Shropshire Star

The Profumo affair 60 years on: How Dudley MP's revelation shook the establishment to its foundations

Very little is known about what was going through John Profumo's mind during the autumn of 1976.


By this time he was leading a very private life, quietly devoting his life to Toynbee Hall, a charity set up to ease poverty in London's East End.

But charitable though he may have been, it is hard to imagine he would not have felt a touch of schadenfreude when he picked up his newspaper and learned that Baron Wigg of Dudley had been charged with kerb crawling. Because it was Wigg's tenacity – or perhaps more accurately, his vindictiveness – which had brought to light Profumo's own sex scandal, ending a potentially glittering career, and shaking Britain's establishment to its foundations.

It is 60 years today since Profumo resigned from his role as War Secretary in Harold Macmillan's government - and it was a scandal that began with a feud between two West Midland MPs.

Profumo, the dashing MP for Stratford-upon-Avon with an exemplary wartime record, was one of the rising stars of the Macmillan government. A veteran of the D-Day landings, he was mentioned in dispatches, appointed an OBE for his contribution to the war effort, and rose to the rank of brigadier. This background appeared to make him ideally suited for his role as Secretary of State for War.

Wigg, elected MP for Dudley in 1945, was also a military man, but from a very different stock. Fourteen years older than Profumo, he joined the army in 1918 and remained there until 1945, eventually rising to the rank of colonel. On entering Parliament he saw himself as a champion of the armed forces, a powerful constituency in postwar Britain.

Veteran political journalist Chris Moncrieff recalled him being unpopular with fellow Labour MPs, and a common joke was that his large protruding ears were always listening in to every conversation. But while his shrewd cunning might not have won him many friends, he was respected as a skilled political operator.

It was a debate about the military equipment for troops serving in the Middle East which led to his simmering feud with Profumo. Wigg believed that the kit being issued to soldiers serving in Kuwait was not up to scratch, and he may have had a point. But Profumo, an eloquent man in debate, wiped the floor with him. leading to a resentment that would eat away at Wigg for months. He would openly talk to the hacks of Fleet Street about his burning desire to 'get Profumo'.

Harold Wilson’s press secretary Joe Haines once described Wigg as “a remarkable man with the tenacity of a pit bull terrier when he got his teeth into a subject.” And when he got wind of rumours circulating about Profumo's affair with Christine Keeler, he wasted no time in sinking his teeth into the minister.

Profumo had met Keeler at a party hosted by Viscount Astor. Aged just 19 – 27 years Profumo's junior – she was an associate of society osteopath and alleged pimp Dr Stephen Ward.

The length of the affair is disputed. Some say Profumo ended the relationship after a few weeks, having been warned off by the security services who were already monitoring Ward, a man they viewed with the greatest suspicion. Other versions of the story suggest the affair may have continued for up to five months, until December, 1961.