The Profumo Affair was a scandal that threatened to topple the British government. John Profumo, a former Brigadier in the British Army, was the Secretary of State for War in the British government under Conservative Prime Minister Harold MacMillan. Profumo, who was married to actress Valerie Hobson, began an affair with Christine Keeler, a London call girl in 1961.
Profumo met Keeler at a party thrown at the Buckinghamshire mansion owned by Lord Astor (although it is likely that Profumo met her previous to this party). Although Profumo ended the affair a few weeks after it began, he could not escape the fallout that would occur.
The exposure of the affair came about in such circuitous manner that it defies logic. In 1962 Keeler had been involved in a relationship with Johnny Edgecombe, a jazz promoter and sometimes hustler. Angry when Keller broke off the relationship, Edgecombe tried to break into the apartment of Dr. Stephen Ward, where Keeler was staying, shooting at the lock several times. Keller next entered a relationship with a drug dealer named Aloysius “Lucky” Gordon, but when she broke that off, he attacked her with an axe and would not let her go for two days. Keeler turned back to Edgecombe for help in the matter and he confronted Gordon in the Flamingo Club on 27 October 1962 and the two fought, with Gordon receiving a knife would to the face (it would take 17 stitches to close the wound). Fearing Gordon, Edgecombe asked Keeler to help him find a solicitor in order to turn himself in. When Keeler refused to help him, Edgecombe threatened to kill her. Rumors had circulated during 1962 about Profumo and Keeler and when she did not attend a hearing in court at Edgecombe’s trial, rumors and speculation swirled that Profumo may have had something to do with her disappearance.
Allegations of an affair began making headlines in London newspapers and in March of 1963 Profumo sought to quash them by delivering a speech on the floor of the House of Commons, admitting that he knew Keeler, but swearing that the was “no impropriety whatsoever” and threatened to sue anyone who repeated the allegations. The rumors, however, continued to swirl and the press began blaring headlines about Keelers relationship with Edgecombe and Gordon. They also revealed that Keeler had been the lover of Yevgeny “Eugene” Ivanov, a senior naval attache at the Russian embassy in London. With rumors that Pofumo was sharing a lover with a Soviet official, pressure mounted on MacMillan. As such, Profumo was forced to step down from his position on June 5, 1963. An official report was released in September 1963 and a month later Prime Minister MacMillan resigned claiming ill health.
Profumo’s wife stuck by him through the scandal and he faded into the background of society. Christine Keller was sentenced to nine months in jail for committing perjury in another matter. Stephen Ward, with whom Keeler was staying, was charged with living off of the immoral earnings of a prostitute and committed suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills on August 3, 1963, the last day of his trial. Despite MacMillan’s resignation, the Conservative party was ousted in the 1964 elections, replaced by the Labour party.
Profumo began volunteering at Toynbee Hall, a London base charity. He humbled himself to cleaning toilets and mopping floors for the charity until reluctantly lent his experience in helping Toynbee Hall in its fundraising efforts. He continued to work with the charity, as a volunteer, for the rest of his life and was seen as redeemed in the eyes of society, receiving the Order of the British Empire (he was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire) and the Beacon Fellowship Prize. He died on March 9, 2006, two days after suffering a stroke.