Heritage

All About the Sex Scandal That Threatened British Security in the '60s

The Profumo Affair was all about sex, parties, and power.
IMAGE Open Media Ltd/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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The death of 75-year-old Christine Keeler made British news earlier this month. Back in the early 1960s, Keeler had been involved in a scandal that rocked the British government.

The event, called the Profumo Affair after the Secretary of State for War John Profumo, is believed to have brought down the public trust in the conservative party.

The incident began in 1961, when osteopath and artist Stephen Ward introduced Profumo to then-19-year-old struggling model Christine Keeler during a party at Cliveden, the home of Lord Astor. Ward had met her during her days as a showgirl at a club and they had an on-and-off relationship. Keeler eventually became part of the regular circle of call girls that rotated around Ward's parties. Profumo, married to actress Valerie Hobson, wasn’t the only man Keeler met that night. The event also marked the start of her affair with Soviet military officer Captain Yevgeny Ivanov.

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Afterward, Keeler and Profumo met frequently at Ward’s home and eventually, the press caught on. The affair would not have been such a big deal if Keeler had not also been sleeping with Ivanov, a possible threat to British security.

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John Profumo

When first confronted with the allegations, Profumo brushed them off, denying any claims of impropriety. But the security threat had also caught the attention of American organizations such as the FBI, which the agency followed in a report called “Operation Bowtie.” Ten weeks later, Profumo admitted he had lied to his party and resigned on June 5, 1963.

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Stephen Ward

The political clash did not end there. Ward was labeled a “pimp,” and was tried for “procuring women and living off ‘immoral earning,’” said The Guardian. As his trial neared its end, Ward committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Keeler was later imprisoned on similar charges as Ward’s, but released six months later.

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Christine Keeler

Keeler’s life began and ended sadly. She was born less fortunate and raised by her mother and her mother’s partner in abandoned train carriages. As a child, she suffered from malnutrition, and as a teen, she was the subject of abuse by the man who raised her.

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After the affair, she married twice. Upon the death of John Profumo, she issued a statement saying he had impregnated her but that she had been pressured into having an abortion.

Keeler died of lung disease COPD and passed away earlier this month.

Before her death, the Daily Mail reached out to her to address rumors about whether Prince Philip had been involved with her and Ward. While she was unavailable to comment, a friend shared that he did not think Keeler knew the Duke of Edinburgh in any way.

The Profumo scandal, along with other factors, led to the victory of Harold Wilson’s party in the general elections. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s Conservative party was weakened and it later called for a younger member to lead. Surgery also rendered Macmillan physically unable to continue his role as prime minister. He resigned on October 18, 1963.

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About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Senior Staff Writer
Hannah is a communications graduate from Ateneo de Manila University. She’s originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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