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The Profumo Affair

It was perhaps the biggest scandal in British political history, leading to jail sentences, suicide and the fall of a government. Anna Harris delves beneath the headlines…

TOP SECRET: SEX, LIES AND SPIES: THE PROFUMO AFFAIR

THE IT GIRLS: When the scandal broke, good-time girls Christine Keeler (right) and Mandy Rice-Davies found themselves at the centre of a media frenzy
GETTY X3

Amongst the stack of black-and-white press photos that document the Profumo A air – the sex ‘n’ spies scandal that shook up the 1960s – there are lots of well-thumbed shots of the a air’s ‘It’ girls, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. With their bou ant hairdos, neat twin-sets and feline-flicked eyes, they make the whole thing seem unutterably glamorous. Then there are the snaps of disgraced minister, John Profumo, once a rising star of the Conservative government, looking suitably humiliated as he drives away from Parliament and out of politics.

There is also a haunting image of Stephen Ward – the man at the centre of it all and the only person who didn’t survive it – that reveals both the scale of his personal downfall and the really dark heart of this scandal. The gifted osteopath, who once counted the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra amongst his glittering clientele, lies comatose on a stretcher. Ward was the scapegoat for everyone’s bad behaviour and he paid for it with his life. Three days after the picture was taken, he was dead.

THE IT GIRLS: Former Secretary of State for War John Profumo and his wife, after admitting his a air with Keeler

“Politics was awash with intelligence… nobody was above suspicion and anyone could be a spy”

FAST GIRLS & CHANCERS

Rewind two years. It’s 1961 and National Service has been abolished, John F Kennedy has been sworn in as the youngest-ever elected president of the United States, betting shops are legal, and Elvis and the Everly Brothers top the charts. The British are finally stepping out of the shadow of World War II – life is for living, opportunities are there for the taking and things are on the up. London is a hub for happening people, and glamour, quick wits and sheer pluck can get you far. Creative types, fast girls and chancers are descending on the capital, post-war migration from the Commonwealth is lighting up popular culture, and the ‘in crowd’ is an eclectic blend of the well-heeled and working-class movers and shakers.

THOSE HAZY, LAZY DAYS Stephen Ward, Christine Keeler and friends. Ward rented a riverside cottage from Lord Astor, which was just a mile from the main house at Cliveden. He often took his chums for a dip in the Astors’ outdoor pool
GETTY X2, PRESS ASSOCIATION X1
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The Christmas 2016 issue of History Revealed.