From Soho clubs to Bloomsbury – 'glamour' in early-sixties London

In her book Ruth Ellis: My Sister’s Secret Life, Muriel Jakubait claims that her club hostess sibling (who was the last woman to be hanged for murder in Britain) was set up by the security services after she’d performed various minor tasks for them, and learnt too much about things they didn’t want the general public to know. Drawing a broader picture, other commentators also make it appear that in the middle of the twentieth-century British intelligence was very interested in hostesses like Christine Keeler and Mariella Novotny. According to some observers, Keeler’s club crowd was manipulated for geo-political gain by the British and other security services; books such as Honeytrap by Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril, or An Affair of State by Caroline Kennedy and Philip Knightley, cover this in some depth. While allegations of this type are often notoriously difficult to substantiate or disprove, it is nonetheless worth noting that alongside the Soho club world, the Notting Hill drug scene in which Keeler and other women from these hostessing circles were simultaneously immersed was also subject to undue influence by representatives of the British state, albeit it in the form of ‘bent coppers’ (see, for example, The Fall of Scotland Yard: A Penguin Special by Barry Cox, John Shirley and Martin Short).
My ongoing interest in Keeler and company is due in part to the fact that my own mother – Julia Callan-Thompson – was a part of their set in the early 1960s. She both worked at Murray’s and lived in Notting Hill, and was completely immersed in the drug subculture there. My mother’s problems with bent west London coppers didn’t really kick in until the mid-sixties, by which time she was working at Churchill’s Club, but while at Murray’s she did mingle in other spook connected circles; for example, the social scene centred on the University College London (UCL) philosophy department in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury. The dominant UCL philosophy figures of that time were A. J. Ayer and Stuart Hampshire, both had worked in military intelligence during the war. They’d previously been part of the same social set as British Soviet spies Burgess, Philby, Blunt and MacLean; and of those more ambivalent and ambiguous Bolshevik sympathisers of the thirties typified by Coronwy Rees.
Roger Taylor, author of the late-seventies cult work of Marxist aesthetics Art, An Enemy of the People, met my mother through her UCL connections in September 1962, the day he enrolled for a philosophy PhD. I should explain here that after my mother settled in London at the age of 16 in 1960, she often socialised with art students from The Slade and through them developed friendships within the UCL philosophy department. Taylor emailed me the following recollections of UCL and my mother Julie on Thursday, May 22, 2003:
“In the early sixties UCL philosophy could be very seductive. Gordon Square was Bloomsbury, it had the “radical” traditions of Mill and Bentham, its philosophers generally were on the Left, many of them had a sort of celebrity status (Ayer on the Brains Trust, Hampshire writing in Encounter), they were manifestly clever (Bernard Williams had the reputation of being the cleverest man in England!). They were engaged with everything “advanced” in culture, they had all the “taste” and “discernment” of the haute bourgeoisie, they were public school and Oxford and the Foreign Office, their morality unconventional with a frisson of scandal. It was the world of Burgess and Blunt but in place of subterfuge they offered furious and ingenious debate about counterfactuals and the like. Entering Gordon Square was to have a feeling of having attained access to somewhere very elevated. Some of this would have been sensed by Julie. She was at home in Gordon Square. When I arrived from the North, very aggressive and very unsure, she was already there and well in. The students knew her, she was very familiar with the secretary and… socialised with faculty.”
While Taylor sees beyond the fake glamour of Gordon Square in the early sixties, his account of the atmosphere to be found there remains very much in accord with those of other observers who still view the place through the ideological blinkers of bourgeois idealism. For example, Alan Ryan in his Independent (17 June 2004) obituary of Stuart Hampshire, writes: “…in 1960… Ayer moved to Oxford, and Hampshire replaced him as Grote Professor at University College, London. There he presided over weekly seminars that offered glimpses of an intellectual heaven where the depth of the issues discussed was matched only by the elegance of the arguments with which they were addressed.” My mother was a clever and feisty working-class teenager from south Wales, and so she would have been more than able to hold her own against upper-class academics who were a lot older than she was at the time.
Likewise, in my mother’s relationships with these philosophers the element of seduction would have run two ways, since the logical positivists from Gordon Square were attracted to the bohemian Soho club world of which she was already a fixture. A. J. “Freddie” Ayer would get drunk and dance in the Gargoyle Club where his fellow drinkers included the painters Francis Bacon and Johnny Minton, publisher David Archer, writer Graham Greene and before they were exposed as Soviet moles, the double agents Guy Burgess and Donald MacLean. So if Julie was drawn to the fake glamour of Gordon Square, there were also those in the UCL philosophy department who felt a strong pull towards the world she worked in.
And as for the spookery, I should emphasis that I don’t think Ayer and Hampshire were still on the payroll of British intelligence while directing philosophical activities at UCL. But casual social ties would have been maintained, and while these were no doubt useful to the spooks, I don’t imagine they had any impact on my mother’s life. By way of contrast, the nefarious activities of bent west London coppers clearly did have an effect on my mother but that’s another story; and as for the shenanigans around the likes of Keeler and Novotny, as far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on that one!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by Tim on 2009-06-02 08:44:14 +0000

