John Profumo and Christine Keeler by Tim Coates

“He provided popsies for rich people.”

The Profumo scandal occured in the early 1960s. When I grew up, people were still talking about it. I knew the ‘bare bones’ of the scandal–and I’m deliberately avoiding the use of the word ‘facts’ here–I knew the salient details, and I recently decided that I wanted to know more.

John Profumo was Secretary of State for War from July, 1960 until June, 1963. He attended a party hosted by Lord Astor at Astor’s Clivedon estate in July, 1961. While there, he met Christine Keeler who was in the company of Dr. Stephen Ward–a London Osteopath. Profumo, a married man, had sexual relations with Keeler at Ward’s home. After the relationship between Keeler and Profumo ended, she lived with a man known as ‘Lucky’ Gordon. Gordon fought with another man named Edgecombe over Christine Keeler, and the incident resulted in the slashing of ‘Lucky’ Gordon’s face. Christine Keeler then lived briefly with Edgecombe but soon left him. He tracked her to Ward’s home and tried to shoot his way in. He also shot at–and missed–Christine. She was slated to serve as a main witness in the trial against Edgecombe for the slashing of ‘Lucky’ Gordon. At this point, Keeler contacted British newspapers to sell her story.

This is a brief–but generally agreed upon–outline of events, but the details of the Profumo /Keeler scandal complicate the situation, and naturally, no-one agrees on a solid, definitive version of events. However, by the summer of 1963, Profumo resigned his office, and Ward committed suicide.

“John Profumo & Christine Keeler” by Lord Alfred Denning is one version of the events that took place. Lord Denning, a judge, was asked by Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan to “examine the circumstances leading to the resignation and report particularly on any danger to national security.” This book serves as an official report of the Profumo scandal, and is meant to serve as an investigation of the events and the government agencies that were involved.

For many years, I delayed purchasing this book as I was a bit concerned that it would be a rather dry read. This was not so at all. In fact, by page 2, Denning’s report states that Ward is “utterly immoral,” and I knew right away that I was going to read a very biased account of events. This did not detract from the book’s readability in any way. However, this book remains most interesting, at least to me, in the fervent denials within its pages. The author presents many issues that remain controversial. The scandal grew in part because there was reason to believe that a Russian agent was also involved with Keeler. Also, Profumo denied the relationship strenously on numerous occasions, and many other officials stood by him–only to end up looking rather silly when he resigned. Furthermore, Profumo actually helped the organic growth of the scandal by suing various newspapers for libel. Questions remain. Did Stephen Ward tell Christine to question Profumo about when the Americans intended to give Nuclear weapons to Germany? Was Captain Eugene Ivanov a Russian agent? Was Ivanov also Keeler’s lover? Was Christine Keeler given money to leave the country? Was the Prime Minister aware of Profumo’s relationship with Keeler at any point? Denning–although quite aware of Profumo’s many denials–choses to believe Profumo in many instances–taking his word for things–while completely dismissing Ward as any sort of a reliable source whatsoever. According to Denning, Keeler did not have an affair with the Russian agent–thus making null and void any claims of possible security violations.

As I got deeper and deeper into this book, I found myself wondering how Ward ends up as a suicide. He thought he’d covered himself by contacting the Security Service and discussing Ivanov’s interest in America’s arming Germany with Nuclear weapons weeks before the fateful meeting between Profumo and Keeler. But his own frantic efforts to avoid investigation and prosecution led to an inevitable spiral towards his own doom.

There are two chapters of particular interest–both of which deal with rumours that circulated following the Profumo affair. Interestingly enough, these chapters raise some rumours that were based in truth (S&M parties, the borrowing of government vehicles, etc). While all rumours are denied, nonetheless, they do, at the same time, show the reader that the book scratches the surface of some of the more lurid issues of the Profumo scandal.

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