A Very British Scandal: Headless mans identity not surprise as he was Duchess lover

A Very British Scandal: Claire Foy stars in BBC trailer

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The hit show returns tonight and depicts the battle lines being drawn as the Duke and Duchess of Argyll enter into a tense separation — leading to the divorce of the century. Margaret Campbell scrambles to keep the details of her private life secret in the face of the press, but quickly realises the odds are stacked against her. Britons up and down the country have become hooked on the high-society fallout that happened in the Sixties — all the more lured in given the royal link.

It turns out, however, that Margaret and Ian Campbell had little to do with the Firm itself.

The 11th Duke of Argyll, he took the hereditary title from his first cousin once removed, Niall Diarmid Campbell, who received his title from his uncle, John Campbell, the 9th Duke of Argyll, who in turn was married to Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, Princess Louise.

Margaret had no familial royal connection: she was the daughter of a Scottish textile millionaire, and in her youth became a much watched socialite who frequented the clubs of high-society London.

She had already been married before Ian, the relationship bearing three children.

But in 1947, she and the American Charles Sweeny divorced, and four years later she met and married Ian, becoming Duchess of Argyll.

Paranoid about her reputation as a socialite, the Duke believed that his wife was being unfaithful to him, and so hired a locksmith to break into one of her cupboards to search for evidence.

Successfully opening it, he found naked photos of Margaret, including one of her performing fellatio on a man whose head was out of frame, later becoming dubbed as the ‘Headless Man’ or men, for many suggested that the photo depicted two people in addition to Margaret.

In the divorce trial that proceeded and the years after, the identity of the Headless Man was a much speculated topic.

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Suggested candidates have included a range of people from high-society circles to political insiders.

In 2013, writing in the Mail, Margaret’s daughter-in-law, Lady Colin Campbell, claimed that the man was William “Bill” Lyons, sales director of Pan American World Airways, adding that he was Margaret’s lover.

She said the time had come to reveal Bill as “the headless man” because by keeping the mystery going “we have done Margaret’s reputation no favours”.

She claimed that Margaret had begun seeing Bill — himself a married man — after the Duke began divorce proceedings against her.


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Lady Campbell claimed: “To those of us who were close to her it was hardly a surprise. Bill was her lover, after all.”

Her claims have never been confirmed or backed up by anyone else close to the event.

Many other figures have been cast as contenders behind the identity.

Following the Duchess’ death in 2000, The Guardian claimed that the case had been solved, saying that not one but two potential lovers had been identified.

The first was allegedly Duncan Sandys, Minister of Defence at the time and the son-in-law of Sir Winston Churchill

Douglas Fairbanks Jr, a Hollywood legend, was named as the other man in the photos.

At the same time, the two men’s identities were revealed in a Channel 4 documentary, ‘Secret History: The Duchess and the Headless Man.

Its creators claimed that Sandys’ identity was “conclusively proved” by the Duchess’ claim that the only Polaroid camera in England at the time had been given to the Ministry of Defence.

Yet, Fairbanks had supposedly been identified through his handwriting.

Adding to the twist of events, during a Cabinet meeting, Sandys is said to have admitted he was rumoured to be one of the men in the shots.

Later, five suspects were asked to sign a visitors register and Fairbanks’ handwriting was analysed by a graphologist.

But the true identity was, if found, never revealed.

Argyll vs Argyll, as it became known, was one of the longest and most-covered divorce cases to happen in Britain.

Margaret would never recover from the scandal and publicity surrounding her divorce.

Despite outliving the Duke by two decades, she was left almost property-stricken in later life.

Her final years saw her live in a nursing home, where she died at the age of 80 following a fall.

The Duke remarried, tying the knot with Mathilda Coster Mortimer, with whom he had a daughter, Lady Elspeth Campbell, who lived only five days.

They remained married until the Duke’s death on 7 April 1973, when he died in a nursing home in Edinburgh.

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