Interesting post, the way those worlds slipped in and out of each other (so to speak). When I first moved to Bloomsbury in the late 80’s (squatting, of course) you could still feel a little of the echo of that era. Old Communists and radicals in the pubs, that kind of thing. But I didn’t know until now where the echo came from exactly, that there was indeed life after Bloomsbury . . .

Comment by infinite thought on 2009-06-02 09:25:03 +0000

This is really interesting, Stewart. The London Philosophy scene has become an awful lot less seductive since this, it has to be said.

Comment by Michael K on 2009-06-02 10:14:24 +0000

This reads like you just flow text in and change it as you like it!

Comment by howling wizard, shrieking toad on 2009-06-02 11:35:07 +0000

Blimey, Nina Power’s on board. Interesting writer. I liked your article on Feuerbach a lot, and your Alain Badiou interview too.

Comment by Carlitos El Nahual de Tres Puntas on 2009-06-02 11:35:48 +0000

“They were engaged with everything “advanced” in culture, they had all the “taste” and “discernment” of the haute bourgeoisie, they were public school and Oxford and the Foreign Office, their morality unconventional with a frisson of scandal.”
Maybe is time to start to examine my own life, in cold blood. The only thing I lack from that list, is Oxford and the Foreign Office.
And maybe I’m not the “cleverest”, but without a douby I’m the “chéverest”.
In addition, the only time I was in Soho, I had a great time. It was a Thursday and everibody was drunk in the streets, over all in that little square that is important to psychogeographers, that with the “city of Westminster” little banner.
Thanks Eris I was not able to get the A class drugs I was looking for, or everibody have been looking as a Francis Bacon painting!

Comment by howling wizard, shrieking toad on 2009-06-02 11:38:15 +0000

Nina-Infinite Thought, I wish you’d asked him what he thought of Baudrillard, Debord and Vaneigem etc.
…..Did you? If so, what did he say?

Comment by Jean Baudrillard on 2009-06-02 11:42:40 +0000

I’m not dead, I’m just a post-modern zombie!

Comment by Gilles Deleuze on 2009-06-02 11:47:03 +0000

Mother earth please let me into my grave, look how I waste, my flesh, my blood, my skin…. I’m sick of being a po-mo zombie… I’m into becoming dead these days…

Comment by Plato on 2009-06-02 12:04:59 +0000

Have you all forgotten the allegory of the cave, you’re all looking at shadows… the material world is not real.

Comment by Monty Cantsin on 2009-06-02 14:58:48 +0000

Death is not true!

Comment by Luther Blissett on 2009-06-02 17:23:28 +0000


Comment by Plotinus on 2009-06-02 18:21:30 +0000

To reuse the title of an old punk tune by The Avengers “We Are The One”.

Comment by Karen Eliot on 2009-06-02 18:34:06 +0000


Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-06-02 18:37:01 +0000

That’s good news becasue I really don’t want to be myself any more!

