The March Meeting 2017

The Profumo Affair –Terry Johnson

President Barry Buttenshaw introduced Terry Johnson a retired member of the Metropolitan Police Force who was attached to the Anti - Corruption Squad.



Terry described the Profumo Affair as the greatest British political scandal of the twentieth century which involved the sexual relationship between John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s Government and Christine Keeler, a nineteen year old model.     There were also political and security implications at the highest level of international relationships and elements of gangster behaviour among rival male suitors.       


Christine Keeler


In March 1963 Profumo denied any impropriety in a personal statement to the House of Commons but later was forced to admit the truth and resigned from both the government and Parliament.        

John Profumo


The repercussions were severe coinciding with the ill health of Harold Macmillan and his subsequent resignation as Prime Minister.     The Conservative Party also lost the general election in 1964 under the leadership of Alex Douglas - Hume.

The unfolding drama was heightened by reports that Christine Keeler may have also, been involved with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché, which created a possible security risk.      These main characters had met through their friendship with Stephen Ward, a successful osteopath and socialite who had initially befriended Christine Keeler.        He had many distinguished patients including the Churchill family and Lord Astor of Cliveden whose third wife Bronwin Pugh suggested he live on the estate which he then did at weekends.       Cruising through the streets of London in his Jaguar during the week he regularly picked up young ladies and schooled them into the ways of ‘society’ (as in My Fair Lady).        There were many stories of parties at his flat involving two way mirrors, sexual orgies and sado-masochism including one rave up centring on ‘a man in an iron mask’ .                

Terry went on to describe the childhood of Christine Keeler, who came from a poor family who lived in a converted railway carriage.       She liked the company of boys and developed the characteristics of a tomboy.       Later she wanted to be a model but became pregnant when fifteen years old, the child dying a few days after birth.      Wanting to work in London as a waitress she later joined Murray’s Cabaret Club, making the contact through some of her girl- friends who worked there.

Finding that she could not sing or dance she became one of a number of scantily dressed topless ‘naked statues’ who decorated the back of the stage.      This was where she met another showgirl, Mandy Rice-Davies, and the two became friends.         Early on she was introduced to one of the Club’s clients, Stephen Ward, and she agreed to move into his flat although she also lived with various other boyfriends one of whom was Rachmann, a property dealer, who caught her being intimate with his bodyguard.       

Mandy Rice -Davies

 However she regularly returned to Stephen Ward who had now acquired a house in Wimpole Mews and their tempestuous relationship continued.        Here she met many of Ward’s friends including Lord Astor who was also a political ally of Profumo and so spent many weekends at the riverside cottage that Ward rented on the Astor estate.

Ward was a very good artist who sketched many of his clients and did a series of portraits of national and international figures including members of the Royal family.      He hoped to visit the Soviet Union to draw portraits of Russian Leaders  and Sir Colin Coote, editor of the Daily Telegraph, arranged a meeting with Yevgeny Ivanov, a naval attaché, at the Soviet Embassy.    However Ivanov was also known to MI5 as an intelligence officer working for the Russian cause.      It was at Ward’s two abodes where all these characters became firm friends, Keeler having intimate relations with the main male players.

MI5 thought Ivanov might wish to defect and sought Ward's help and also provided him with a case officer, and Ward was used by the Foreign Office as a channel through Ivanov to the Soviet Union.

In the summer of 1961 while Keeler and other gusts were at Ward’s cottage at Cliveden John Profumo and his wife Valerie Hobson, the actress, were among a large gathering of politicians and celebrity artists at Lord Astor’s estate.        The groups met at the swimming pool where Keeler had been swimming naked.       The next afternoon Profumo and Astor chased the naked Keeler around the swimming pool, as did Ivanov who had arrived that morning.     Keeler subsequently returned to London with Ivanov.       All these relationships strengthened and developed although MI5 had warned Profumo about the impending Ivanov investigations.   

