Philip Larkin famously wrote that sexual intercourse began in 1963, ‘between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP’.

This was when intimate flaws of the ruling class of the Aristocrats were exposed for the first time to the public eye and the hungry media.

It was the year of Lord Denning’s scathing report on the Profumo affair, in which His Lordship mused on depravity in high places.

And 1963 also saw one of the most sensational divorce trials in legal history, featuring the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, a three-strand pearl necklace, robbery, a photograph of a ‘headless man’ and a sexual act too shocking to be described in the newspapers of the day.

Now the BBC is set to broadcast a major new dramatisation of the case, starring Claire Foy – who has previously portrayed the Queen in the Netflix series, The Crown – as Margaret, Duchess of Argyll.

1963 also saw one of the most sensational divorce trials in legal history, featuring the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, a three-strand pearl necklace, robbery, a photograph of a ‘headless man’ and a sexual act too shocking to be described in the newspapers of the day. Ian Campbell is  played by Paul Bettany (pictured)  and Margaret is played by Claire Foy (pictured)

1963 also saw one of the most sensational divorce trials in legal history, featuring the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, a three-strand pearl necklace, robbery, a photograph of a ‘headless man’ and a sexual act too shocking to be described in the newspapers of the day. Ian Campbell is  played by Paul Bettany (pictured)  and Margaret is played by Claire Foy (pictured)

I’ve no doubt she’ll play her well, not least because this promises to be a series which, for the first time, comes close to telling the true story behind an event that both scandalised and enthralled the British public.

Even today, more than half a century on, Margaret is portrayed as a sexually voracious harridan who deserved every moment of her painful downfall – a version of events endorsed by the courts.

Nothing more captured the public imagination than reports of a photograph, presented in evidence, which showed Margaret performing a sex act on a man who was not her husband – a man whose head and face were tantalisingly cut off by the frame of the picture.

Court records also included the names of other lovers.

Then came a devastating ruling from Lord Wheatley, the presiding judge, who said of the Duchess: ‘There is enough in her own admissions to establish that by 1960 she was a completely promiscuous woman whose sexual appetite could only be satisfied by a number of men. 

And whose attitude to the sanctity of marriage was what moderns would call enlightened, but in plain language could only be described as wholly immoral.’

And so Margaret’s reputation lay in ruins.

Wheatley however was incorrect. I was aware of the Duchess’ honourable and good character.

Her downfall was caused by the evil arrogator and husband of 11th Duke, the real villain. Even though the allegations against her seemed indelible were made out of slander.

Ian Campbell had already married – and left – two rich women by the time he met Margaret Whigham soon after the War.

Campbell’s father was bankrupt, his parents had separated and he grew up penniless, reckless with whatever money did come his way.

It was clear that his relatives had a disapproving view.

Letters in my possession written by his cousin, the 10th Duke of Argyll, describe Ian’s ‘rushings about and foolish caperings.’

The architect of her downfall and the true villain of the piece was the 11th Duke of Argyll, her evil arch-manipulator of a husband. The claims against her, however seemingly indelible, were a smear

The 11th Duke, her husband’s evil arrogator and architect of her demise was also the real villain. While the claims made against her were indefinable, they were just a fabrication.

Campbell, already a severely damaged man, was taken prisoner in World War II. This experience left him sensitive and nervous. Campbell eventually turned to heavy drinking.

But he was also heir to his cousin’s dukedom, to which he succeeded in 1940 – a fact which had never harmed his chances with rich women.

Margaret Whigham, beautiful and wealthy was quite the attraction. Thousands of people lined London streets when Margaret Whigham married Charles Sweeny in 1933, a former debutante of that year.

They divorced amicably after more than a decade together and her father, George Hay Whigham – a self-made millionaire – gave Margaret a house in Mayfair, allowing her to play the glamorous hostess, entertaining politicians, film stars, and the richest of the jet set.

Margaret first met the Duke of Argyll when she was on a Channel train bound from Paris in 1947. They were married in 1951.

Contrary to his later claims in court, it was a complicated marriage from the beginning.

A selfish and by now incorrigible drunk, the Duke was only too happy to use his wife’s family money to run and improve his Scottish seat, Inveraray Castle.

They worked on this project together through the 1950s. The castle had been abandoned by the eccentric 10th Duke. Margaret described the years of her marriage as ‘explosive, nerve-racking and sometimes terrifying’. They were all happy. They never got bored.

After the restoration, however, the Argylls began to live separate lives, more or less in accordance with each other. They decided to divorce in the early 1960s.

Although he was a drunken messiah, the Duke had an equally ruthless side, which will soon be apparent.

