The World at Large: A life worth living.

From Great Britain, news of the death of a certain John Profumo reawakens memories of one of the most wonderful scandals ever to rock the government. In the event that you’ve never heard of the Profumo affair, let me say right away that Bill Clinton was an amateur.

Way back in 1960, Profumo was made Secretary for War in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government, and was regarded as a political talent and perhaps a future Prime Minister. It was about this time that he attended a party and met a young lady called Christine Keeler.

Now, when I say “party”, I don’t mean vol-au-vonts and tiny little cocktails; nor am I talking about birthday cakes and games of pass-the-parcel. There were games, I suppose, but of a rather less innocent sort. I think the best word to describe the kind of party I’m talking about here is “orgy”.

That may seem to you to be pretty scandalous stuff, and already the Lewinsky affair is beginning to look a little less spectacular, but in fact had Profumo been satisfied with just a few orgies now and then, things might not have become quite so dramatic. Unfortunately for Profumo — although, at the time, he probably thought it was his lucky day — he saw Christine Keeler in the nude, getting out of the swimming pool. One thing led to another, and the two of them embarked on a torrid affair.

Even that wasn’t quite so bad, despite the fact that Profumo was married and in his mid-forties and Keeler was 19. Things begin to look a little more serious when you reflect that Keeler was a high-class call-girl with quite a few clients. Unfortunately for Profumo, one of her clients — and this was at the height of the Cold War — just happened to be the Soviet military attaché, Eugene Ivanov.

The mother of all scandals.

Let this sink in for a moment. Here we have a government minister in charge of war during the greatest and potentially deadliest arms race ever, and he goes and has an affair with a girl who regularly sleeps with a high-ranking enemy official. Suddenly, the Clinton/Lewinsky thing looks quite harmless.

Naturally rumours started circulating and reached fever pitch. The tabloid press couldn’t believe their luck. Things came to a head, and in 1963 John Profumo stood up in the House of Commons and, in answer to a question, explained that he had never had an affair with Miss Keeler. At least on this point, Clinton was as good as his role model.

Of course, the truth eventually did out, and Profumo was forced to explain that he had misled Parliament in order to protect his family — not a very good excuse, and one that carries no weight at all in politics. Even though an investigation came to the conclusion that Profumo had not given away any secrets, it was curtains not only for him, but for the entire government. In the words of one anonymous writer:

“What have you done?” cried Christine,
“You’ve wrecked the whole party machine!
  “To lie in the nude
  “May be rude,
“But to lie in the House is obscene!”

Not surprisingly, Profumo was out of a job, but he made amends by spending forty years washing up at a centre for homeless people, for which he was made Commander of the British Empire. His rehabilitation was complete when Margaret Thatcher not only invited him to her birthday party, but sat him next to the Queen.

Tanking up on good karma.

Now, here’s a life I would have liked to lead. Spend a few years as one of the most successful politicians, go to wild parties, cause a scandal involving espionage and copious amounts of sex, then get the CBE for standing at a sink for a few hours a day, tanking up on good karma, and end up chatting to Her Majesty at a birthday party. I think I could live with that: it seems like a grand idea. And, for good measure, how about having a movie made, based on my exploits (Scandal, 1989).

By way of a coda, a few years ago Christine Keeler wrote her side of the story and published it as a book. As if more scandal was needed, she revealed that the “friend” who took her to that fateful party in fact ran a Soviet spy ring.

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