I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
It was the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, boys-will-be-boys era when women were the sexual playthings of powerful men without the support of the #MeToo movement.
The Thursday Club was a place where actors, writers, aristocrats, criminals, and well-healed male members of British society could gather and frolic away from the disapproving gaze of wives and girlfriends.
Once a week these gadabouts met at a restaurant in Soho to swap yarns about amorous conquests, tell dirty jokes, and drink their faces off. Prominent among those who attended the club was Prince Philip whose biographer, Philip Eade, described the gatherings as “rip-roaring stag parties.”
In 1947, a couple of newspaper editors, the royal photographer Baron Nahum, actor James Robertson Justice, and some other bon vivants formed a club that met on Thursdays for lunch. Their chosen venue was Wheeler’s oyster and seafood restaurant in Old Compton Street in the Soho neighbourhood of central London.
The restaurant’s owner, Bernard Walsh, gave the club an upstairs room for their gatherings. Apparently, they wouldn’t want to have to mix with the regular public; it might subdue the proceedings.
At the time, Soho was a sleazy place inhabited by prostitutes, petty and not so petty criminals, and drug dealers. Efforts have been made to clean it up but it’s still pretty rough around the edges.
The numbers of those who enjoyed the midday cavorting included David Mountbatten, 3rd Marquis of Milford Haven, who dragged his cousin along. From what is known of him, that cousin was an enthusiastic participant in the Thursday Club’s hi-jinks; he was Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband.
Other members were actors David Niven and Peter Ustinov. The Kray twins, a pair of London’s most vicious crooks, also showed up from time to time.
Even the yet-to-be exposed Soviet spy, Kim Philby, was a member. He no doubt enjoyed one of the conventions of the luncheon, which was for the speaker to remove his trousers.
Connections to members extended to society osteopath and pimp Stephen Ward, who, in 1963, became the central figure in a spying scandal. One of Ward’s call girls was getting frisky with the British Defence Secretary John Profumo at the same time as she was bedding a Soviet spy.
Another frequent diner was Mike Parker a former naval officer and close friend of Prince Philip as well as his private secretary; more of him later.
Let’s Go to David’s Place
Typically, after a raucous lunch the lads would go the David Mountbatten’s flat in Grosvenor Square. It was a very up-market address where very down-market behaviour could take place.
Already well refreshed, the men when settle into card playing and more drinking. The compiler of Royal Foibles reports that “Once the alcohol was flowing freely enough, young, attractive women, one for each club member, would join the fun.”
The permissive attitude of this party meant the girls weren’t there for their stimulating conversation but simply to service the sexual demands of the men.
The writer Miles Kington later recalled saying to Lord Louis Mountbatten that he was puzzled by the presence of what were euphemistically called “showgirls.”
In a 1996 article in The Independent, Kington wrote “ ‘Don’t knock these girls,’ said Lord Louis. ‘These girls are all great ladies in their own right. The Duchess of Northumberland, the Percy, the Lady Devonshire ...’
‘These are their titles?’ I said, amazed.
‘No,’ he said. ‘They are the pubs they work at.’ ”
The Mike Parker Affair
Prince Philip and Mike Parker met when both were junior naval officers during the war. They became friends, drinking buddies, and girl chasers with strong appetites for both pastimes.
When Philip married then-Princess Elizabeth he made Parker his equerry/personal secretary. And, as we’ve seen, their jack-the-lad japes extended past bachelorhood.
In 1957, Philip and Mike were on a round-the-world jaunt about the royal yacht Britannia when news came through that Mike’s wife Eileen had filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery. The word “divorce” was forbidden at Buckingham Palace so Mike Parker was forced to resign.
Parker strenuously denied there was any bed-hopping going on during the voyage or at the Thursday Club.
The break-up prompted rumours that the royal marriage was also in trouble. This caused the Palace to issue the unprecedented statement that “It is quite untrue that there is any rift between the Queen and the Duke.” Cynical journalists muttered the adage that nothing is true until it has been officially denied.
Eventually, the Thursday Club fizzled out. The owner of Wheeler’s restaurant retired and the rumours surrounding what went on there and afterwards began to surface in the more adventurous newspapers. Maybe, the members finally grew up.
According to Ingrid Seward, author of The Queen and Di, both King George VI and Winston Churchill warned Philip to dial back his tom-catting around.
In 2012, Sarah Bradford published her biography Queen Elizabeth II: Her Life in Our Times. In it she claims that Elizabeth was prepared to accept Philip’s indiscretions as long as he was discreet.
Lord Louis Mountbatten once noted about his open marriage that “Edwina and I spent all our married lives getting into other people’s beds.” One of his boudoir companions was Yola Letellier, the Frenchwoman who inspired the novel, and later, movie, Gigi. Mountbatten is said to have shared Yola’s charms and affections with Prince Philip.
Conspiracy theory alert! Russian Gennady Sokolov is the author The Naked Spy. He claims to have intelligence experience and that Boris Berezovsky, a Russian billionaire, was killed by British agents because he was threatening to release photos of Prince Philip in a compromising situation (royal porn) at the Thursday Club.
- “Princess Margaret’s Revenge.” Royalfoibles.com, September 20, 2016.
- “Innocent Days at the Thursday Club.” Miles Kington, The Independent, January 16, 1996.
- “The Crown: The Scandal That Rocked Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s Marriage.” Julie Miller, Vanity Fair, December 9, 2017.
- “Did Prince Philip Really Cheat on Queen Elizabeth During the Early Years of Their Marriage?” Hannah Lazatin, Town and Country, December 3, 2017.
© 2018 Rupert Taylor
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 27, 2018:
Hello, Rupert, I enjoy the article and had a profound respect for the British Royal Family. But scenarios like this affect all. Some persons can take control, but others give in easily. Such are weak, or as we say to er his human. But being a royal family, the pain a serious observer felt is mind-blowing. Thanks for sharing.
Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on September 26, 2018:
Hi Angel. Royal philandering has a long and dishonourable pedigree. Edward VII was one of the worst with one biographer noting he had at least 55 mistresses.
One of his favourites was Alice Keppel who Edward's long-suffering wife allowed to attend his bedside when he was dying.
As I wrote elsewhere on HubPages "Alice Keppel’s great-granddaughter, Camilla Parker Bowles, became the mistress and, later, wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, the current heir to the throne of England and great-great-grandson of Edward VII."
Angel Harper on September 26, 2018:
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! It's very interesting, informative and brilliantly written. I have never been much of a fan of the royal family and now I think I like them even less! I just feel sorry for all the wives who had to put up with this behaviour...