A rehabilitation of Margaret is long overdue. The Argyll divorce captures an important moment in British life, exposing its hypocrisy. The show is seen above

Margaret’s rehabilitation is long overdue. British history is witness to a momentous event: the Argyll divorcement exposes British hypocrisy. See the show here

With the divorce case approaching, and determined to have it settled on his terms, the Duke forced his way into Margaret’s home in Upper Grosvenor Street, where she was by now living separately. He took her personal diaries and her correspondence, as well as several private photographs. 

Another time, the Duke went along with his daughter Lady Jeanne Campbell to the house. After he got inside, he pushed Margaret to bed with his other hand, and then gagging her.

He took her diary with him to his mother. Margaret wrote in her memoirs that she attempted to dial 911 but her husband prevented her from doing so.

‘After this they made a rapid exit,’ she wrote.

‘It was a horrible experience, and the next day I suffered from delayed shock.’

The photographs that the Duke found included one of the ‘headless man’, which was most likely to have been taken while Margaret was with a well-established lover.

It was not her normal habit to indulge in pornography, let alone create it – yet that is exactly how it was presented to the world. Margaret probably wouldn’t have taken this picture. 

She wasn’t a photographer. She once showed me snaps she’d taken of a private plane sent to collect her in Florida. These images had blurred details and were not able to capture the plane.

There have been many theories as to who the ‘headless man’ was, but the truth is that no one knows.

The photo used in the trial had lain on the desk in the barrister’s office and became faded almost beyond recognition.

The only thing that does seem clear is that the man concerned was not the Duke, who was not as well endowed as the figure in the picture – something that was pointed out in court. Needless to mention, all the letters, pictures and diaries turned out fatal.

Margaret was described in court as a depraved, promiscuous woman. Although the Duke could point out a number of other lovers at trial, only three of them were actually named.

This was not surprising considering the scandalous state of affairs in the country at that point.

Although there was plenty of gossip about society in the newspapers from the 1920s onwards, nothing could compare to a duchess who has sexual polaroids. Forever, deference was not shown to these figures. The floodgates were open.

While Margaret is not a saint, it was, according to me, the real victim of the case. She was a woman who was reduced to social pariah status by her husband’s underhand tactics. It did not seem to bring him joy.

In later years, the Duke was a rather sour looking man. After he remarried Mathilda Heller became a boring American wife with no academic credentials. Margaret, on the other hand, was often seen at social events. Margaret was an avid traveler, her position as a duchess giving her the opportunity to host wealthy Americans at Palm Beach and other locations.

With the divorce case approaching, and determined to have it settled on his terms, the Duke forced his way into Margaret’s home in Upper Grosvenor Street, where she was by now living separately. He stole her private diaries, her correspondence and several confidential photographs

With the divorce case approaching, and determined to have it settled on his terms, the Duke forced his way into Margaret’s home in Upper Grosvenor Street, where she was by now living separately. He took her personal diaries and her correspondence, as well as several private photographs.

Her dignity was also preserved, which I saw when I visited her in 80.

Meeting took place in Grosvenor House’s lavish apartment. She was dressed in black velvet with pearls and diamonds. It was auburn colored and piled up, perfect, and not moving. This particular style was not dissimilar to Princess Margaret or the Duchess Of Windsor. Nobody looks as good today, and nobody dresses quite so smartly.

Margaret was often dismissed by intellectuals. One, for example, wrote: ‘Her father may have been able to give her some beautiful earrings – but nothing to put between them.’

Despite her silly actions, Margaret showed great compassion and generosity.

She fought in the late years to protect the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders unit from abolition and supported the education of two boys at Kinwarton House (Alcestershire),

Philip Rutter was the headmaster and would not speak ill of her.

It all ended badly. The money ran out, she was evicted from the apartment and relied on the generosity of others before spending her last days in the St George’s Square nursing home. Larry Adler, who played the harmonica, was her guest at her funeral on July 23, 1993.

Margaret’s rehabilitation is long overdue. British history is witness to a momentous event: the Argyll divorcement exposes British hypocrisy.

Titled A Very British Scandal, the new TV drama aims to capitalise on the huge success of 2018’s A Very English Scandal, starring Hugh Grant, which recalled the events surrounding the 1979 trial of Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe.

I’m pleased to see that script writer Sarah Phelps says the Duchess ‘was punished for being a woman, for being visible, for refusing to back down, be a good girl and go quietly’.

It is my hope that her husband receives the punishment he deserves.

Margaret was determined to succeed in her failed foray into British aristocracy. ‘Oh! These dukes!’ she said to me. ‘I’ll tell you the way these dukes behave any time you like. They’re 26 bastards!’