John Profumo resigns


John Profumo resigns

Taplow, Buckinghamshire The 5th of June 1963 AD

The Profumo affair was a scandal that had everything, and in its own way it was epoch making.

The main protagonist was John Profumo, decorated war hero, Harrow and Oxford educated, first elected to the House of Commons at the age of 25. He had risen to the rank of Brigadier, and when he lost his seat in 1945 served with the British mission to Japan. Handsome, independently wealthy, married to the actress Valerie Hobson in 1954, he even had a touch of the exotic about him, being the 5th Baron Profumo, a Sardinian title he did not use.

Profumo had re-entered the commons in 1951, and was climbing the political ladder when it tipped over and dropped him. In 1961, at a party at Lord Astor’s Cliveden property, Profumo had met the model Christine Keeler , and for a few weeks they had an affair.

Whilst rumours of the matter were widespread, Britain in 1961 was a far more deferential society than it is now. When Keeler disappeared in 1963 before appearing in court against a West Indian associate charged with a gun crime, Profumo was pushed by the Labour MP George Wigg’s digging into the matter to make a statement to the Commons. He assured the House in March that, though he had known the girl, there had been no impropriety in his relationship with her.

The press dug further, and it emerged that another of Keeler’s lovers was Yevgeny Ivanov, a senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy. Profumo was Secretary of State for War, and the potential security risk was blindingly obvious even to the cosy establishment of the Macmillan era. It was, however, mainly pressure from his wife to come clean that spurred Profumo to act. He came to the House on June 5th 1963 and admitted he had misled the Members in his previous statement. Macmillan felt it was a tragedy, Profumo was a brilliant young talent, but he accepted Profumo’s resignation from the government, and the 48 year old left the House.

In his later life Profumo worked tirelessly for the charity Toynbee House, first as a lowly helper cleaning toilets and then as a fund raiser and administrator, and he was rightly recognised for this. He had private wealth to live on, and all the connections still, and a decade or so after his resignation was quietly accepted back to the top table.

In 1964 Harold Wilson ’s Labour Party swept Macmillan out of power. The scandal had highlighted the weakness of Supermac’s government, and the clubbable establishment of public school men who seemed ever more distant from the rest of the country. The scandal was a gift to the satirists of the day, like Ned Sherrin’s That Was the Week That Was, whose arrows helped burst the bubble of upper class privilege that both Macmillan and Profumo represented.

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