Profumo Affair

Profumo Affair

The Profumo Affair was a 1963 British political scandal named after John Profumo, Secretary of State for War. His affair with Christine Keeler, the reputed mistress of an alleged Russian spy, followed by lying in the House of Commons when he was questioned about it, forced the resignation of Profumo and damaged the reputation of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's government. Macmillan himself resigned a few months later due to ill health.


Profumo's relationship with Keeler

Christine Keeler—the iconic Lewis Morley image, taken in May 1963, became an instant national talking point when a stolen copy was published by the Sunday Mirror, adding yet more fuel to the fire under Profumo. As the scandal intensified, it was endlessly republished.[1]

In the early 1960s, Profumo was the Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan's Conservative government and was married to actress Valerie Hobson. In 1961, Profumo met Christine Keeler, a London call girl,[2] at a house party at Cliveden, the Buckinghamshire mansion owned by Lord Astor. Many years later Profumo would claim, in discussion with his son, David, that he had met Keeler previously at a night club in London called Murray's and "probably had a drink with her."[3] Also present at the Cliveden party were Profumo's wife and the fashionable osteopath, Dr Stephen Ward, a long-standing acquaintance of Keeler. The relationship with Keeler lasted only a few weeks before Profumo ended it. However, rumours about the affair became public in 1962, as did the allegation that Keeler had also had a relationship with Yevgeny "Eugene" Ivanov, a senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London. Given Profumo's position in the government and with the Cold War at its height, the potential ramifications in terms of national security were grave, and this, along with the adulterous nature of Profumo's relationship with Keeler, quickly elevated the affair into a public scandal.

Exposure of the affair

In 1962, Keeler became involved in an altercation with her former live-in lover Johnny Edgecombe. When she announced the end of their relationship, a confrontation followed 10 days before Christmas 1962. Edgecombe attempted to force his way into Stephen Ward's flat where Keeler was staying and fired several shots at the doorlock. Meanwhile, Keeler had become involved with a Jamaican drug dealer named Aloysius "Lucky" Gordon. When that relationship ended Gordon attacked her with an axe and held her hostage for two days. Keeler turned to Edgecombe for help and in the ensuing fight between him and Gordon, the latter received a knife wound to his face. Fearful of reprisals from Gordon, Edgecombe asked Keeler to help him find a solicitor so that he could turn himself in. She refused and instead told him that she intended to give evidence against Edgecombe in court for wounding Gordon. As a result of her refusal, Edgecombe hatched a plot to murder Keeler. Three months later, when she failed to turn up in court for Edgecombe's trial, previous press suspicions boiled over and the affair became front page news with headlines like "WAR MINISTER SHOCK".[4]

Announcement in Parliament

In March 1963, Profumo stated to the House of Commons that there was "no impropriety whatever" in his relationship with Keeler and that he would issue writs for libel and slander if the allegations were repeated outside the House.[5] (Within the House, such allegations are protected by Parliamentary privilege.) However, in June, Profumo confessed that he had misled the House and lied in his testimony and on 5 June, he resigned his Cabinet position, as well as his Privy Council and Parliamentary membership.

Peter Wright, in his autobiography Spycatcher,[6] relates that he was working at the British counter-intelligence agency MI5 at the time and was assigned to question Keeler on security matters. He conducted a fairly lengthy interview and found Keeler to be poorly educated and not well informed on current events, very much the "party girl" described in the press at the time. However, in the course of questioning her, the subject of nuclear missiles came up, and Keeler, on her own, used the term "nuclear payload" in relation to the missiles. This alerted Wright's suspicions. According to Wright, in the very early 1960s in Britain, the term "nuclear payload" was not in general use by the public, and even among those who kept up with such things, the term was not commonly heard. For a young woman with such limited knowledge to casually use the term was more than suspicious. In fact, Wright came away convinced that at the very least there had been an attempt by the Soviet attaché (perhaps through Stephen Ward) to use Keeler to get classified information from Profumo.

Lord Denning released the government's official report on 25 September 1963, and, one month later, the prime minister, Harold Macmillan, resigned on the grounds of ill health, which had apparently been exacerbated by the scandal. He was replaced by the Foreign Secretary, the Earl of Home, who renounced his title to become Sir Alec Douglas-Home. However, the change of leader failed to save the Conservative Party's place in government; they lost the general election to Harold Wilson's Labour a year later.

Stephen Ward was prosecuted for living on the immoral earnings of prostitution and he committed suicide in August. He was defended by James Burge QC (who was later the basis for John Mortimer's character Rumpole of the Bailey). Keeler was found guilty on unrelated perjury charges and was sentenced to nine months in prison.[7] Profumo died on 9 March 2006.

