The Profumo Affair: the sex scandal that brought down a government

Rumours about John Profumo's association with a young showgirl named Christine Keeler were rife for months, before causing the resignation of a minister and downfall of a government.

Christine Keeler © Getty Images

The married John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, was accused of having an affair with a girl he fell enraptured by after watching her emerge naked from a swimming pool during a society party at a Buckinghamshire mansion.

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The plot thickened when it was alleged that the girl in question, Christine Keeler, was also having an affair with Captain Eugene Ivanov, a senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in London.

For a government minister – the War Minister, no less – to be sharing a bed with such a personal associate of a Soviet diplomat at the height of the Cold War was an issue of national security, not to mention fabulous gossip.

By March 1963, the scandal had reached such a fever pitch that Profumo had been forced to address the House. “There was no impropriety whatever in my acquaintance with Miss Keeler,” he told Parliament on 22 March. But the story wouldn’t go away.

John Profumo and his wife return to their Regents Park home following the minister's resignation, 5 June 1963 © Getty Images
John Profumo and his wife return to their Regents Park home following the minister’s resignation, 5 June 1963 © Getty Images

As more and more details began to emerge, Profumo was left with no option.

On 5 June, in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, Profumo wrote: “In my statement I said there had been no impropriety in this association. To my very deep regret I have to admit that this was not true, and that I misled you and my colleagues and the House.”

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The scandal was the last straw for Macmillan’s already shaky government. Despite surviving a vote of no confidence, Macmillan himself resigned in October.

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of History Revealed.