The Identity of the Headless Man Has Remained a Mystery to Royal Family Fans for Decades

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Apr. 22 2022, Published 3:10 p.m. ET

If you're a subscriber to Amazon Prime Video, odds are that you've seen A Very British Scandal pop up on your screen while browsing the service as of late. The new series, which is based on the real-life famous Argyll vs. Argyll divorce, touches on all of the dirty details of the split between the 11th Duke of Argyll Ian Campbell, played on the show by Paul Bettany, and Margaret Campbell, played on the show by Claire Foy.

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When presenting evidence in their 1963 divorce case, Ian submits a photo of what is allegedly Margaret and one of her lovers, whom he refers to as the headless man. So, who exactly was the headless man? Keep reading for all of the known details.

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Who was the headless man on 'A Very British Scandal'?

The mention of the headless man in A Very British Scandal is a key element of both the show and the real-life case it was based on. A Polaroid image of the headless man (called that because his head was not visible) was presented at the Duke and Duchess' divorce hearing. Although faces are not visible, a woman wearing a pearl necklace similar to the one that Margaret often wore was seen performing oral sex on an unidentified man.

This is a key element of the show as the entire program focuses on Margaret and Ian's relationship dissolving very publicly. Per The Scotsman, Ian accused Margaret of cheating on him with 88 other men. However, it was revealed later that many of the men were homosexual and that she was keeping their sexuality a secret because it was a punishable offense in the UK at the time.

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In A Very British Scandal, Margaret confesses that she was the one in the photos, but does not reveal the man's identity. In reality, Margaret's association with the photos remained with her until her death on July 25, 1993, and like on the show, she never officially revealed who the man in the photo was.

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Plenty of important people were speculated as being the headless man.

A lot of names have been tossed around over the years regarding who the headless man could be. When the government initially commissioned Lord Denning to investigate the issue, per Wikipedia, he made a list of five potential suspects based on handwriting on other Polaroid photos included in the set. These men were actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., former Minister of Defense Duncan Sandys, businessman John Cohane, Savot Hotel press officer Peter Combe, and German diplomat Sigismund von Braun.

But a later documentary titled Secret History: The Duchess and the Headless Man claimed to have identified not one, but two men who are behind the infamous role. Casting aside a lot of the notions of the original investigation, the movie claimed that Douglas and Duncan were named as the most likely suspects, per The Guardian.

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This conclusion was drawn using evidence from unpublished parts of a report from Lord Denning, who was first assigned to investigate the case as well as testimony from Margaret’s friend Paul Vaughan. Paul reportedly explained that Margaret told him at the time that "the only Polaroid camera in the country at this time had been lent to the Ministry of Defense."

However, the real identity of the headless man was called into question yet again in 2013 when Lady Colin Campbell, the Duke's daughter-in-law, identified the headless man as William "Bill" Lyons, sales director of Pan American World Airways, per The New York Post.

Considering the fact that Margaret took the true identity of the headless man with her to the grave, it's unlikely that royal fans will ever get a confirmed answer to that ever-burning question.

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