John Profumo was a United Kingdon, Secretary of War in 1961. He is best known though for a relationship he had with nineteen-year-old, Christine Keeler. The situation intensified when Keeler was linked to a Russian spy. Yvugeng Ivanov was a Russian naval attache who was under observation by M15, as a potential security risk.
This incident occurred in the 1960s. A time when the news was dominated by high profile spying cases. John Vassall, a homosexual admiralty clerk had been blackmailed by Russia to reveal secrets. The news was full of this and the general fear of the Soviet invasion.
Profumo was born in 1915 and was of Italian descent. He first entered parliament in 1940. During the Second World War, he combined both his military and political career. In 1960, Conservative prime minister, Macmillan promoted him to Secretary of State of War. A high ranking political placement. Despite being married to a well-known actress, Profumo was infamous for a string of affairs.
One of the women he embarked on an affair with was Christine Keeler.
Keeler was born in 1942 and aspired to be a model. Having been abused by her step-father and his friends, she left school at fifteen. Keeler had no qualifications, so pursued several careers. At just seventeen she gave birth to her son, who sadly died six days later.
After this Keeler went to work at Murray’s cabaret club, as a topless showgirl. It was here that she met Stephen Ward. Shortly after meeting him, she moved into his flat. She left several times for various relationships but always returned to Ward. Ward and Keeler described their relationship as brother and sister.
Ward was an osteopath who developed a profitable side-hustle. He learnt to sketch and became well known for his art. He sketched many prominent people including Princess Margaret and Prince Phillip.
He hoped to sketch some prominent Soviet leaders. When this became known, he became friends with Ivanov. As M15 already had Ivanov under surveillance, as a political defector, they asked for Ward’s help. Ivanov was a frequent visitor to Ward’s flat which was where he met Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies.
The Affair Starts
In July 1961 Ward, Keeler and several others went to Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire. The same weekend Profumo was attending a party there with his wife. The two parties mingled in the swimming pool. Keeler was introduced to Profumo as she swam naked.
The next afternoon, the two parties met again at the pool, this time joined by Ivanov. Profumo was attracted to Keeler and promised her they would meet again. Ward asked Ivanov to accompany Keeler home. Where it was reported they had sex. Some disagree with this as Keeler was open about her relationships and never mentioned Ivanov.
A few weeks later, the short affair between Profumo and Keeler started. Keeler described the relationship as a ‘screw of convenience.’ It is unclear how long the affair lasted. Keeler maintains that although Ward asked her to obtain secrets, with regards to nuclear weapons, she never did. Profumo is equally adamant nothing like this occurred.
The Affair is Uncovered
In August of 1962, Profumo was interviewed by the Cabinet Secretary who had been informed about his connection with Ward. He was warned that Ward was under observation by M15 about his relationship with Ivanov. His dependency as a reliable informant was being called into question.
Keeler had gone on to have a string of unhealthy relationships. One of the people she had a relationship was a man named Edgecombe. When Edgecombe and Keeler split up he became enraged and fired at her front door. In the wake of this incident she was interviewed and revealed her relationship with Profumo. She went on to tell several other people including a Labour MP, John Lewis. Lewis was a sworn foe of Profumo and asked several questions after hearing about the affair. Keeler then went on to try to sell her story to a paper, which raised further questions.
In March 63, Profumo was called to answer for his actions. Profumo stood up in parliament and denied the affair. In April the police started investigating Ward’s activities. Whilst interviewing friends, Keeler was questioned. She confirmed an affair with Profumo and could prove it through descriptions she could give of his house. Ten weeks after he denied his affair, Profumo resigned his position.
The Profumo affair had far-reaching implications for the government. Profumo was investigated as providing information to the Russians. He has always denied it. Ivanov fled the United Kingdom before he was arrested. An inquiry found no evidence of a security breach. It was largely criticised as superficial and unsatisfactory.
The Conservative government though was not trusted anymore. Macmillian resigned in 1963, due to ill health. The party then lost the general election in 1964.
Ward was charged with a series of immorality offences, including living off money from prostitution. On the final day of his trial, he killed himself with a lethal dose of sleeping pills. It is largely thought he was made a scapegoat. Described as a case of establishment revenge, rather than justice.
Keeler never escaped her notoriety. In a twist of fate, she was sentenced to six months in prison on a charge of perjury. She admitted lying about a sexual assault, to get her boyfriend arrested. She died in 2017 of pulmonary disease.
Profumo worked tirelessly to rebuild his reputation. He worked for various charities. He died in 2006 from a stroke, he was honoured and respected at the time.
Whether secrets were passed or not has never been confirmed. The greatest crime Profumo may have committed, was cheating on his wife. Even in the present day, the affair has altered the way that the government and media work. The feeling of mistrust between the two continues, even today.