At first Rice Davies refused to make any statement to the police incriminating Ward; but on 23 April she was arrested on a trumpery charge in order to coerce her into making a statement. She was physically humiliated and intimidated by Metropolitan Police and Holloway prison officers, and finally submitted to giving a statement against Ward. In order to maintain pressure, the police arrested her again on another empty pretext on 16 June. Both arrests were intended to bully her and besmirch her reputation.

Police officers visited Rice Davies to coach her testimony at the magistrates’ court hearing and Old Bailey trial of Ward. Towards the end of her life, as an interested party, she obtained the transcript of the trial. Reading it renewed her anger at the injustice of a cruel show-trial. She considered that the judge and prosecuting counsel had been improperly ‘in cahoots’. Ward was not a pimp, she said, although looking back at the age of sixty-eight she thought him ‘unsavoury’, ‘not very nice’, and ‘a tiny bit sinister’ (personal knowledge). Rice Davies’s interrogation by the security services in October 1963 was the nastiest of her experiences. It began with a warning of a twenty-year prison sentence for espionage, and proceeded with two older men taking pleasure in playing good cop, bad cop, and intimidating an eighteen-year-old girl.

The next phases of Rice Davies’s life were, she said, a slow descent into respectability. After the Profumo storm had abated, she sang in a German nightclub, moved to Spain, and then settled in Israel. On 17 September 1966 she married Rafael (Rafi) Shaul, an Israeli airline steward five years her senior, with whom she opened restaurants, nightclubs, and a glamorously illustrated magazine. She learned Hebrew, converted to Judaism, and prospered in her enterprises. Her marriage ended after the birth of a daughter, Dana. She thereafter had several grateful lovers, including the Hollywood actor Robert Mitchum, who introduced her to reading poetry and once locked her in the bathroom of his suite at the Savoy Hotel, where she could do nothing but read the works of Walt Whitman for hours. On 29 August 1978 she married a French restaurateur four years her junior, Charles André Eugène (Jean-Charles) Lefevre, who had won her heart by quoting poetry; but the marriage soon failed when she realized that he was not the literary-minded intellectual that she imagined.

With Rice Davies’s co-operation, Douglas Keay made a television programme in the 1960s about her. It was never broadcast, because Sidney Bernstein of Granada Television told Keay that it sent a corrupting message: the programme could not show a young girl leaving a Midlands council house for London, making a fortune, and never repenting; the film could only be broadcast if it showed Rice Davies accepting her old lot and returning to Solihull, or remorsefully killing herself.

In middle age Rice Davies once sat next to a psychiatrist at a dinner party. He seemed fascinated by her, as many men and women were, and said solemnly, ‘I think you must be a very complex woman’. ‘No, I’m not’, she replied, ‘I’m four or five different women, and they’re all very simple’ (personal knowledge). In some of her alter egos, Rice Davies was a pioneer. In the 1960s she was a trailblazer for celebrity culture: a girl who was famous simply for being famous. She was gloriously photogenic, so that picture editors gasped with relief whenever a new snap of her hit their desks.

In 1988, in Florida, Rice Davies was married for the third and most successful time, to (Michael) Kenneth Foreman (b. 1934), the Jewish chairman of Attwoods waste disposal business. Thereafter, for many years, they commuted between homes in Knightsbridge, Surrey (later Berkshire), and Florida. Foreman, who was a keen golfer, recruited Denis Thatcher to his board of directors. Thatcher was a frequent evening visitor to the Foremans’ Knightsbridge home: Rice Davies thought him rather forlorn and neglected. At her first meeting with Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister fixed her with a fierce stare of scrutiny, trying to appraise her and to measure her allure, and remained intensely watchful. Both women had faced the hostility that is often meted out to game-changing innovators. They refused to take the world on men’s terms, and in their separate spheres, they left it a different place.

Rice Davies was shrewd, dauntless, and businesslike, with a healthy interest in financial security, but not avaricious. She took pride in being a determined realist with organizing power. She was a voracious but discriminating reader, who read some eighty books during 2012 and kept conscientious notes on all of them. In addition to her memoirs, The Mandy Report (1964) and the more informative Mandy (1980), she wrote a thriller, Today and Tomorrow (1987), and a historical novel, The Scarlet Thread (1989), set in Palestine in 1914 and surging with her philosemitism. She advised Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Christopher Hampton on the production Stephen Ward the Musical (2013). She was an amusing raconteuse and a good mimic. Her eyes filled easily with tears, for she was a compassionate woman with a deep well of sympathy for the woes of others. She died of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, on 18 December 2014 and was survived by her daughter, Dana, and husband Kenneth.

Sources

  • L. Kennedy, The Trial of Stephen Ward (1964)
  • M. Rice-Davies, Mandy (1980)
  • R. Davenport-Hines, An English Affair (2013)
  • The Times (20 Dec 2014); (26 Dec 2014); (27 Dec 2014)
  • Daily Telegraph (20 Dec 2014)
  • The Guardian (20 Dec 2014); (21 Dec 2014)
  • The Independent (20 Dec 2014)
  • Sunday Times (21 Dec 2014)
  • personal knowledge (2018)
  • m. certs. [1964, 1978]

Archives

Film

  • current affairs, interview, and performance footage, BFI NFTVA

Sound

  • interview and performance recordings, BL NSA

Likenesses

  • St Cross Features, vintage press print, 1963, NPG [see illus.]
  • Keystone Press Agency Ltd, vintage press print, 1963, NPG
  • B. Wharton, bromide fibre print, 1986, NPG
  • T. Blau, bromide print, 1960s, NPG
  • photographs, repro. in Rice-Davies, Mandy (1980)
  • photographs, 1962–9, Bridgeman Images
  • photographs, Getty Images
  • photographs, Alamy
  • photographs, Rex Features
  • photographs, AP Images
  • obituary photographs
British Film Institute, London
birth certificate
British Library, National Sound Archive
death certificate
marriage certificate