The bedroom scandal that rocked Australian politics 79



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In 1970, Andrew and Susan Peacock, both 30, were the golden couple of Australian politics – he was Army Minister in John Gorton’s Coalition government and she was a prominent socialite and the daughter of a senior Minister in the Victorian Liberal Government.

Comparisons were frequently drawn with the assassinated US President John F Kennedy and his glamorous wife Jackie.

Then came the scandal which threatened the career of Andrew Peacock and like all good scandals, especially in politics, it was all about what happened in the bedroom.

Shock! Horror!

On November 2, 1970, Woman’s Day and The Australian Women’s Weekly exposed the Peacocks’ bedroom secret but it wasn’t a serious piece by an investigative reporter; it wasn’t a piece by some low-life muckraker. It was an advertisement.

Yes, Mrs Andrew Peacock admitted to the world that she had chosen Sheridan sheets for their bedroom.

The advertisement was headed, ”Mrs Andrew Peacock is wife to Australia’s youngest Federal Minister and one of the most vital women on the Australian scene. She chose to decorate her bedroom around Sheridan Printed Sheets”.

Image via ABC
Image via ABC

Was Mrs Andrew Peacock – in those days married women were still officially known by their husband’s first name in polite society – sprawled across her Sheridan sheets fitted bed in a flimsy negligee winking suggestively and smiling a provocative smile? Well, no – she was fully, decently and properly clothed and decorously sitting on a chair by the bed, her hair piled high in the very latest style.

After a long preamble about what a wonderful, loving and supportive wife she was as well as being a proud and doting mother, we learned that the Peacock home is “where comfort is the first consideration”. Yes, while Mrs Peacock might be young, beautiful, rich, famous and well-connected, she is really just like you when you think about was the message to Woman’s Day and the Weekly readers.

Under the sub headline of “A Bed of Bright Flowers”, we learned that, “In their bedroom, which is basically all muted gold, the colour excitement is provided by Sheridan printed sheets” and, as it happens, when the photographer popped by, “Today the bed is wearing Sheridan’s Sunspray, a dainty all-over daisy pattern of pink on white.”

And just to reinforce the message for the readers that Mrs Peacock is not some sort of frightful snob waited on hand and foot by faithful family retainers, there is a charming and very practical section under the heading, “Pretty Practical, Too” which is a grammatical lapse that Mrs Peacock, who went to a very exclusive girls’ school, would not have allowed. She would have written, “Pretty Practical, To”.

“And it’s not as if we lose out on the practical benefits because we chosen these super designs. Sheridan sheets are as modern as anything overseas. They’re terribly quick drying. They’re crease resistant, so they look fine without ironing. Completely pre-shrunk to. What I like most is the way the bottom sheet fits the mattress so it just can’t rumple and bed- making is easier,” she gushed – or rather some advertising copywriter gushed for her.

The Woman’s Day and Weekly readers would have lapped it up – why, here is the closest thing we have to home-grown royalty, and she washes her own sheets, she brings them in from the line and she makes the bed – gosh, just like us!

It’s hard to believe, looking back, that this advertisement created a national sensation. But, the mere suggestion that these were the sheets on which she and her husband might…well, you know – was nothing less than a scandal. Decent people and, especially, decent women were outraged.

Andrew Peacock felt he had no option other than to submit his resignation as Army Minister to Prime Minister Gorton who, happily, was anything but a moralising snob. He told Peacock not to be “a bloody fool” and refused the resignation and Peacock kept his job. Then Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam agreed, saying it was “absurd to hold a man responsible for the trivial actions of his wife”.

More than 40 years later the now Lady Renouf, in an ABC Australian Story interview, recalled the – well – the shameful horror of it is not too strong a term.

Liberal Party traditionalists – another term then for upper class pompous twits – muttered about an “abuse of Westminster traditions” and the story went around the world with headlines such as “Storm in a bedspread”.

She described how the media arrived at their home and began banging on the door and shouting questions while she cowered indoors with their three small daughters. “Quite a frightening experience. Of course Andrew was mortified. It was horrible for me because I felt that I had ruined his career,” she said.

She had intended to donate her $50 fee for the advertisement to buy classroom equipment for children in Papua-New Guinea she had met with her husband on a Ministerial trip. The happy outcome was that there was a surge in donations and, as she later said, “We actually sent out on a Hercules enough material to equip the school for a long time and they were so grateful”.


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Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. What a trollop, she had a hide showing anyone her pillow slips !! but her hair was that high it is a wonder they never had to have a separate bed just for it

    1 REPLY
    • My mother, who is not the kindest soul on the planet, always said she was a high class call girl. Peacock, Sangster and Renouf all had a few dollars in the bank

  2. Another, dull, unimportant article written by another Socialist Anarchist.

    16 REPLY
    • John its up to you then to contribute an insightful and interesting article if you are so quick to criticise others’ articles.

    • Socialist Anarchist? Hardly How do you make that out of reminding us of an old article about a true blue Liberal Party family and how prissy society was back then?.

      1 REPLY
      • Thank God and bless you Leonie for your common sense!

    • What planet did you come from John Green? Has your craft got enough fuel for the return journey?

    • Barbara Easthope Good on you. Well done. Cooking and sewing? Or something deep and meaningful like How to be a public servant unionist and sponge off the taxpayer.

      1 REPLY
      • You really are a bit sick in the head, aren’t you, all curled up with jealousy!

    • Leone O’Sullivan What kind of fool defecates on their own FB page with political rants? A Socialist Anarchist!

    • So you do have a fake facebook page for your political rants and appear white as driven snow on your real facebook page. Typical

    • “Socialist Anarchist”? Now that is a new description of me John – and rather unexpected and, may I add, rather unwarranted and unearned. During my career working for Liberal and National Party Ministers in Victoria, Canberra and Queensland I was variously described by both friends and foes as a “fascist”, “racist”, “right-wing fanatic” and similar but nobody ever called me a “Socialist Anarchist”. Could you please explain why writing a piece about an incident some forty years ago which, in retrospect, shows how trivial it was and how plainly silly it was for some to demand Andrew Peacock’s resignation as a Minister makes me a “Socialist Anarchist”?

    • Yes John, don’t criticise something you can’t do yourself you old moaner! And don’t use that claptrap with me either, I’ve had over 230 articles published in Starts At Sixty so far, and I haven’t finished yet – so at least I’m prepared to have a go – are YOU?

  3. Why would we care?

    1 REPLY
    • We forget how prissy society was back then. Prissy:” having or showing the annoying attitude of people who care too much about dressing and behaving properly and who are easily upset by other people’s behavior, language, etc.”

  4. I was working way out in the sticks at the time none of this reached me. Sad to see though that “Liberal Party traditionalists” are still alive and kicking. Horrid hairstyles around at that time.

    2 REPLY
    • Nothing Carole it was a separate comment. I was just saying I thought the hairstyles at that time quite horrid. Upper class pompous twits still survive in the party ie the Liberal Party traditionalists.

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