John Profumo

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John Profumo
John Profumo.jpg
Profumo in 1938
Secretary of State for War
In office
27 July 1960 – 5 June 1963
Prime MinisterHarold Macmillan
Preceded byChristopher Soames
Succeeded byJoseph Godber
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
16 January 1959 – 27 July 1960
Prime MinisterHarold Macmillan
Preceded byAllan Noble
Succeeded byDavid Ormsby-Gore
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State
1958–1959Foreign Affairs
1952–1957Ministry of Transport
Member of Parliament
for Stratford-on-Avon
In office
23 February 1950 – 6 June 1963
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byAngus Maude
Member of Parliament
for Kettering
In office
6 March 1940 – 15 June 1945
Preceded byJohn Eastwood
Succeeded byDick Mitchison
Personal details
John Dennis Profumo

(1915-01-30)30 January 1915
London, England
Died9 March 2006(2006-03-09) (aged 91)
London, England
Political partyConservative
(m. 1954; died 1998)
ChildrenDavid Profumo
Parent(s)Albert Profumo
Martha Thom Walker
Alma materBrasenose College, Oxford
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch/service British Army
Years of service1939–1950
RankBritish Army OF-6.svg Brigadier
Battles/warsSecond World War

John Dennis Profumo CBE (/prəˈfjuːm/ prə-FEW-moh; 30 January 1915 – 9 March 2006) was a British politician whose career ended in 1963 after a sexual relationship with the 19-year-old model Christine Keeler in 1961. 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,[1] 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[edit]

Profumo was born in Kensington, London,[2] the son of Albert Profumo, a diplomat and barrister of Italian ancestry, who died in 1940. He attended Harrow School and Brasenose College, Oxford. In 1933, "Jack" Profumo[3] began a long-term relationship with a German student, Gisela Klein, who later became a model and subsequently worked for German intelligence in Paris, and eventually married an American called Edward Winegard.[4] Secret Service papers state Profumo also wrote to Winegard while he was an MP.[5]

On 1 July 1939, he was commissioned into the Royal Armoured Corps as a second lieutenant.[6] He had previously been a member of the Officer Training Corps and a Cadet Sergeant while at Harrow.[6] He served in North Africa with the Northamptonshire Yeomanry as a Captain (acting major), where he was mentioned in dispatches.[7] 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.

On 21 December 1944, Major (temporary Lieutenant Colonel) Profumo was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE, Military Division) "in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in Italy",[8] specifically, for his service on Field Marshal Sir 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".[9]

Political career[edit]

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.[10]

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 Chief 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".[11]

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.[12] At the 1945 election, Profumo was defeated at Kettering by the 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.[13]

Profumo was a well-connected politician with a good war record and, despite Margesson's aforementioned outburst, was highly regarded in the Conservative Party. Those qualities helped him to rise steadily through the ranks of the Conservative government elected 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 was sworn of the Privy Council.[14] In 1954, he married the actress Valerie Hobson.[15]

The Profumo affair[edit]

In July 1961, at a party at Cliveden, home of Viscount Astor, John Profumo met Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old model with whom he began a sexual relationship. The exact length of the affair between Profumo and Keeler is disputed, ending either in August 1961 after Profumo was warned by the security services of the possible dangers of mixing with the Ward circle, or continuing with decreasing fervour until December 1961. Since Keeler had also had sexual relations with Yevgeny Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy, the matter took on a national-security dimension.[16]

In December 1962, a shooting incident in London involving two other men who were involved with Keeler led the press to investigate her, 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, and 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.[17]

Profumo's statement did not prevent newspapers publishing stories about Keeler, and it soon became apparent to Macmillan that Profumo's position was untenable. On 5 June 1963, Profumo was forced to admit that he had lied to the House in March when he denied an affair with Keeler, which at that time was an unforgivable offence in British politics. Profumo resigned from office and from the Privy Council, and applied for and was appointed to the role of steward of the Chiltern Hundreds to give up his Commons seat.[18] 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.[19] 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 on health grounds to be succeeded by Alec Douglas-Home.[20]

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.[19][21][22]

Profumo was portrayed by Daniel Flynn[23] in Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage musical Stephen Ward, which opened at the Aldwych Theatre on 19 December 2013.

He was portrayed by Ben Miles[24] in the 2019/2020 BBC drama The Trial of Christine Keeler and by Tim Steed[25] in the Netflix series The Crown, where the Profumo Affair is part of the plot for season 2, episode 10 – “Mystery Man”.