The Profumo Affair in film and theatre

The relationship between a senior politician and a prostitute[2] caught the public imagination and led to the release of a number of films and documentaries detailing the event. The Danish film The Keeler Affair[8] was released in 1963 followed in 1989 by the British film Scandal. The musical A Model Girl premiered at The Greenwich Theatre on 30 January 2007.[9] In theatre Hugh Whitemore's play A Letter of Resignation, first staged at the Comedy Theatre in October 1997, dramatises the occasion when Harold Macmillan, staying with friends in Scotland, received a political bombshell, a letter of resignation from Profumo, his war minister. Edward Fox portrayed Macmillan. [10][11]

The Profumo Affair in popular music

Cultural references to the scandal

In the comedy LP record "Fool Britannia" dating from around 1962 there is one reference to the Profumo Scandal. The recording includes skits by Peter Sellers, Anthony Newley & Joan Collins. As the Lord Chamberlain's office would not allow references to the Stephen Ward trial or the resignation of Profumo on the last track on the record a voice says (apropos of nothing): "There's no smoke without fire" or as my old Latin master would put it "Non Combusto Profumo".

The book The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) mentions the scandal in the chapter "Hustler".[citation needed]

The film Sweeney! (1977), a movie spin-off of the popular police drama The Sweeney, involved a plot loosely based on the Profumo Affair. British actor Barry Foster guest-starred as an Americanised, and more deadly, version of Stephen Ward.[21]

The Alan Moore-scribed comic book Miracleman has a character mention Profumo in issue #2. The main character's newspaper editor is irritated that the government has stepped in to suppress a story, and the editor replies, "It's bloody Profumo all over a-bloody-gain."[citation needed]

The Clash's 1980 album Sandanista! references the events of the Profumo affair in the song The Leader[22][23].

The TV comedy-drama film Blore M.P. (made in 1989) starred Timothy West as a cabinet minister who also gets involved with a prostitute and faces blackmail from the Russians.[24]

In Mad Men Season 3 Episode 6, "Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency," (broadcast September 2009) Joan Holloway comments that the British Prime Minister loves prostitutes and is corrected, being told "actually it was the Secretary of War."

Harriet Evans's 2011 novel Love Always, partially set in 1963, discusses the Profumo affair, and the character Cecily is fascinated by it.[25]

See also


  1. ^ National Portrait Gallery, NPG P512(13); Victoria & Albert museum: A modern icon
  2. ^ a b Christine Keeler, the original sex scandal girl, told her parents prison was 'just like school'. Daily Mail. 22 July 2010.
  3. ^ David Profumo (2006). Bringing the House Down: a family memoir. John Murray (UK). ISBN 978-0719566080
  4. ^ "JohnnyEdgecombe". The Daily Telegraph, UK. October 4, 2010. Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  5. ^ "John Profumo". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  6. ^ Wright, Peter; Greengrass, Paul (1988). Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer. New York: Dell. ISBN 9780440201328. 
  7. ^ "Accidental Heroes of the 20th Century - 35: Christine Keeler, Call Girl". The Independent (London). 10 April 1999. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  8. ^ "IMDB entry". Retrieved October 8, 2010. 
  9. ^ Jones, Alice (23 January 2007). "Christine Keeler: Double exposure". (The Independent). Retrieved 2010-06-11. 
  10. ^ A Letter of Resignation(PDF) Theatre Record:97;1330. 1997. Production listing. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  11. ^ de Jongh, Nicholas (17 October 1997) A Letter of Resignation London Evening Standard. Retrieved 2010-06-11.
  12. ^ The Independent - Obituaries - Joyce Blair
  13. ^ The Broadside Tapes 1 liner notes <--by Smithsonian/Folkways Records. TOO MUCH DETAIL-->
  14. ^ Klive Walker, Dubwise: Reasoning from the Reggae Underground, (Insomniac Press, 2006), p. 123.
  15. ^ "The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1963". BBC Online. May 12, 2004. Retrieved October 8, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Post World War Two Blues". Retrieved October 8, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Lyrics of Where are they now?". Retrieved October 8, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Glaxo Babies". Retrieved October 8, 2010. 
  19. ^ "IMDB entry". Retrieved October 8, 2010. 
  20. ^ "45Cat". Retrieved October 8, 2010. 
  21. ^ Sweeney! (1977). IMDB entry. Retrieved 2010-06-08.
  22. ^ John McFerrin Music Reviews. Retrieved 2011-09-14.
  23. ^ Clash On Broadway (liner notes). Legacy Records. 1991. 
  24. ^ Blore M.P. (1989) IMDB entry. Retrieved 2010-06-08.
  25. ^ Retrieved 2011-03-17.


External links

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