Profumo at the War Office in 1960
|Secretary of State for War|
27 July 1960 – 5 June 1963
|Prime Minister||Harold Macmillan|
|Preceded by||Christopher Soames|
|Succeeded by||Joseph Godber|
|Born||John Dennis Profumo
30 January 1915
|Died||9 March 2006
Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, South Kensington, London
|Alma mater||Brasenose College, Oxford|
|Years of service||1939 – 1950|
|Battles/wars||Second World War|
John Dennis Profumo, CBE (// prə-FEW-moh; 30 January 1915 – 9 March 2006) was a British politician whose career ended after a sexual relationship with the 19-year-old model Christine Keeler in 1963. The scandal, which became known as the Profumo affair, led to his resignation from the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan.
After his resignation, Profumo worked as a volunteer at Toynbee Hall, a charity in East London, and became its chief fundraiser. These charitable activities helped to restore his reputation and he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1975.
Early life and career
Profumo was born in Kensington, London, the son of Albert Profumo, 4th Baron Profumo, a diplomat and barrister of Italian origin, who died in 1940. He was educated at Harrow School and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read law and was a member of the Bullingdon Club.
On 1 July 1939 he was commissioned into the Royal Armoured Corps as a second lieutenant, service number 92407. He had previously been a member of the Officer Training Corps and a Cadet Sergeant while at Harrow. He served in North Africa with the Northamptonshire Yeomanry as a Captain (acting major), where he was mentioned in despatches. He landed in Normandy on D-Day and was engaged in the subsequent fierce fighting to secure that region of France. His final rank in the British Army was brigadier.
Major (temporary Lieutenant colonel) Profumo was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) (military) "in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in Italy", on 21 December 1944. Specifically it was for his service on Field Marshal Harold Alexander's staff commanding the 15th Army Group. In November 1947 Acting Colonel Profumo was awarded the Bronze Star Medal by the United States "in recognition of distinguished services in the cause of the Allies".
In 1940, while still serving in the army, Profumo was elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Kettering in Northamptonshire at a by-election on 3 March. Shortly afterwards he voted against the Chamberlain government in the debate following the British defeat at Narvik in Norway. This defiance on Profumo's part enraged the Government Whip, David Margesson, who said to him, "I can tell you this, you utterly contemptible little shit. On every morning that you wake up for the rest of your life you will be ashamed of what you did last night." Profumo later remarked that Margesson "couldn't have been more wrong."
Profumo was then the youngest MP, and by the time of his death he had become the last surviving former member of the 1940 House of Commons. At the 1945 election Profumo was defeated at Kettering by a Labour candidate, Dick Mitchison. Later in 1945 he was chief of staff to the British Mission to Japan. In 1950 he left the army and at the general election in February 1950 he was elected for Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire, a safe Conservative seat.
Profumo was a well-connected politician with a good war record, and (despite Margesson's above-mentioned outburst) was highly regarded in the Conservative party. These qualities helped him to rise steadily through the ranks of the Conservative government that came to power in 1951. He was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in November 1952, Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in November 1953, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies in January 1957, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office in November 1958, and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in January 1959. In July 1960, he was appointed Secretary of State for War (outside of the cabinet) and a member of the Privy Council.
In 1954 he married the actress Valerie Hobson.
The Profumo affair
In July 1961, at a party at Cliveden, home of Viscount Astor, Profumo met Christine Keeler, a model with whom he began a sexual relationship. Profumo ended it after only a few weeks but rumours about the affair began to circulate. Since Keeler also had sexual relations with Yevgeni Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy, the Profumo Affair took on a national security dimension.
In December 1962, a shooting incident in London involving two other men who were involved with Keeler led the press to investigate Keeler, and reporters soon learned of her affairs with Profumo and Ivanov. But the British tradition of respecting the private lives of British politicians, for fear of libel actions, was maintained until March 1963, when the Labour MP George Wigg, claiming to be motivated by the national security aspects of the case, taking advantage of Parliamentary privilege, which gave him immunity from any possible legal action, referred in the House of Commons to the rumours linking Profumo with Keeler. Profumo then made a personal statement in which he admitted he knew Keeler but denied there was any "impropriety" in their relationship and threatened to sue if newspapers asserted otherwise.
