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The Trial of Christine Keeler’s James Norton: ‘The Profumo Affair was our Watergate’

James Norton in The Trial of Christine Keeler
James Norton in The Trial of Christine Keeler (Image credit: Ben Blackall)

James Norton reveals all about playing Stephen Ward in BBC1’s Profumo Affair drama The Trial of Christine Keeler, which starts tonight

The Profumo Affair rocked Britain in the early 1960s and now BBC1’s compelling six-part drama The Trial of Christine Keeler sheds intriguing new light on the notorious scandal.

The series explores how teenage model Christine Keeler (Sophie Cookson) encounters married Tory MP and Secretary of State for War John Profumo (Ben Miles) through her friendship with suave society osteopath Stephen Ward (Happy Valley actor James Norton). But their liaison soon makes the headlines with devastating consequences…

Here, James Norton tells us about BBC1 drama The Trial of Christine Keeler, which starts this evening at 9pm…

Why does the Profumo Affair still fascinate us?

James: “It’s the biggest scandal of its type in this country; it’s our Watergate. And it’s about the primal power of sex and this idea of a young beauty who older men are compelled by and the power that has and the potential for destruction. We show a girl thrust into this confusing, hostile, male-dominated community. Seeing how she navigates that is fascinating.”

Tell us about Stephen

JN: “Stephen’s a gift to play - enigmatic and an odd fish. I love it’s not clear-cut - he is far from being a villain or a hero. He was subversive and progressive. But being that avant-garde then came at a cost.”

Sophie Cookson and Christine and James Norton as Stephen in The Trial of Christine Keeler

Sophie Cookson as Christine and James Norton as Stephen in The Trial of Christine Keeler (Image credit: BBC/Ecosse Films/Ben Blackall)

What research could you do?

JN: “I’ve relied on footage of Stephen and his interview about the scandal. One scene was even taken from transcripts - it’s extraordinary speaking ghostly words from the man himself. It’s been a rewarding puzzle to unpick.”

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You have grey hair and wrinkles as Stephen, how have you found ageing up?!

JN: “Yes, Stephen was older than me so I haven’t just had heavy nights of non-sleep! We have an incredible make up department who’ve done wonders and, disconcerting as it is, it’s exciting. The 60s is such a beautiful time too. There was so much care taken over appearance. It makes me self-conscious every time I throw on a tracksuit - I should make more effort!”

The Trial of Christine Keeler airs on BBC1 on Sunday 29 December and Monday 30 December at 9pm

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.