biteback publishingFollowing the imaginary author online radio station publicity stunt for the non-book S released under the auspices of “creator” J.J. Abrams, we have another English book promotion exercise that stretches the limits of the credible – and tests the boundaries of the emetic. This time, it’s the launch of Stephen Ward is Innocent, OK by Geoffrey Robertson QC, with an accompanying pledge to launch an appeal to … well, clear Stephen Ward … and … well … an accompanying musical from Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

(Disclaimer: I am making absolutely no judgment on the guilt or innocence of Stephen Ward. All attempts to clear his name may be totally justified. All I am writing about in this article is the promotional exercises perpetrated by individuals, publishers, and musical directors, who stand to gain recognition, and publicity, and buckets of bucks, from the whole affair.)

And for anyone, especially North American readers, not fully aware of the peculiarly English obsession with the perverted coupling of sex, class, spying, corruption, and money, you can read about the Profumo Affair here. Briefly, fashionable osteopath and socialite Dr. Stephen Ward committed suicide in 1963 after being convicted of procuring prostitutes, including Christine Keeler, for John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, in a scandal which contributed to the resignation of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and the downfall of the Conservative government. Oh, and there was a Soviet attaché somewhere in the menage, just to add a little more color. The Affair has already been the subject of numerous books and songs, one film, one play, and at least one other musical.

But even with all that attention, Biteback Publishing, which claims to be “Britain’s leading publisher of political and current affairs titles,” obviously thinks there’s fresh ground to be covered, or skeletons to be uncupboarded, or something. ” In this compelling account, beautifully written and argued, Robertson rescues Ward’s reputation from the lies and legal distortions that condemned him,” proclaims A.C. Grayling in an advance review on the Biteback website. ” To Stephen Ward, Victim of Hypocrisy,” declares another tribute on the site. Not that there’s the slightest whiff of hypocrisy about this exercise. Honest, guv. “This book has got the potential to sell very well,” declared Biteback MD Iain Dale modestly in The Bookseller. Couldn’t get more straightforward than that, could you?

Ever the champion of the wrongfully accused everywhere, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is joining in the campaign to clear Stephen Ward, who, the musical’s website declares, “in a trial as emblematic to the twentieth century as Oscar Wilde’s was to the nineteenth … became the targeted scapegoat of a furiously self-righteous Establishment.” Funny that I don’t recall any oil paintings of Ward wearing a green carnation. Or great poems and great tributes – as opposed to muckracking potboilers – coming out of the Profumo Affair. But hey, here’s an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to set me straight. Can we expect to see the cast and chorus line from the musical singing and dancing outside the Old Bailey if there is a judicial review? And now I’m really looking forward now to Lloyd Webber’s campaign to clear the Phantom of the Opera from charges of abduction.

And with all this going on, can anyone really convince me that this is a fair-minded, honest attempt to exonerate Stephen Ward based solely on the demands of natural justice, and without the slightest regard for fame or money? Just try. I wonder how many wrongfully convicted prisoners are languishing in English jails right now – without the benefit of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to help them. Anyone else got a preferred victim of English justice they want to help out with a Kickstarter campaign for another Biteback publication and another Lloyd Webber musical?


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