Profumo's statement did not prevent newspapers publishing stories about Keeler, and it soon became apparent to Macmillan that his position was untenable. On 5 June 1963, Profumo was forced to admit that he had lied to the House, an unforgivable offence in British politics. He resigned from office, from the House and from the Privy Council. Before making his public confession Profumo confessed the affair to his wife, who stood by him. It was never shown that his relationship with Keeler had led to any breach of national security. The scandal rocked the Conservative government, and was generally held to have been among the causes of its defeat by Labour at the 1964 election. Macmillan had already gone by then, having resigned in October 1963 to be succeeded by Alec Douglas-Home.
The Conservative Party had, however, been suffering a decline in popularity for some time before the Profumo Affair, which could be traced back to the failed application to join the European common market and the Night of the Long Knives in July 1962, which had seen Macmillan dismiss seven members of his cabinet in an attempt to restore the government's popularity. Macmillan's style of politics and that of Douglas-Home had also been regarded as old-fashioned in comparison with that of Labour's Harold Wilson, who became leader of the opposition in early 1963 following the sudden death of Hugh Gaitskell.
Profumo maintained complete public silence about the matter for the rest of his life, even when the 1989 film Scandal - in which he was played by Ian McKellen - and the publication of Keeler's memoirs revived public interest in the affair.
Shortly after his resignation Profumo began to work as a volunteer cleaning toilets at Toynbee Hall, a charity based in the East End of London, and continued to work there for the rest of his life. Peter Hitchens has written that Profumo "vanished into London's East End for 40 years, doing quiet good works". Profumo "had to be persuaded to lay down his mop and lend a hand running the place", eventually becoming Toynbee Hall's chief fundraiser, and used his political skills and contacts to raise large sums of money. All this work was done as a volunteer, since Profumo was able to live on his inherited wealth. His wife, the actress Valerie Hobson, also devoted herself to charity until her death in 1998. In the eyes of most commentators, Profumo's charity work redeemed his reputation. His friend, social reform campaigner Lord Longford said he "felt more admiration [for Profumo] than [for] all the men I've known in my lifetime".
Profumo was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1975, and received the honour at a Buckingham Palace ceremony from Queen Elizabeth II, signalling his return to respectability. In 1995, former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher invited him to her 70th birthday dinner, where he sat next to the Queen. He appeared only occasionally in public, particularly in his last years when he used a wheelchair. His last appearance was at the memorial service for Sir Edward Heath on 8 November 2005.
Death and tributes
On 7 March 2006, Profumo suffered a stroke and was admitted to London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. He died two days later surrounded by his family, at the age of 91. In the immediate aftermath of his death, many commentators said that he should be remembered as much for his contribution to society after his fall from political grace as for the scandal of 1963 which caused that fall. He was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium, his ashes buried next to those of his wife at the family vault in Hersham.
- The Economist: The Profumo affair in context
- GRO Register of Births: MAR 1915 1a 177 John D. Profumo, mmn = Walker
- The London Gazette: . 30 June 1939. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
- The London Gazette: . 21 September 1943. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
- The London Gazette: . 19 December 1944. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
- The London Gazette: . 11 November 1947. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
- The London Gazette: . 12 March 1940. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
- Lynne Olson, Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England, Macmillan, 2008, p. 305
- Colin Wilson, Damon Wilson, Scandal!: An Explosive Exposé of the Affairs, Corruption and Power Struggles of the Rich and Famous, Virgin, 2003, p. 250
- Staff reporter (1997). "Queen Accepts Aitken's Resignation". BBC. Retrieved 12 February 2008.
Two former disgraced ministers, John Profumo and John Stonehouse, have also resigned from the Council...
- "Dingy Quadrilaterals". London Review of Books. 19 October 2006.
- BBC – History – Historic Figures: Harold Macmillan (1894–1986)
- Adams, Tim (24 September 2006). "There were four of them in this marriage". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 15 January 2011.
- Grice, Elizabeth (2 September 2006). "Son breaks family's 40-year silence on scandal of the Profumo Affair". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- Hitchens, Peter (13 November 2007). "Inside Out – the Tories accept the liberal view of prisons by asking Jonathan Aitken's opinion". Daily Mail. Retrieved 21 January 2011.
- "Obituary: John Profumo". BBC News. 10 March 2006. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
- "Mortlake Crematorium" (PDF). On Kew. Spring 2006.
- "'Even if the heart bleeds almost to death, passionate love is worth it'". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 28 May 2013.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by John Profumo
- Daily Telegraph: Obituary of John Profumo
- The Times: Obituary of John Profumo
- The Guardian: The Profumo Affair
- FBI file on John Profumo
- BBC – Former Tory minister Profumo dies
- Daily Telegraph: Extracts from Bringing the House Down by David Profumo (son)