Later in October of that year Keeler and Ward went to the run down district of Notting Hill in West London and at the Rio café met Lucky Gordon a Jamaican jazz singer with a history of violence, a dealer in drugs and a petty criminal.        He and Christine Keeler embarked on an affair.     Gordon became very obsessive towards Keeler and began to confront her and her friends forcing Keeler to change her address to a flat in Dolphin Square.     

  To counter the current threat from Gordon she formed a relationship with Johnny Edgecombe, an ex-merchant   seaman from Antigua with whom she lived for a while in Brentford, West London. Edgecombe was similarly possessive, and on a later occasion he and Gordon clashed violently during which fracas Gordon was slashed with a knife.     In October of 1962, Keeler and Rice-Davies were together in 17 Wimpole Mews when Edgecombe arrived but was refused entry.   He fired several shots at the front door.     He was subsequently arrested and charged with attempted murder and other offences.      

 This incident alerted the press and acted as a catalyst for the scandal to erupt.      Keeler began to talk indiscreetly about Ward, Profumo, Ivanov and the Edgecombe shooting.      These reports were passed on by Sergeant Burrows to Scotland Yard and hence to Special Branch and MI5.    She also told her story to John Lewis, a former Labour MP, whom she had met at the night club and he passed the information on to a parliamentary colleague George Wigg who began his own investigation.

By this time many of Profumo’s political colleagues had heard of the circulating rumours.   Questions were asked in the Commons even though Profumo  denied the charges in a statement written for him.        His denials, made in March 1963, were accepted by the government’s chief law officers and by Harold Macmillan who took no action.     He was further supported in a statement by Stephen Ward who appeared on television.      In the event Johnny Edgecombe was jailed for seven years and all police staff at Marylebone Police Station were told to say nothing.      While all this was going on Keeler, one of the Crown’s key witnesses, went missing.       Her unexplained absence caused a sensation.       However on returning from Spain she was immediately arrested.

Ward’s own activities, in the meantime, had become a matter of official concern when Henry Brooke the Home Secretary took an interest in the rumours and insinuations and the Metropolitan Police began to investigate his affairs.        They interviewed many of his friends, associates and patients and kept him under detailed surveillance.       The effects of these enquiries were proving ruinous to Ward whose practice was rapidly collapsing.

Ward & Keeler

Such were the social pressures, including those stirred up by the Press that in June 1963 Profumo again appeared in the Commons to admit that he had misled MPs and that he would resign and take the Chiltern Hundreds.         Fleet Street had a field day over the news.     A few days later Stephen Ward was arrested and held in custody.      Christine Keeler was paid a large sum for her story which was printed in the News of the World and the Sun.      She also confirmed her sexual relationship with Profumo and Mandy Rice-Davies when remanded in Holloway Prison and agreed to testify against Ward.     

 At his trial at The Old Bailey Ward was charged with immorality offences and living off the earnings of Keeler, Rice-Davies and others.       It was also alleged that Mandy Rice Davies had received money from Lord Astor in return for sex and that both she and Ward were used as smokescreens for the establishment to cover up breaches in National Security.       Both the prosecuting council and the judge were very hostile towards Ward who, before the verdict, took an overdose of sleeping tablets and died three days later.       The jury found him guilty as charged.      Christine Keeler received a nine month sentence for perjury.

The Government ordered an official report into the scandal headed by Lord Denning the Master of the Rolls.     This concluded that there had been no security leaks and that Profumo had been indiscrete but that no one could doubt his loyalty.      However John with his detailed knowledge of these affairs was more sceptical of these conclusions.    


After the storm John Profumo and Valerie Hobson continued their close relationship and Profumo as a volunteer worker carried out a lot of well-directed charity work at Toynbee Hall an East London Charitable Trust.   He was awarded a CBE in 1975 but did not return to public life.


Toynbee Hall

At the conclusion of the talk the popular monthly raffle organised by Geoff Holden, in keeping with its theme, offered some excellent ales from the local and popular Twickenham Brewery including the aptly named    ‘Naked Ladies’, and ‘Treason’.    In the wine department we were offered, among others, bottles of smooth and spicy Australian red, soft and juicy Chilean red,  (P)Lush and elegant  French red and  the vibrant and brassy Chilean white.


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