The 1960s was the golden age of the sex scandal. Smaller, portable cameras helped the paparazzi take clandestine photographs. It was not only actors that interested them; in the US, politicians such as John F. Kennedy were associating with celebrities and becoming one themselves. While British political spheres were more conservative, public figures were increasingly of interest to the gossip press.
A NEW ERA
In 1960, the end of the ban on D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover marked a new era of sexual freedom. Tabloid newspapers named and shamed prominent people in stories that were embellished and sometimes invented. The period saw notable public figures scandalised: John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, and Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe among them. Royals, such as the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret, became subjects of speculation over their personal lives; in the 1970s, her affair with a young gardener made the front pages.
For those marginalised by social conventions, scandals could be devastating. In 1963, the famous record producer Joe Meek was caught soliciting gay sex in a public lavatory in London. Meek killed himself in 1967, the year homosexuality was decriminalised in England. While such revelations can still end a career, attitudes have changed: when in 1998 the singer George Michael was fined for doing the same in Beverly Hills, he used the incident to publically embrace his sexuality.
NO LONGER IMMUNE
The British tabloids are still looking for scandal. But the sexism and homophobia that appear in such reports is increasingly condemned. In the age of #MeToo, the Queen’s son Prince Andrew is no longer protected by his position: his friendship with the sex offender Jerry Epstein and the accusations made by an American woman that she was trafficked as a teenager to have sex with the prince, are being taken very seriously.