British Sex Scandal--but ‘It Ain’t What It Used to Be’

Times Staff Writer

The British sex scandal, to borrow a phrase, just “ain’t what it used to be.”

That, at least, appears to be the verdict of connoisseurs of the genre who say they have been simultaneously riveted and slightly disappointed by reports dominating the nation’s press for nearly two weeks on the social life of a former Miss India beauty queen.

The woman, who worked as a researcher in the House of Commons, reputedly offered her nocturnal favors for the equivalent of $875 to a News of the World reporter posing as a wealthy Hong Kong businessman. There followed a flurry of reports linking her with journalists, members of Parliament, a government minister who escorted her to a Conservative Party ball and a Libyan intelligence official.

For added atmosphere, the story is unfolding against the backdrop of a titillating new film on the so-called Profumo affair, which helped topple a Conservative government 25 years ago. Called “Scandal,” the box-office hit recalls the infamous affair between Britain’s then-secretary of defense, John Profumo, and party girl Christine Keeler.


But the adventures of India-born Pamella Bordes appear so far to fall well short of the mark set by the Profumo scandal.

“This extraordinary story has that mix of sex, security, sanctimoniousness and silliness which are essential to the great British scandal,” the Independent newspaper noted in an editorial on the Bordes affair the other day. However, the paper added, “the tale does not, in point of seriousness, yet rank with the Keeler affair.”

All it has displayed, the Independent added, is that some of Britain’s movers and shakers show even less common sense than their peers of a generation ago.

“Ms. Bordes is, to be blunt, a bimbo,” the newspaper declared. “There is something undignified about middle-aged men of influence, married or single, preening themselves so indiscreetly and so competitively in nightclubs or Conservative balls with such a lady. A generation ago, those in the public eye who kept company with Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies did so with discretion rather than with display. This attempt at secrecy did not make their behavior more admirable, but it was certainly more sensible.”


To date, the highest-ranking politician known to have escorted Bordes is Colin Moynihan, the unmarried minister for sport who took her to his party’s winter ball. Before that, his greatest claim to fame was his support for an unpopular bill that would bar Britain’s rowdy soccer fans from professional games unless they were members of a fan club.

Even the tabloid Daily Mail couldn’t resist a tongue-in-cheek comment on the difference 25 years has made. “Unless the delectable and dangerous Pamella Bordes turns out to have given the Libyans inside knowledge of possible amendments to the Football Spectators Bill,” wrote columnist Keith Waterhouse, “I am afraid we are not in for a scandal of Profumo proportions.”

As a sequel to the Profumo affair, observes the The Economist magazine, “the Bordes episode is still Hamlet without the prince.”

Sunday Times columnist Simon Jenkins noted that Keeler was simultaneously linked to Profumo and a Soviet military attache in London, an arrangement raising questions of national security.


“But the name of Miss Bordes is linked not to Soviet attaches but to editors, porn kings and Arab horse dealers: a case not so much for MI-5 as for the Health and Safety at Work Inspectorate,” Jenkins wrote.

Acquaintances of Bordes have been quoted as saying the 27-year-old former model was involved with an unnamed member of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet.

A recent cartoon in the tabloid Today showed a smiling Bordes on her knees peering beneath the Cabinet table where several pairs of frightened eyes peered back at her from the darkness. Thatcher, sitting at the head of the table, chides: “Oh, for heaven’s sake, surely ONE of you can give the poor girl a reference!”

The tabloid Daily Mirror reported the other day that Bordes may get $1.75 million for film rights to her life, and the mainstream Independent headlined a front-page story: “Pamella Bordes Ready to Take Wraps Off Her Story.”


Questions have been raised about how the parliamentary security system could have been so lax as to issue Bordes a pass allowing her access to the House of Commons without being searched. And there is considerable interest in how she came to live in a $1.3-million Westminster penthouse equipped with a “division bell"--a device that informs members of Parliament a vote is about to be taken.

While Bordes’ trail may yet lead to a serious sex and security scandal, however, so far it seems more of a diversion. “These moments are precious in the dull history of the mother of parliaments,” wrote columnist Jenkins. “When a new name is to be scratched on the tin mug of political scandal, the great carrousel should stop awhile and take note.”

And if nothing else, all the publicity surrounding Bordes is apparently helping the producers of the film “Scandal.” Now in its third week, the movie has already grossed well over $3.5 million, and in London, it was outdrawing the popular American hit, “Rain Man.”