The seedy underbelly of genteel Edinburgh

Far removed from the picture postcard exterior that attracts tourists and sightseers by the score, Sandra Dick finds the darker side of the city

PRIM and proper on the outside, from the refined ladies of Morningside to the grande dames of the New Town, Edinburgh has always appeared on the surface as nothing less than strait-laced and rather staid.

But beneath her tweed coat and sensible shoes lurks a city that is every bit as racy and permissive, saucy and sensual as the most eye-popping red light district you can imagine.

Now the city's underbelly is to be brought into sharp focus thanks to Pirates of the Caribbean actress Keira Knightley.

She is to star in a lascivious theatre role based on two city schoolteachers whose bedtime antics left 19th century citizens agog - and probably rather titillated.

She'll appear in London's West End in The Children's Hour, a play written by Lillian Hellman based on events surrounding Miss Marianne Woods and Miss Jane Pirie, whose girls' school at the north-east corner of Drumsheugh Gardens, was attended by the offspring of some of the city's most influential and well-heeled families.

The school had been running for around a year, when, out of the blue, a stream of carriages arrived at its elegant entrance to collect and systematically remove the young pupils.

Within 48 hours every pupil had been whisked away. The school stood empty save for its two horrified teachers, the highly emotional Miss Woods, 27, and the deeply religious, sometimes volatile 26-year-old Miss Pirie.

They faced ruin and, as details emerged of what was being said about them, their reputations lay in tatters.

Young Jane Cumming had told her grandmother she had witnessed the two school ma'ams indulging in "inordinate affection" for each other - and the unthinkable notion that they were lesbian lovers was in place.

The pair lodged a claim for 10,000 compensation from their accuser and set in motion a drawn out court case that shocked Scotland with schoolgirls' claims that the pair had shared a bed, lay on top of one another and called each other 'darling'.Even when they eventually won their case, the pair's reputations and finances were in tatters.

No-one could say for sure what went on behind the teachers' closed doors, but there was less guesswork involved when it came to Dora Noyce's house of ill-repute in Danube Street.

On the surface there was nothing to suggest that Dora, in her fur coat, twinset and pearls, was anything other than one of Edinburgh's more respectable, law-abiding citizens, but more than 30 years after her death, prim and proper Dora can still claim legendary status as Scotland's most infamous madam.

Dora's brothel was an open secret, thanks mostly to her regular court appearances.

She used her comfortable home in strait-laced Stockbridge as a magnet for pleasure-seeking clients from Edinburgh and beyond for three decades.

Her business venture began in the aftermath of the Second World War, and there was no shortage of men willing to pay her girls for their services.

The city teemed with servicemen, and the brothel attracted native visitors and foreign servicemen in their droves, and among them were the crew of the US aircraft carrier John F Kennedy.

They sparked protests from Dora's fed up, law-abiding neighbours, after they besieged the street, helping the madam rake in a reported 4000 before ship's captain declared the premises off-limits.

When it came to mixing sex with status, who could forget Leith Labour politician Ron Brown?

He was dropped by his local party in 1990 after he being fined 1,000 for smashing windows, mirrors and glasses at the flat of his former lover.

His three-year affair with a researcher - with whom he was said to have "frolicked" in the Commons showers - ended when she married someone else.

Politics and sex have always made uncomfortable bedfellows, but these days everyone half expects footballers to be involved in some kind of scandal.

Even now, few can compare to ex-Hearts player Justin Fashanu.

The first 1m black footballer, and the professional player to publicly admit that he was gay, Fashanu arrived in Edinburgh in 1993, when he signed to Hearts.

Problems began early in 1994 when he failed to return for training after a trip to London.

It later transpired that while he was down south he'd been trying to sell a newspaper a story linking him to two Conservative MPs.

Days later, Tory MP Stephen Milligan was found dead at his home, prompting a police probe into his sexual exploits and possible connections with the Hearts player.

Fashanu admitted that the stories he'd been touting around were false, and he left Hearts - and Edinburgh - under a cloud, leaving a trail of debt behind him.

In May 1998 it emerged that he was being sought by police in America in connection with an alleged sexual assault on a teenage boy.

Within days, Fashanu was found dead in a London garage. Tragically, he had taken his own life.