Comment by Stewart Home on 2009-06-02 19:43:18 +0000

Both worlds within my compass come, but this world cannot compass me.
An omnipresent pearl I am and both worlds cannot compass me.
Because in me both earth and heaven and Creation’s “BE!” were found,
Be silent! For there is no commentary can encompass me.
Through doubt and surmise no one came to be a friend of God and Truth.
The man who honours God knows doubt and surmise cannot compass me.
Pay due regard to form, acknowledge content in the form, because
Body and soul I am, but soul and body cannot compass me.
I am both shell and pearl, the Doomsday scales, the bridge to Paradise.
With such a wealth of wares, this worldly counter cannot compass me.
I am “the hidden treasure” that is God. I am open eyes.
I am the jewel of the mine. No sea or mine can compass me.
Although I am the boundless sea, my name is Adam, I am man.
I am Mount Sinai and both worlds. This dwelling cannot compass me.
I am both soul and word as well. I am both world and epoch, too.
Mark this particular: this world and epoch cannot compass me.
I am the stars, the sky the angel, revelation come from God.
So hold your tongue and silent be! There is no tongue can compass me.
I am the atom, sun, four elements, five saints, dimensions six.
Go seek my attributes! But explanations cannot compass me.
I am the core and attribute, the flower, sugar and sweetmeat.
I am Assignment Night, the Eve. No tight-shut lips can compass me.
I am the burning bush. I am the rock that rose into the sky.
Observe this tongue of flame. There is no tongue of flame can compass me.

Comment by infinite thought on 2009-06-02 20:40:31 +0000

Nina-Infinite Thought, I wish you’d asked him what he thought of Baudrillard, Debord and Vaneigem etc.
Yeah, wish I had as well. I had thirty minutes between the BBC leaving him lost in a corridor, his desperate desire to have a wee in his hotel bathroom and a taxi waiting to take him to give a paper at the ICA. Next time! Anything you want me to ask Judith Butler? I’m doing her tomorrow afternoon at the same place…Heh heh heh!

Comment by lkjnlknl on 2009-06-02 21:08:29 +0000

what does she think about men only groups???

Comment by Karen Eliot on 2009-06-02 21:52:53 +0000

“Doing her?”
Sister, we have to meet!
Any hotel you prefer?

Comment by infinite thought on 2009-06-02 22:01:22 +0000

Wot, like Spearmint Rhino, the upper echelons of management and banking, the diplomatic service, the Masons, and, erm, Philosophy departments, you mean? That sorta thing? I’ll ask her!

Comment by Karen Eliot on 2009-06-02 22:11:14 +0000

Let’s do her together, baby!
Your hotel bathroom or mine?

Comment by howling wizard, shrieking toad on 2009-06-03 11:41:46 +0000

Mr Home, I enjoyed your Roger Taylor interview. I’ve been looking for his book for a while now, but it seems hard to get hold of now.
Do you think Larry Shiner’s book “The Invention of Art” is equally important?

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-06-03 12:34:08 +0000

Art, An Enemy of the People made a huge impression on me because I’d been looking for a coherent Marxist position on art and in this book I found it. I hadn’t been convinced by Adorno etc. – too elitist for me; while the positions of Debord and co. struck me as equally problematic. Larry Shiner’s book fills in empirical detail but for me it isn’t as important a work as Taylor’s. But for someone who read them in reverse order it might be the other way around. Hard to say. But for me personally, Shriner is not as important.

Comment by howling wizard, shrieking toad on 2009-06-03 12:59:02 +0000

I agree about Adorno — I think his work with Horkheimer has some significant merit; “Enligtenment as Mass Deception” I especially enjoyed and I find it still relevant to inner city living…. but writing on his own… Adorno is pretty often just a ghastly snob. “Minima Moralia” just gets absurd it’s so self referential and solipsistic.

Comment by Ricky Rocket on 2009-06-03 13:01:45 +0000

That book is a legend, and is a really hard to find one. Incredibly, I have seen a copy in portuguese, edited in the paradigmatic social injustice paradise a.k.a. Brazil.
This question is for anyone:
What you say to a twentytwo y.o. girl who thinks she knows it all and has recently read about NeoIsm, not really geting it, of course, but you can feel she internally finds it brilliant, but too recentful as to acknowledge that, as with dada, and she wants to self-delude and “believe” she get it, just to keep the stupid factoids found in internet inside her sorry little head?
Thanks for your help.

Comment by Ricky Rocket on 2009-06-03 13:03:39 +0000

Weird…I think Minima Moralia is light and easy to read, to counterbalance the biblical and also incredibly obscure -and hence delicious- Aesthetic Theory.
Would it be a matter of “taste”?

