The Profumo Affair by Vanessa Holburn


30 January 2024
Pen & Sword

In the hot and steamy July of 1961, a hedonistic weekend at Lord Astor’s Buckinghamshire estate Cliveden set in motion a chain of events like no other. It was where John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, first decided he must bed the 19-year-old Christine Keeler, a model and showgirl. But that weekend Keeler headed home to London with diplomat, and known Russian spy, Yevgeny Ivanov instead. Undeterred, Profumo quickly started dating Keeler, and begun to mix in her circle, which included society osteopath Stephen Ward and fellow model Mandy Rice-Davies. But alongside flirting with the decadent upper classes, Ward and Keeler also enjoyed the seedier side of city life, becoming entangled with violent petty criminals. The heady mix of sex and espionage soon exploded. With Profumo exposed as a fraud, the government was left scrabbling to protect its reputation. Had its war minister been duped by the Soviets into careless pillow talk instigated by a Communist sympathiser? Both Ward and Keeler would become victims of the subsequent witch hunt. Ward would die by suicide and Keeler was branded a whore and liar. The Profumo Affair was the scandal that rocked the 60s. But how and why did a brief romance between a married MP and a young showgirl go on to shatter so many lives and bring down the government of Harold ‘Supermac’ Macmillan? Using the official Denning Report, recently released archival material and the accounts of those involved, Vanessa Holburn pieces together this surprisingly relatable story and asks; what really happened behind the headlines?

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