“Well he would, wouldn’t he?”
On 8 July 1961 Minister of War, John Profumo, 46, encountered a naked, wet and embarrassed Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old good-time girl, at a cottage on the Cliveden estate of Lord Astor. Keeler’s friend, Stephen Ward, had a standing invitation to use the swimming pool.
The next day another pool party was organized and this time Ward’s friend the Soviet Naval attaché Eugene Ivanov, 35, turned up and he and Profumo competed for Keeler’s attention. By Sunday Keeler’s phone number was in Profumo’s pocket but she spent that night in bed with Ivanov. Profumo first slept with Keeler on 16 July 1961. He was to later claim that they had only had sex on three occasions. Profumo gave Keeler a number of presents including a Flaminaire cigarette lighter and £20 “for your mother” — a polite way of paying for her services. Keeler later summed up the liaison as “a very well-mannered screw of convenience; only in other people’s minds, much later, was it ‘An Affair’.” Profumo ended the brief fling in December.
Keeler took up with an unstable West Indian drug dealer called Lucky Gordon but left him for another volatile man, Johnny Edgecombe. When Edgecombe showed up at Ward’s home in the early afternoon of 14 December 1962, Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies refused to let him in. He fired several shots at the door. Edgecombe was later arrested at his Brentford flat.
On 15 March 1963 the Daily Express published a front-page story revealing that Profumo had wanted to resign “for personal reasons” but had been persuaded to stay on by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The story was not true but also on the front page was a report about the disappearance of Christine Keeler — it was a subtle way of linking the War Minister to the call girl.
On 22 March Profumo made a personal statement in the chamber of the House. He claimed that “There was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler”. It was a lie that was to do for his political career. The rumours would not go away and, while on holiday, he confessed the truth to his wife, who stood by him, and to the Conservative Party, which did not.
Profumo confessed that he had misled the House and resigned on 5 June. The matter did not end there for Stephen Ward. As the scandal broke, his wealthy, powerful and influential friends deserted him and on 8 June 1963 he was arrested at Watford and charged with living off immoral earnings. His trial began at the Old Bailey on 22 July. When called to the witness stand the next day Mandy Rice-Davies said that she had an affair with Lord Astor but when the barrister said that the peer denied it, she retorted, “Well he would, wouldn’t he?” Before a verdict could be reached, Stephen Ward took an overdose of Nembutal. On 31 July the jury returned a guilty verdict. Ward died on 3 August.
Taplow, Berkshire; London, England
Profumo left public life immediately and devoted the next 40 years to doing good works. He died aged 91 at midnight on 10 March 2006 in the Chelsea and Westminister Hospital.
Harold Macmillan resigned as prime minister on 18 October 1963, citing ill health and Lord Home took over. He led the Conservatives to a heavy defeat in the 1964 General Election. The Denning Report into the affair was published on 25 September 1963. Christine Keeler was sentenced to nine months in prison on 6 December 1963 for perjury at the trial of Lucky Gordon. She was released in June 1964. She has married twice but lives in poverty in London. Mandy Rice Davies became a cabaret singer. On 29 January 1963 Eugene Ivanov returned to the Soviet Union. He died on 17 January 1994.