Great Linford has certainly had more than its fair share of famous faces pass through, though this is hardly surprising as for many years the Manor House served as a prestigious music recording studio, welcoming some of the top bands and singers in the world. But other names can be associated with the village from the world of show biz and television, some with more certainty than others, and two providing a link to one of the most infamous political scandals in British history!
Diana Dors was an actress and glamour model, whose reputation as a sex symbol and lurid tabloid headlines disguise the fact that she was by all accounts a very accomplished actress, and that but for personal misfortunes and misjudgements, could very easily have secured her reputation as a serious artiste. Her name has come up in conversation often in connection to Great Linford, with older residents remembering her presence, but under exactly what circumstances she was here, and for how long she stayed, is a matter of speculation. What seems relatively certain is that she had a connection to the house known as The Mead.
It has been suggested that she owned The Mead, but it seems more likely that an aunt and uncle were living there in the 1950s or 1960s. Diana’s real surname was Fluck, while her mother’s maiden name was Payne, but neither name can be connected to The Mead. A name sounding something like Gutteridge has also been suggested, but again, a blank is drawn in trying to connect the name to the house. A person who remembers the owners of the house in the 1980s relates the understanding was held that Diana had owned it, and that it was her country get-away, but having run the theories past an expert on Diana Dors, a home in Great Linford is entirely unknown, and given that hers was a very public persona with numerous books written about her (and by her), the lack of evidence for her ownership seems compelling.
But despite the mystery of the ownership of The Mead, it does seem entirely likely from the recollections of residents of Great Linford, that Diana Dors had once turned heads in the village.
Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davis
Beginning in 1961, John Profumo, the 46-year-old War Minister in the Conservative government of Harold McMillan, began an affair with a 19-year-old model and exotic dancer named Christine Keeler. At the same time, Keeler had entered into a relationship with an attaché at the Soviet embassy named Yevgeny Ivanov, a state of affairs with clear implications for national security. The exact circumstances behind Keeler’s brief relationship with Ivanov are subject to dispute; Keeler alleges in her biography that she was being set up and the intention was to generate blackmail material so that the Soviets could ascertain NATO nuclear plans in Europe. But what does this have to do with Great Linford?
The circumstances are certainly strange. The suggestion that Christine Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice Davies had visited Great Linford had been offered by a resident who remembered seeing them in the village, but is there any proof? Indirectly there is, and the trail starts at the manor house, which in 1956 had been occupied by a Michael Dibben, an entrepreneurial character who had developed a novel way of making casts of old garden statuary and then turning out copies. His unique selling point was that he had developed a way of cheaply reproducing items with a special concrete formula that simulated the patina of old garden ornaments. Chilstone proved very successful, and the company still exists to this day; you can even still buy “Great Linford” branded items.
But how does this bring us closer to a connection to the Profumo Affair? To join the dots, we need to talk about Michael’s father, Horace Harold Dibben, known as “Hod” to his friends and acquaintances. Hod Dibben was an antique dealer who had made a name for himself as a nightclub owner in London, but his establishments were the more respectable front for the private parties he became infamous for, secret assignations where the rich and famous could shed their inhibitions. Christine Keeler denied ever attending one of these parties, but Mandy Rice Davies had, and in the highly charged atmosphere both girls inhabited, intrigue and blackmail went hand in hand, as did espionage.
The name of Hod Dibben is one that exists on the periphery of the Profumo Affair, but it certainly gives credence to the idea that Keeler and Rice-Davies could have visited Great Linford as guests of the Dibbens. This is not to impugn the reputation of Michael Dibben, no concrete evidence points to any shenanigans at the manor, and indeed the story that has bee passed down suggests they stayed at Linford Lodge. Christine Keeler makes no mention of Great Linford in her biography, but perhaps we can speculate that as the Profumo Affair exploded into the public eye, Keeler and Rice-Davies sought a respite from the incessant press attention in a quiet little Buckinghamshire village.
The cast and director of Suspect
Toward the end of 1969, a television crew descended on a snowy Great Linford to film a gritty crime drama called Suspect, which was to serve as a trial run for a short series called Armchair Cinema for Thames TV. Shot on film, which was an unusual extravagance at the time, Suspect and the stories that followed are well-regarded as programmes that served as a training ground for up-and-coming actors, writers and directors; one episode entitled Regan would be spung off into the immensely popular The Sweeney. Suspect was the work of Mike Hodges, who would go on to critical acclaim for his film Get Carter, which starred Michael Caine. Hodges is also well known for the camp cult classic, Flash Gordon.
Hodges wrote and directed Suspect, which filmed extensively inside the manor house, on the High Street and many other familiar locations in and around the village. The cast was led by Rachel Kempson, a RADA trained actress with many roles on stage and television to her name, including in later years Out of Africa and The Jewel in the Crown. She often co-starred with her husband Michael Redgrave, the couple founding an acting dynasty that included Vanessa Redgrave.
In Suspect, Rachel plays Phyllis Segal, who worries that the disappearance of her husband, coinciding with the apparent abduction of a local schoolgirl, must in some way be connected. But when the police arrive, she decides that she must keep up appearances at all costs and does all she can to deflect suspicion from her wayward spouse.
The police are led by Detective Inspector Barnes, played by George Sewell, whose craggy features graced many crime dramas of the period, playing characters on both sides of the law. He may be best remembered as Colonel Alec Freeman in Gerry Anderson’s live action UFO series. In Suspect, Sewell’s detective is a somewhat world-weary character, but determined to get his man.
Rounding out the main cast is Bryan Marshall, a stalwart of British television, but with roles also in movies like The Long Good Friday and The Spy Who Loved Me. Marshall plays the son of Phylis Segal, returning home to find the family’s life in turmoil.
Suspect is a particularly good crime drama, with plenty of suspense, and it is certainly fascinating to think that the village was once home to a television production of this nature. As of writing, the episode is available on YouTube.