Fifty years ago

Posted by Helen Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Historical myths are hard to understand. Why is Jack the Ripper so fascinating? We have had far worse cases of serial murders since yet none to excite quite so much interest. Why is Watergate seen as the epitome of political corruption in the United States when there have been far worse developments in the last two or three years alone? Actually, we probably know the answer to that and it has something to do with the political make-up of the American media.

In Britain the acme of political scandal remains the Profumo affair of 1963, which did not, as it happens, bring down a government, no matter what some hacks say. It led to the resignation of the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan and contributed to the feeling that the Labour Party was bound to win in 1964. In fact, despite the long Conservative dominance, the many scandals and difficulties, the Conservative Party under Sir Alec Douglas-Home very nearly won that election.

 Looking back on the events, sordid though they were, one can say that the actual scandal did not amount to much: the Secretary of State for War, the glamorous Jack Profumo married to the beautiful actress Valerie Hobson, slept a few times with a young call girl, Christine Keeler, who had associates in the seedy underworld, and who might have also slept with the Soviet Defence Attaché. Of course, there was more to it than that. The Profumos may have been glamorous but their life style was distinctly louche, as was that of their various friends, such as the Viscount Astor at whose home Profumo met Keeler. The circle around Christine Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies was full of criminals and there was the dubious role played by the "society osteopath" and many other things, Stephen Ward, who was charged with living off immoral earnings and committed suicide as the trial came to an end.

Numerous books have been written on the subject, this, by Richard Davenport-Hines, which has some controversial comments in it, being the latest. There were summaries of the scandal in the various obituaries in 2006 when Profumo died. (Telegraph, Guardian, Independent and New York Times)

Fifty years ago today, Jack Profumo was finally forced to admit that he lied to Parliament and to his immediate associates about his affair (if one can call it that) with Christine Keeler and he resigned. On the one hand, he, like many other politicians, hung on in there for three months, hoping that the storm will pass; on the other hand, he made no attempts to come back into politics but devoted the rest of his life to charitable work in Toynbee Hall.


Powered by Blogger.




Blog Archive