Memories of the Profumo Affair

Saturday 20th December

I was 12 at the time.  It was 1963 and sex of any kind was a taboo subject, but of course people in 1963 were just as excited about sex as we are today.  Maybe more so, as it was all so suppressed.  There was no internet and so hardly any pornography, or not as we know it today.  Playboy and Men Only featured among other more serious articles one or two nudes, though they would now be acceptable as page 3 girls in the Sun.  No full frontal, no rude bits at all, except the occasional nipple and bare arse.  And young men were desperate to have some sex, any sex at all, and the idea of women sleeping with more than one man, of sex-parties, orgies even was incredible exotic and exciting.  So what do I remember about the Profumo Affair.  Well the main characters of course – John Profumo, Minister of Defence I believe at the time, Christine Keeler who was often described as a prostitute, but she has always denied this, Mandy Rice-Davies – a teenager at the time who was probably more innocent than all the others, Stephen Ward – who was targeted by the Establishment as the real villain of the peace but was probably just sucked into things and found himself out of his depth, and of course a Russian Naval Attache (if memory serves me at all).

The Scandal was that Profumo, though happily married, was sleeping with Christine Keeler who was also sleeping with the Russian.  Quite where Mandy and Stephen Ward came in I was never sure, but they were at the time pilloried as much as Christine.  The story broke slowly and of course it was the denials by Profumo that were his undoing.   As so often it is not the crime but the lying about the crime that brings them down.  Anyway it came to represent, and in a strange way is reminiscent of the public’s mood today about the expenses scandal, just how out of touch the Conservative party of Macmillan really was.  They were lampooned, especially on TV (something hard to imagine today) on “That Was The Week That Was” a Sunday evening satirical show on BBC fronted by a then young David Frost which in my memory pulled few punches.  The Government was rocked and Profumo forced to resign, but the after-taste of rich dilettantes living a totally different life from most people remained.   A year later and Labour were swept into power.  In many ways “The Sixties” didn’t happen until after “The Profumo Scandal”.

These are my personal memories of the Profumo Scandal, I haven’t checked any of the details because I simply wanted to recall what I remembered as a 12 year old.  Poor Mandy, possibly the most innocent of all died yesterday, and for all she may have done since 1963 she will sadly always be remembered for this scandal.