Comment by howling wizard, shrieking toad on 2009-06-03 13:24:02 +0000

Hi Rick, I guess I actually liked some of Minima , I shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand — but I just found it so “sealed off” from others concerns, and so self absorbed. That put me off.
However, I loved some paragraphs, and some of it defnitely struck a chord — there are a few paragaphs in which he describes a growing child’s gradual awareness of the fact that much of the world of appearances is a set up vaudville burlesque commerical show, in which objects and thoughts and motivations are all set in motion, not as ends in themselves, or for the beauty or worthiness of the act — but , for the most part, simply to turn a cheap profit.
I liked that very much –but much of the rest of the book reminded me of a rather dull , pompous character going on and on an on about the “obscure” and “unique” “insights” he has when listening to his favourite music, or relfecting on his favourite paintings.
I loved much of Adorno’s work once, but increasingly, I just don’t consider there is that much value for many of us in his “refined” responses to art and life and thought.
I am also suspicious of anyone who actually calls themself an intellectual.

Comment by howling wizard, shrieking toad on 2009-06-03 13:43:29 +0000

And here is the passage I like from Minima Moralia —
“Hebbel, in a surprising entry in his diary, asks what takes away life’s magic in later years.?It is because in all the brightly-colored contorted marionettes, we see the revolving cylinder that sets them in motion, and because for this very reason the captivating variety of life is reduced to wooden monotony. A child seeing the tightrope-walkers singing, the pipes playing, the girls fetching water, the coachmen driving, thinks all this is happening for the joy of doing so; he can’t imagine that these people also have to eat and drink, go to bed and get up again. We, however, know what is at stake. Namely, earning a living, which commandeers all these activities as mere means, reduces them to interchangeable, abstract labor-time. The quality of things ceases to be their essence and becomes the accidental appearance of their value. The equivalent form mars all perceptions; what is no longer irradiated by the light of its own self-determination as joy in doing,pales to the eye.” Our organs grasp nothing sensuous in isolation, but notice whether a color, a sound, a movement is there for its own sake or something else; wearied by a false variety, they steep all in gray, disappointed by the deceptive claim of qualities still to be there at all, while they conform to the purposes of appropriation, indeed largely owe their existence to it alone. Disenchantment with the contemplated world is the sensorium’s reaction to its objective role as a “commodity world.” Only when purified of appropriation would things be colorful and useful at once: under universal compulsion the two cannot be reconciled. Children are not so much, as Hebbel thought, subject to illusions of “captivating variety,” as still aware, in their spontaneous perception, of the contradiction between phenomenon and fungibility that the resigned adult no longer sees, and they shun it. Play is their defense. The unerring child is struck by the “peculiarity of the equivalent form”: “use value becomes the form of manifestation, the phenomenal form of its opposite, value.”
In his purposeless activity the child, by a subterfuge, sides with use-value against exchange value. Just because he deprives the things with which he plays of their mediated usefulness, he seeks to rescue in them what is benign towards men and not what subserves the exchange relation that equally deforms men and things. The little truck travels nowhere and the tiny barrels on them are empty; yet they remain true to their destiny by not performing, not participating in the process of abstraction that levels down that destiny, but instead abide as allegories of what they are specifically for. Scattered, it is true, but not ensnared, they wait to see whether society will finally remove the social stigma on them; whether the vital processes between men and things, praxis, will cease to be practical. The unreality of games gives notice that reality is not yet real. Unconsciously they rehearse the right life. The relation of children to animals depends entirely on the fact that Utopia goes disguised in the creatures that Marx even begrudged the surplus value they contribute as workers. In existing without any purpose recognizable to men, animals hold out, as if for expression, their own names, utterly impossible to exchange. This makes them so beloved of children, their contemplation so blissful. I am a rhinoceros, signifies the shape of the rhinoceros. Fairy-tales and operettas know such images, and the ridiculous question…how do we know Orion is really called Orion, rises to the stars.”

Comment by Ricky Rocket on 2009-06-03 13:55:08 +0000

howling wizard: I think that, unlike almost all the other Adorno texts, this one is a Bazaar, is open air, you pick what you like, what resonates in you, nothing more, and you keepcoming and founding new, little stuff.
Maybe Adorno wanted to relax a bit, or maybe is an Hommage to his injustly reduced friend, Benjamin. Maybe Benjamin told things hat Adorno undestood later on. Maybe Adorno just allowed himself, for once, to mock non-frankfurtian cultural critics and be rather dull , pompous, going on and on an on about the “obscure” and “unique” “insights” he has when listening to his favourite music, or reflecting on his favourite paintings. For people that know Adorno, this already sounds as a self-parody on his part.
Maybe we don’t call intellectuals ourselves, but be sure other people will do.
That’s why we have to keep going down the pub for a couple of pints!

