• October 12, 2023

Sex, Scandal, and Revenge: A Very British Scandal

A Very British Scandal

One of Britain’s biggest scandals is the subject of a new BBC mini-series starring Claire Foy. The series, called A Very British Scandal, explores Margaret Campbell and her tumultuous relationship with Ian Campbell, Duke of Argyll.

The Crown alum Foy delivers a fine performance as the Duchess of Argyll. The show explores their high-profile divorce case that triggered a tabloid frenzy.

Duchess of Argyll

A new three-part BBC miniseries stars Claire Foy as Margaret Campbell, the Duchess of Argyll who made headlines in the sixties during her vicious divorce battle with her husband, the Duke of Argyll. The show, from the team behind A Very English Scandal which dramatised Jeremy Thorpe’s affair, takes a look at her adventurous sex life which led to one of the most salacious divorce cases in British history.

The couple’s bitter and acrimonious divorce case was dominated by a series of nude Polaroids which the duke produced as evidence. They depicted the Duchess performing a sexual act on an unidentified man – who was only seen from the neck down. Speculation ran wild as to who the headless man could be. The shortlist ranged from members of the Royal Family to actors and Cabinet Ministers. Despite being “slut-shamed” by the press, the Duchess refused to identify her lover. The case highlighted tense relationships between Fleet Street and the Establishment, as well as the blurry line between sex and politics.

Ian Argyll

The 11th Duke of Argyll, whose scandalous marriages and divorces made headlines around the world, has died at age 69. He had fought for his family’s land and opened Inveraray Castle to tourists, but the money-hungry duke never found his pot of gold.

In a country obsessed with gossip, British scandals have the power to bring down governments and overthrow the rich. Some involve sex, others money and some are about power.

One of Britain’s biggest scandals of the 1960s featured Margaret Sweeny, glamorous beauty and heir to the Argyll title. She and her husband’s private dalliances, forgery, secret recording, bribery, violence, drug taking and explicit polaroid pictures dominated the front pages in a case that became known as ‘Argyll vs Argyll.’ A new three part BBC drama starring Claire Foy and Paul Bettany dramatizes the case in a series titled A Very British Scandal. The writer, Sarah Phelps, used transcripts from the trial to help inform her script.

Margaret Argyll

At the time of the Argyll scandal, there were tense relationships between Fleet Street and the Establishment – and between sex and politics. Rather like the Profumo case, the Argyll affair shed light on sexual morality and it was considered that the Duchess had been promiscuous and had a ‘headless lover’. She was filmed naked in a compromising position with a man who was never named and speculation ran rife about his identity. He was thought to be either American actor Douglas Fairbanks or Duncan Sandys, the minister of defence.

She was slut-shamed and had her private correspondence leaked to the tabloid press. Eventually she was evicted from her home and died penniless in a nursing home in 1993. The BBC’s new three-part drama, A Very British Scandal, should restore her reputation and help the public to understand that she was more than a victim. With new research and personal transcripts, Lyndsy Spence reveals the truth behind this fragile and damaged woman and also reveals the most likely identity of the headless man – he was Texan millionaire Joe Thomas.

Argyll v Argyll

A Very British Scandal, a three-part miniseries starring The Crown actress Claire Foy and Paul Bettany, dramatizes one of Britain’s most notorious divorce cases. The case centered on Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, whose marriage to Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll, led to a scandal that exploded in 1960s Britain.

Margaret, the daughter of a self-made Scottish millionaire, was a celebrity in her own right. From her debutante days to the end of her marriage, her life was front-page news and she was known for her partying.

When her husband, the duke, filed for divorce, he alleged she slept with 88 men. His proof included stolen diaries that supposedly revealed her affairs and explicit Polaroid pictures of her naked except for her signature string of pearls with a headless man. It was the first instance of revenge porn and it laid bare her private life. The court case dragged on for years and became a symbol of misogyny in Britain.

Float back to the home screen


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