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THE case of Tory war minister Jack Profumo, good-time girl Christine Keeler and society osteopath and portrait painter Dr Stephen Ward first hit the headlines in the early summer of 1963.
Now some of that story is being retold in the somewhat unlikely guise of a West End musical with story and lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, no less. It opens this week at the Aldwych Theatre, London.
Over the years the Tories have been no strangers to sleaze and sexual scandals.
Despite their hypocritical outpourings about “family values” they have a rich history of adultery and other transgressions.
Prime minister John Major and Edwina Currie kept their almost unbelievable adulterous affair secret for almost two decades.
Thatcher’s darling Cecil Parkinson got his secretary pregnant but kept his career.
Jeffrey Archer lied on oath about his relationship with a prostitute, yet remains a lord.
Operation Yewtree, the inquiry into Jimmy Savile’s paedophilia and necrophilia, will no doubt flush out a few more skeletons among Tory cupboards.
We do know Jimmy spent every New Year with Maggie Thatcher and her friends.
It was health minister Currie who appointed Savile to head a task force to run the secure hospital at Broadmoor, where he had his own accommodation and keys to wards and the mortuary.
More recently the Tory Party has been rocked by allegations of sexual assault against deputy speaker Nigel Evans. His case for sexual assault and rape will come to trial next March.
Today Tory politicians, caught at it, rush to the courts seeking injunctions or even superinjunctions to cover up their indiscretions.
Fifty years ago in 1963 they hadn’t invented superinjunctions, but then they didn’t really need them. A tame media and a few toothless judges that could produce a whitewash report worked just as well.
For nearly six months in 1963 the Profumo affair was headline news. Harold Macmillan and his Cabinet was shaken by Keeler’s revelations that she had had sex with both Profumo and Eugene Ivanov, a Russian intelligence officer and the Soviet assistant naval attache in London.
Profumo first met Keeler when she climbed naked out of the swimming pool at one of Lord Astor’s parties at Clivedon House beside the Thames. She was 19 and he was 48.
Minister Profumo was married to Valerie Hobson, beautiful star of classic Ealing comedies such as Kind Hearts and Coronets.
These Clivedon events were famous as a place where the rich and famous, including many Tory politicians, could meet pretty and available young ladies, or indeed boys, many who had been invited by Ward.
Prime minister Macmillan knew all about adultery and sexual scandals. His wife had a 30-year affair with another Tory MP, Robert Boothby. Bisexual Boothby also enjoyed a homosexual affair with one of the notorious Kray twins.
On March 22 1963 Profumo lied to Parliament. He delivered a personal statement to MPs denying any “impropriety whatsoever” in his relationship with Keeler. Downing Street hoped the scandal would go away.
By June 1963, however, Profumo was finally forced to resign when Ward was arrested and charged with living on immoral earnings.
For Profumo it was the end of a very promising career. He had been tipped to become foreign secretary and even a future prime minister.
His affair with Keeler was brief and casual. It was probably one of many such liaisons he and other Tory Cabinet ministers engaged in. It might have ended without becoming public but for a bizarre turn of events.
Keeler was also sharing her affections with the Russian Ivanov, whom she met through Ward, and with a West Indian petty criminal called Johnny Edgecombe.
Christine sharing pillow talk with Ivanov and the minister of war was seen as a potentially serious threat to national security.
Westminster and Fleet Street gossip went further than Profumo. It linked other leading Tory politicians with call-girls and sex orgies.
Macmillan and his Cabinet secretly feared Ward would use the publicity about his trial to name other Establishment figures involved in these sexual scandals.
However the story did not really break until the jealous and mentally unstable Edgecombe started to stalk Keeler.
Finally Edgecombe fired a revolver into Ward’s London mews home where Keeler was staying.
The whole story unravelled and became public.
The rumours surrounding the case, including one that a Conservative minister attended an orgy wearing only a maid’s frilly apron and a mask, led to an inquiry by Lord Denning, the master of the rolls.
Not surprisingly Denning’s whitewash found all the rumours to be completely untrue.
The media were quick to condemn the women in the case, implying that Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies were clearly prostitutes.
Misogynist Fleet Street couldn’t even contemplate that these might be feisty young women making their own decisions on their choice and numbers of sexual partners. That was what rich and powerful men did.
After all, if they were not prostitutes then how could Ward be prosecuted as a pimp and for living on immoral earnings?
The Establishment who had been so keen to get an invitation to Ward’s orgies turned on him, blaming him for bringing down the “decent minister” Profumo.
Persecution and eventual prosecution drove Ward to take his own life. He committed suicide after being found guilty on some, but not all, charges.
The Establishment had successfully hounded him to his death and silenced him forever.
What of Profumo? A dozen years of charity work in the East End won him a CBE in 1975.
He received the honour from the Queen herself, signalling his return to respectability. He lived well on his substantial inherited wealth.
In 1995 Thatcher invited him to her 70th birthday dinner, where he sat next to the Queen. Jack Profumo died, aged 91, in 2006.
One good thing came out of the scandal. It ended 13 years of unbroken Tory rule.
Labour leader Harold Wilson won the 1964 election with a majority of just five.
Now half a century later one version of Ward’s colourful, if tragic, life is being played out on the West End stage set to music.
It might make a good night out, but I doubt it will tell the whole wicked but fascinating story.
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