A Letter from London: The Profumo Scandal: Girilal Jain

In the past one week the British Prime Minister, Mr Macmillan, was able to pull of two diplomatic successes. He persuaded a reluctant President Kennedy to visit him during his forthcoming European tour, at the end of the month. His long standing efforts to get top level discussions between his own government, the American and Russian governments on the question of the test-ban treaty also came off. At any other time these would have been hailed as great diplomatic achievements and would have helped to raise his personal stature. At the moment the political atmosphere is so completely dominated by the Profumo scandal that they have virtually gone unnoticed. For a whole year nothing that Mr Macmillan has done has gone well. But this is the worst threat to his political career.

The strength of feeling that this greatest political scandal in Britain’s modern history has aroused is illustrated by the fact that The Times should consider it an occasion for the resignation of the Prime Minister. In a fierce editorial last Tuesday it said: “It remains strange that not a single member of the government resigned when the affair broke in March.” In the same editorial it said: “Eleven years of Conservative rule has brought the nation psychologically and spiritually to a low ebb.”

If Mr Macmillan survives the House of Commons debate on Monday, it will be at the expense of his own reputation and the reputation of his government and party. Nothing that he says in self-defence can undo the damage. Not all the King’s horses nor all the King’s men can put Humpty Dumpty together again. It is difficult to see how he and his senior colleagues can escape the charge that they lacked judgment in having trusted Mr Profumo who has been guilty of defiling a tradition as old as the House of Commons. This is the first instance when a Minister of the Crown has lied for personal reasons in a personal statement which is never even debated and is accepted at its face value.


The involvement of the former War Minister in the bizarre company of call girls, West Indian Africans with several convictions, a high society osteopath and the suave Russian diplomat, Commander Ivanov, and others yet to be named, has already been reported at length. To what extent Mr Profumo had become a security risk during the six months of his affair with Miss Christine Keeler is to be debated on Monday. The government has let it be known that the Lord Chancellor has endorsed the Prime Minister’s view that no security risk was involved. It might well be so. That is not the central issue. The question is how a man of such moral fibre could rise that high in the government. Mr John Freeman, editor of the New Statesman, summed him up well when he wrote “he is more of a playboy than a politician, cheerful, generous, self-indulgent but not wicked.” Mr Freeman has known him for thirty years. They went to Oxford on the same day. According to Miss Keeler, he grabbed her within minutes of their first accidental meeting at the swimming pool at Lord Astor’s estate at Clivedon. The fatal friendship had begun.

It is interesting to recall the unfolding of events culminating in the present crisis of confidence. It all began on the night of December 14 when a West Indian with past convictions, including one for pimping, Mr Arthur Edgecombe, appeared outside the flat of Miss Keeler and fired seven shots, five to blow off the locks and two at her. She was unhurt. He was arrested and charged with attempting to assassinate her. It was in connection with this case that Miss Keeler was to appear as a witness at Old Bailey and she disappeared. Her evidence was not recorded.


If the authorities had been watchful they could have mastered the situation then. Soon after the incident, Miss Keeler told a reporter of The Sunday Pictorial (recently renamed the Sunday Mirror) that she had been Mr Profumo’s mistress. She passed on to him one of his three letters to her in his own hand. She was willing to talk. Enough material existed on the police records on the background of Mr Edgecombe. Miss Keeler’s friendship with Commander Ivanov was known to the counter-intelligence service and for that matter so was Mr Profumo’s. Mr Profumo could have been discreetly asked to resign. As one political correspondent has recalled, his reputation was none too high among the Conservative MPs who called him the head butler.

In the event the authorities bungled. The charge against Mr Edgecombe was modified. He was tried and convicted on the charge of being in possession of a fire-arm with the intention to endanger life. Miss Keeler was found missing on March 14 when she was to appear as a witness. The case was disposed of and Mr Edgecombe sent to jail for seven years. By now Mr Profumo’s association with her were public knowledge. The rumour circulated that he had been responsible for her disappearance. On the night of March 21 the matter was raised in the House of Commons by three Labour MPs. Mr Profumo’s name was, however, not mentioned. On March 21 Mr Profumo denied that there had been any impropriety in his relations with her. But the admission of friendship with her should have sufficed for Mr Macmillan to ask him to resign.

Probably unaware of Miss Keeler’s relations with Mr Profumo and Commander Ivanov, the director of prosecution had no choice but to interpret the information that came into his possession in connection with Mr Edgecombe’s trial in the narrow sense. He acted as if it was just another call-girl racket. He initiated investigations leading to Dr Ward’s arrest last Saturday. The trial of the second West Indian member of this group, Mr Gordon, who assaulted Miss Keeler, was also conducted in the same manner as if nothing else was involved. But the security services should have been in a position to assess the situation in its proper perspective after Mr Edgecombe’s arrest because they had kept a watch on Mr Profumo and Commander Ivanov. Dr Ward had himself warned them. It is difficult to explain away this failure.

It is neither fair nor legally permissible to comment on the charge against Dr Ward. But it is only evident that he is a complex character. As an osteopath he has few equals in London. Sir Winston Churchill has been among his patients. He is sufficiently well known as an artist to have persuaded Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra and Sophia Loren, to list only a few famous names, to sit for him. Miss Keeler has written of his eccentricities. For instance, he used to put a dog collar around her neck and lead her into clubs. His girl friends are legion. The manner in which he and Commander Ivanov acted at the time of the Cuban crisis itself should have raised many questions. They tried to get the British government to call a summit conference to provide a face saving formula for Mr Khrushchev. Commander Ivanov claimed he could pass on messages to Mr Khrushchev himself in 20 minutes.

One of Miss Keeler’s girl friends, Miss Marilyn Rice-Davies, has shed a flood of light on what went on in this bizarre company. She has spoken of a party where the host wore nothing but his socks. “Then there was a dinner party where a naked man wearing a mask waited on table like a slave. He had to have a mask because he was well known.” Her activities have paid her well for she also drives a Jaguar.


It is only obvious that Mr Profumo placed himself in a position in which he was vulnerable to blackmail. But as far as it is known he was not blackmailed. Once he confessed and resigned the question of security became an academic issue. Politically the relevant question is why should Mr Macmillan have hung on to him when so much had come to be known about Miss Keeler and her associates even if he accepted Mr Profumo’s statement of March 22 at its face value.

It is probably precisely this latter aspect that the Labour leaders have in mind when they profess their unconcern with Profumo’s illicit relations with Miss Keeler and concentrate their fire on the so-called security aspect. The intimacy of these relations is also not strictly relevant. Even on the most charitable interpretation he was guilty of indiscretion and indiscreet men cannot be trusted to hold responsible jobs. Anyway the press has done the job of the opposition in making the people alive to the moral and political issues involved. In doing its duty the press has settled scores with Mr Macmillan and rehabilitated itself in the estimation of the people. The mills of democracy grind surely even if slowly.

The Times of India, 15 June 1963 

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