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1st Jul, 2022

Scandalous affair of former Stratford MP John Profumo focus of new BBC drama The Trial of Christine Keeler

WOMEN embroiled in the scandalous affair of disgraced former Stratford MP John Profumo are the focus of a new BBC adaptation.

The Trial of Christine Keeler – a six-part drama which starts on December 29 – aims to offer a fresh perspective on the story of Profumo’s affair in 1961 with would-be 19-year-old model Keeler. He was nearly 30 years older than her at the time.

And Profumo, who held the Stratford seat for 13 years and was Secretary of State for War at the time, was forced to resign after lying under oath that no ‘impropriety’ had taken place between him and Keeler.

The fallout of the scandal had a devastating effect on Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government. In 1963 Macmillan reigned as prime minister on health grounds and many see the scandal as having a direct impact on the Tories losing out to Labour at the election the following year.

Of most concern to Macmillan’s government at the time were rumours Keeler had been simultaneously involved with Soviet spy Yevgeny Ivanov, potentially putting national security at risk.

Both men had met Keeler through socialite Stephen Ward, later portrayed by the media as a communist sympathiser, and many believe, used as a ‘scapegoat’ in the affair.

Keeler was emerging naked from a swimming pool during a dinner party at a country manor when Profumo – who was married to actress Valerie Hobson – first laid eyes on her.

They began meeting regularly until a deadly spat between two of Keeler’s other lovers blew the affair wide open and gained the attention of the media.

Keeler was reportedly offered money in exchange for details of her love life including her affair with Profumo.

A report into the affair and Ivanov’s involvement later ruled that state security had not been breached but Ward was put on trial over supposed ‘immoral earnings’ from ‘hiring out’ Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies to the promiscuous elite. With a number of testimonies stacked against him, he overdosed on sleeping pills the night before the verdict.

Meanwhile Profumo disappeared from public life to the safety of the country with his wife Valerie who vowed to stick by him.

Feature film Scandal, released in 1989 and starring Sir Ian McKellen as Profumo, was met with widespread acclaim although not without criticism for its over-indulgent erotica.

The couple’s son David, in a breaking of decades-long silence, said his parents had been ‘hurt’ by the film’s bold dramatisation of the affair.

And while he revealed his father’ had never been ‘good at monogamy’, he said he did not doubt Valerie’s unwavering love for her husband.

It was their private lives being thrust into media scrutiny she found hard to forgive – a tragic turn for the actress, who starred in classic films including Great Expectations and The Bride of Frankenstein – who formerly sought the limelight.

And now – in the wake of the #MeToo movement – writers of the upcoming BBC drama have shifted the focus from the wound-licking patriarchy to what impact it might have had on the estranged women at its core.

Keeler continued to scrape a living through her notorious reputation, as a model, by selling finer details of the affair – some disputed – to journalists and by churning out autobiographies.

And Keeler, who at the time was nearly 30 years Profumo’s junior, was later reported to say she was just a 19-year-old girl having a good time but if she had known the affair would have such seismic consequences, she’d have ‘run off and not stopped until she had reached her mum’.

Profumo died in 2006 aged 91, outliving his wife, who died aged 81, by eight years. Keeler died in 2017 aged 75.

 

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