Profumo made one serious mistake and spent rest of his life paying back his debt

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The Independent Online

The political world paid affectionate tribute yesterday to John Profumo, the former cabinet minister who became embroiled in one of the most notorious sex scandals of the 20th century, but redeemed himself with more than 30 years of good works.

Tony Blair said Profumo, who died peacefully at the age of 91, should be remembered not only for his infamous liaison with the call girl Christine Keeler, but also for his help with the homeless and disadvantaged of east London. "He was a politician with a glittering career who made a serious mistake," said Mr Blair, "but then underwent a journey or redemption in which he gave support and help to many, many people."

Friends within the Conservative establishment also emphasised the former minister of war's dedication to charitable work after his fall from grace. Lord Deedes, a former editor of The Daily Telegraph, said: "He atoned for his mistakes and I think will, on death, receive his reward for that. What he did, and continued to do until quite recently, was a very long stint of social work for the poor of east London. And if that isn't considered to be sufficient atonement for the mistake he made then there is no such thing as forgiveness."

In recent years, his acceptance back into the mainstream was cemented by a campaign to have him reinstated as a Privy Councillor and his attendance at such events as Baroness Thatcher's 80th birthday party.

In an era when politicians who resign in disgrace are sometimes back in office within months, Profumo's was indeed an extraordinary atonement. Dapper and well groomed, he first arrived at Toynbee Hall, on Commercial Street, close to the alleyways where Jack the Ripper roamed, in 1963. It was just a few weeks after his resignation from the government in the wake of what he would later call his "Keeler interlude" and the rest of the world knew as the Profumo Affair. He asked if there was anything he could do to help, was handed the washing-up, and found a new life.

Later, he would supervise children's parties and help care for old people. He also helped to set up projects for the homeless and ex-offenders. Eventually, he used his extensive network of contacts and easy charm to become the charity's chief fundraiser.

Jill Goldsworthy, a spokeswoman for the Toynbee Hall charity, said: "John Profumo was our longest serving volunteer. He was a wonderful man who was very kind and got on very well with people at all levels. He was very much admired and loved."

Despite the certain knowledge that his memoirs would have made him a very rich man, Profumo never uttered a word about his own role in a controversy that became a defining part of the Sixties and would help bring down the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan, in which he had been Secretary of State for War.

His name will forever be associated with an affair that defined an era of British public life. It was commonly referred to as the scandal that had everything - sex, spies, guns, intrigue, high politics and low life.

In 1961, Profumo was 46. He had been educated at Harrow and Oxford, and was a respected cabinet minister, made more glamorous by his wife, the actress Valerie Hobson. Profumo was tipped for greater things.

Then he met Christine Keeler, 19, an occasional prostitute frollicking naked in the pool on Lord Astor's Cliveden estate. Keeler, a former Soho showgirl, was in the company of Stephen Ward, an osteopath and artist, who used a cottage on the estate and was invited to such parties because of his reputation for bringing attractive girls. He also held sex parties at the London home he shared platonically with Keeler.

Profumo, who was said to have been warned by police about his womanising, had a short affair with Keeler. At the same time she was sleeping with Eugene Ivanov, a Russian intelligence officer and the Soviet assistant naval attaché in London. At the height of the Cold War, this was political dynamite.

When rumours of the affair began to circulate, after one of Keeler's lovers fired shots at her flat, and with the media on his trail, Profumo made a statement to the House of Commons denying any "impropriety whatever". He was forced to resign weeks later after admitting that he had misled MPs.

Profumo was appointed CBE in 1975 for his charitable work. It was seen as a sign that he had been forgiven by the establishment; but many had to be reminded who he was.

Key figures in the scandal


Served nine months in prison for refusing to give evidence against the boyfriend who shot at her home. She claimed Ward was a Soviet spy who asked her to get information from Profumo. Now 63, she lives alone in London under a different name.


Former clothes model for a Birmingham store who responded, 'Well, he would, wouldn't he,' when told, during the Ward trial, that Lord Astor had denied having a relationship with her. She married an Israeli businessman, ran night clubs in Tel Aviv, and, at 61, is now married again, with homes in Knightsbridge and Miami.


A naked man said by Rice-Davies to have acted as a slave at one of Ward's sex parties. His identity was never discovered.


Keeler later claimed the society artist and osteopath never traded the girls he knew for money, but for influence among the so-called Cliveden set upon whom he relied for patronage. Shunned once the scandal broke, he deliberately overdosed on sleeping pills on the last day of his trial for living on immoral earnings. He was found guilty and died three days later without regaining consciousness.


Ward was said to have been asked by M15 to recruit Ivanov, a naval attaché at the Russian embassy, as a potential defector. Keeler was said to have been asked by Ward and Ivanov to ask Profumo about US intentions during the Cuban missile crisis. Recalled to Moscow after the scandal broke, his marriage failed and he took to heavy drinking.