Comment by howling wizard, shrieking toad on 2009-06-03 14:09:32 +0000

Rick, you wrote “I think that, unlike almost all the other Adorno texts, this one is a Bazaar, is open air, you pick what you like, what resonates in you, nothing more, and you keepcoming and founding new, little stuff.”
Yes, you have a good,fair point.

Comment by Ricky Rocket on 2009-06-03 14:14:34 +0000

I mean, not REEEAAALLLYYYY open. But I insist I have this feeling that in Minima, Adorno was trying to not be SO Adorno. I know this can sound ridiculous to non-Adornians or anti-adornians, but not to an ex-adornian. Think, beside that, that this guy was the only one who really tried to keep always “up to date” from the 30’s to the 70’s , and had to deal with the heavy competition of Barthes and Mc Luhan in some point (not that that was evident to everibody. Paradoxically, this stuff wasn’t “mass culture”!)

Comment by Ricky Rocket on 2009-06-03 14:20:50 +0000
Check this out.
Hope some Home will be there soon!

Comment by hlhlkjlk on 2009-06-03 17:15:20 +0000

The book, like the brick and the bullet, were all parts of the technology which created the bourgeoisie, with their brick-walled towns garlanded with turrets prickled out with muskets, and internally pickled with mass-produced texts – each identical – flying off the printing press. (We trace a direct line from the Calvinists of Antwerp to the book-thumping Bolsheviks of the Third International.) While Neoists has never enjoyed the exalted status of their Dadaist cousins, they are equally insidious and must be criticised from that materialist perspective which constantly reforges the passage between theory and practice, so that the great flood of human history may flow over the dikes erected by priests, cops, art critics and philosophers, washing away every discredited social form and thereby allowing the latent possibilities of this age to pour forth from the well-springs of human creativity.

Comment by Díre McCain on 2009-06-03 22:50:55 +0000

Goo goo ga ga. I have nothing more to add, but am rather enjoying the comments on this one…

Comment by d on 2009-06-04 05:36:01 +0000

do do da da

Comment by howling wizard, shrieking toad on 2009-06-04 08:06:14 +0000

I found much of Larry Shiner’s book on line ( google books ) but have yet to find Roger Taylor’s book. If anyone finds any online sales sources for his book, please let me know.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-06-04 10:45:18 +0000

I found “Art, An Enemy of the People” relatively easy to obtain, but that was back in the 80s – I read a friend’s copy then picked up a used copy for next to nothing. I’ve bought a few copies over the years to pass on to other people, but haven’t seen one for sale for some time. I had real trouble getting a copy of the follow-up “Beyond Art’, then when I visited Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, in the mid-nineties, I found several copies in that one store and all very cheap! If there are any publishers out there who want to reprint “Art, An Enemy of the People” I can put them in touch with Roger Taylor. I suggested to my Brazillian publisher Conrad that they put this book out in translation, which is why you can currently obtain it in Portuguese! You might also want to check out Roger Taylor’s website if you haven’t already:

Comment by Ricky Rocket on 2009-06-04 16:31:20 +0000

hlhlkjlk: all right, but who exactly is going to do that critique, besides Mr. Home, and the neoists?

Comment by Ricky Rocket on 2009-06-04 16:34:18 +0000

Great tale, Mr. Trippy. I loved the cover of the graffitted Super Art Museum of Contemporary Art! That image was a great idea. Doubt a lot of brazilians read it, though, but wtf.

Comment by howling wizard, shrieking toad on 2009-06-05 04:15:33 +0000

Ricky Rocket @
June 3, 2009 at 2:20 pm..
Thanks for the google book link Ricky — Looks interesting.

Comment by Ricky Rocket on 2009-06-06 17:16:05 +0000

It is better than a google book, wizard. It’s in Scribd, so after a brief sign in, you can download it…

Comment by raymond anderson on 2009-06-06 17:56:51 +0000

Thank the gods for libraries.
Why does Taylor call his site asif?
It can’t be related to the philosophy of “as if” can it?

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