The British Secretary of State for War resigns in a Sex Scandal (June 5, 1963) - History Key

The British Secretary of State for War resigns in a Sex Scandal (June 5, 1963)

Who is John Profumo?

John Profumo in 1960, at his desk as Secretary of State for War
John Profumo in 1960, at his desk as Secretary of State for War © Image Source: Wikipedia

He was of an Italian descent, born in 1915. His political career in Parliament started as a conservative member for Kettering. This was while he was serving with the Northamptonshire Yeomanry. During the 1945 general election, he lost his seat but elected back in 1950. He held a junior ministerial office in 1951 in successive conservative administrations. He was promoted by Macmillan in 1960 to the position of Secretary of State for War. He got married to Valerie Hobson in 1954. She was one of the leading British film actresses.

Profumo and wife Valerie in 1963
Profumo and wife Valerie in 1963 © Graziano Arici / Image Source:

According to rumors, he might have had casual affairs with her using late-night sittings of the parliamentary as cover up. His war minister tenure coincided with the transition to the armed forces, which involved the end of conscription and the growth of profession army.

Christine Keeler

 Christine Margaret Keeler
Christine Margaret Keeler © Image Source:

She was born in 1942 and at the age of 15 left school without any qualifications. She took a series of part-time jobs in offices, shops, and cafés. Her aspiration was to be a model and a year later after dropping from school; she had her picture published in Tit-Bits publication. She took work as a topless showgirl in August 1959 at the Murray’s Cabaret Club in Beak Street, Soho. This club was an established club that brought many distinguished personalities. It was during one of her performance she was introduced to one of the clients, who was Stephen Ward. The details of their discussion weren’t known but eventually, she moved to his flat.

Lewis Morley's 1963 portrait of Christine Keeler
Lewis Morley’s 1963 portrait of Christine Keeler © Image Source: Wikipedia

According to her, their relationship was like a brother and sister. This relationship was affectionate without any sexual connection attached. She became the mistress of Peter Rachman, a property dealer after she left Ward few months. After this, she lodged with Mandy Rice-Davies, who was also a dancer at the Murray’s Club. After leaving Murray’s club, they ventured out as freelance models but were never successful. She frequently returned to Ward’s home and it was here she met most of his friends among whom was Lord Astor. Astor was a political ally of Profumo and Keeler spent most of her weekends at the rented Ward house of Astor’s estate in Buckinghamshire.

Dr. Stephen Ward

Stephen Ward
Stephen Ward © Image Source:

In the whole scenario of the sex scandal or affair, he was the scapegoat. It was understood that Ward was liaising with MI5 in an attempt to entrap Ivanov. Nevertheless, the Profumo link brought confusion to the entire matter. When the issue became public between Keeler and Profumo, Ward was entangled in a trial. He was accused of living off from the profits of prostitution or “immoral earnings”. During the last day of his trial, having prior knowledge that a guilty verdict is inescapable, he took an overdose sleeping pill. Ward was rushed to the hospital where a few days later he died.

Prior to his death, while lying in a coma, the jury read the verdict that his earning was made from Rice-Davies and Keeler. Nevertheless, he was declared not guilty of accusations of being a pimp. The Lord Denning report concerning the Profumo affair laid blame at Ward, notwithstanding, there wasn’t any security breach. When the report was first published, many people queued to grab a copy because they were expecting something “juicy”

The Sex Scandal

Cliveden House, the scene of the swimming-pool party at which Profumo met Keeler
Cliveden House, the scene of the swimming-pool party at which Profumo met Keeler © Daderot/ CC BY-SA 3.0/ Image Source: Wikipedia

The British news media in the 1960s were dominated by many high profile events that got everyone glued to their television and radio. These events including the Portland spy ring, the arresting sentencing of George Black, Admiralty clerk case, John Vassall blackmail etc. Among these, including the famous John Profumo affair that blew the political foundation of the United Kingdom.

The Profumo affair began as a short-term sexual relationship between a 19-year old aspiring model Christine Keeler and the secretary of state for war during the Harold Macmillan’s government John Profumo in 1961. In a personal statement in March 1963, he repudiated any indecency to the House of Commons. Nevertheless, in weeks later, he was forced to accept the truth. This made him resign not just from the Parliament but also from the government.

The impact of this affair created severe damage on the self-confidence of Macmillan, which made him resign from his position as prime minister of health in 1963. This issue was a contributing factor, which made the Conservative Party lose the general election in 1964.

The first time the Profumo-Keeler affair became known publicly, another report came to the limelight concerning the affair of Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché, and Keeler. This incident created a security risk because of the position of Ivanov. Keeler knew both Ivanov and Profumo through her friendship with Stephen Ward. Ward was a socialite and osteopath who took her under his wing at then. The disclosure of these series of affairs surmounted to other rumors, which drew various official attention to the activities of Ward. Ward was found guilty of immoral offenses by earning through Keeler and her friend.

Lord Denning
Lord Denning © Image Source:

Because of the sensitivity of the whole issue, Lord Denning, a senior judge in the inquiry into the affair highlighted that there was not any form of a security breach from the Ivanov connection with Keeler. However, this report by Denning was condemned as unsatisfactory and superficial later. Subsequently, Profumo sought for private atonement as an unpaid employee at the Toynbee Hail. In 1975, he was rehabilitated officially, though he never returned to any public activity. He finally died in 2006. However, it was not easy for Keeler to run away from the negative image about her by the parliament, law, and press throughout the Profumo affair.

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