The current scandal surrounding MP's expenses pales into insignificance compared to the political scandal associated with events that occurred almost 50 years ago, and became widely known as 'The Profumo Affair'. Whilst reading the story two things should be borne in mind. Firstly, the events unfolded at the start of the 'swinging sixties', a period when British morality and sexuality, became far more liberal than they had ever been before, at least in modern history. Secondly, it was at a time when the 'Cold War' between the West and Soviet Russia was at its height. The story had all the ingredients of a fictional thriller. The main characters included a government minister, a Russian spy, a notorious link-man and two femme fa tale's. The storyline is one of sexual intrigue. prostitution, and political subterfuge, leading to the resignation of the Prime Minister and the collapse of the British government. Even the efficiency of the countries security services were called into question.
The story begins, when John Profumo (pictured above), a respected Tory minister in Harold MacMillan's government, met Christine Keeler, when she was bathing naked round the swimming pool at Lord Astor's Cliveden country estate in Berkshire. It was 1961, and a year earlier Profumo had become Secretary of State for War. He had been educated at Harrow and Oxford before marrying the actress Valerie Hobson. The couple moved in sophisticated London circles, dividing their time between the aristocracy and the fashionable London jet-set.
Christine Keeler (pictured left), had run away from home at the age of 16 and found herself working as a showgirl in Murray's cabaret club in Soho. It was here she met Stephen Ward, an artist and osteopath. Ward lived in a cottage on the Cliveden estate and he and Keeler often spent weekends there. According to Keeler, she and Profumo had merely flirted around the swimming pool, but Profumo was smitten and a passionate affair followed.
Ward was also friendly with Mandy Rice-Davies, who in turn had been the mistress of Eugene Ivanov, a naval attache at the Soviet Embassy, who was a spy. Keeler claimed Ward had stolen documents which he passed to Ivanov, who in turn passed them to his spy chiefs in Moscow. Keeler had also slept with Ivanov, which due to her close relations with Profumo, made the scandal political dynamite. Following a tip-off from British Intelligence, as to Ivanov's identity, Profumo immediately ended the affair. In March 1963, Keeler was involved in an unrelated court case over an attempt to kill her. This reignited rumours about her affair with Profumo, who was forced to tell the House of Commons that there had been 'no impropriety whatsoever' in his relations with Keeler. Unfortunately, at the same time Keeler admitted in a newspaper article to being his mistress. Stephen Ward then wrote to the Prime Minister, and the Opposition leader, Harold Wilson, disclosing Keeler and Profumo's relationship. Profumo finally admitted in a letter to the Prime Minister that he had lied about the affair and he subsequently tendered his resignation.
In July, Stephen Ward stood trial accused of living off immoral earnings. Rice-Davies (pictured below) stood as a witness, and made headlines when she responded to a statement saying that Lord Astor had denied her allegations of paying her for sex, by saying: "Well he would, wouldn't he?" Before the trial ended Ward committed suicide by taking an overdose of tablets.
A report published by Lord Denning in September concluded that no breach to national security had occurred. Denning also assured the public that a man in a mask, who served guests at Ward's dinner parties naked and ate his dinner from a dog bowl, was not a Cabinet minister. The man in question has never been identified. However, in her autobiography 'Mandy', Rice-Davies related the story of how she went to party given by Mariella Novotny. She claims the door was opened by Stephen Ward - naked except for his socks. She went on to say that all the men were naked, the women naked except for a few wisps of clothing She claims she recognised some of the famous guests, including a cabinet minister of the day, now dead, who, Ward said, had served dinner of roast peacock wearing nothing but a mask and a bow tie instead of a fig leaf. Shortly after this, Harold MacMillan resigned as Prime Minister through ill health, believed to have been exacerbated by the scandal.
Keeler went on to write her autobiography, in which she made a series of claims about Ward. That he was a Soviet spy, and had asked her to procure information from Profumo. She accused him of trying to kill her whilst water-skiing, to stop her from talking and that he asked her to deliver letters to the Soviet Embassy.
Following the scandal John Profumo kept a low profile, taking up charitable work, for which he received a CBE in 1975. He died in 2006 at the age of 91. Christine Keeler settled in North London, said to be bewildered by the events of what had happened. Ivanov was called back to Russia, never to be heard of again. Rice-Davies moved to America, eventually becoming a grandmother.