Later life[edit]

Shortly after his resignation, Profumo was invited to work at Toynbee Hall as a volunteer by Walter Birmingham, who was a warden there. Toynbee Hall is a charity based in the East End of London, and Profumo continued to work there for the rest of his life, becoming Toynbee Hall's chief fundraiser, and using 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 some, 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".[26]

Profumo was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE, Civil Division) in the 1975 Birthday Honours,[27] 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[edit]

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. After 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 were buried next to those of his wife at the family vault in front of St Peter's Church in Hersham.[28][29]


  1. ^ The Economist: The Profumo affair in context Archived 14 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ GRO Register of Births: MAR 1915 1a 177 John D. Profumo, mmn = Walker
  3. ^ Roth, Andrew (10 March 2006). "John Profumo". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 5 May 2021. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  4. ^ Travis, Alan (28 November 2017). "Profumo had long-term relationship with Nazi spy before 60s sex scandal. Tory MP John Profumo met Gisela Winegard in Oxford in 1936 and kept in touch with her for 20 years, according to MI5 files". The Guardian.
  5. ^ "John Profumo 'had relationship with Nazi spy'". The BBC. Archived from the original on 20 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b "No. 34641". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 June 1939. p. 4441.
  7. ^ "No. 36180". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 September 1943. pp. 4221–4222.
  8. ^ "No. 36850". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 December 1944. pp. 5843–5844.
  9. ^ "No. 38122". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 November 1947. pp. 5351–5353.
  10. ^ "No. 34810". The London Gazette. 12 March 1940. p. 1467.
  11. ^ Lynne Olson, Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England Archived 23 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, Macmillan, 2008, p. 305
  12. ^ "Facing up to It". 14 April 2017. Archived from the original on 28 February 2021. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  13. ^ "PROFUMO DRAMA NEARS FINAL ACT; Stratford-on-Avon Voters to Fill Seat in Commons". The New York Times. 14 August 1963. Retrieved 13 January 2023.
  14. ^ "No. 41909". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1959. p. 1.
  15. ^ Vallance, Tom (16 November 1998). "Obituary: Valerie Hobson". The Independent. Retrieved 13 January 2023.
  16. ^ Summers, Anthony; Dorril, Stephen (1988). Honeytrap. London: Coronet Books. ISBN 0-340-42973-9. OCLC 20827508.
  17. ^ Colin Wilson, Damon Wilson, Scandal!: An Explosive Exposé of the Affairs, Corruption and Power Struggles of the Rich and Famous, Virgin, 2003, p. 250 Archived 24 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Staff reporter (1997). "Queen Accepts Aitken's Resignation". BBC. Archived from the original on 24 November 2004. Retrieved 12 February 2008. Two former disgraced ministers, John Profumo and John Stonehouse, have also resigned from the Council...
  19. ^ a b "Dingy Quadrilaterals". London Review of Books. 19 October 2006. Archived from the original on 4 October 2018. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
  20. ^ Butler, David; Butler, Gareth (2000). Twentieth-century British political facts, 1900-2000. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-22947-X. OCLC 42952620.
  21. ^ Adams, Tim (24 September 2006). "There were four of them in this marriage". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 13 September 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  22. ^ Grice, Elizabeth (2 September 2006). "Son breaks family's 40-year silence on scandal of the Profumo Affair". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 8 December 2017. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  23. ^ "Stephen Ward by Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Aldwych Theatre |". 30 June 2013. Archived from the original on 1 March 2021. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  24. ^ "An all-star cast announced for The Trial of Christine Keeler". Archived from the original on 3 June 2021. Retrieved 29 May 2021.
  25. ^ Reporters, Telegraph (6 December 2017). "The Crown season 2: how the Netflix drama deals with Christine Keeler and the Profumo Affair". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 7 February 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2021 – via
  26. ^ "Obituary: John Profumo". BBC News. 10 March 2006. Archived from the original on 8 November 2021. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
  27. ^ "No. 46593". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 June 1975. p. 7377.
  28. ^ "Mortlake Crematorium" (PDF). On Kew. Spring 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 December 2013.
  29. ^ "Even if the heart bleeds almost to death, passionate love is worth it". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 25 June 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Kettering
Succeeded by
New constituency Member of Parliament for Stratford-on-Avon
Succeeded by
Preceded by Baby of the House
Succeeded by
Preceded by Baby of the House
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport
With: Gurney Braithwaite 1952–1953
Hugh Molson 1953–1957
Succeeded by
Preceded by Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
Preceded by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
With: The Marquess of Lansdowne
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
With: Hon. David Ormsby-Gore
Succeeded by
Preceded by Secretary of State for War
Succeeded by