Born John Dennis Profumo on the 30th January 1915, 'Jack Profumo' as he was known to his friends was the son of Albert Peter Anthony Profumo a successful barrister and King's Counsel, and the descendant of Joseph Alexander Profumo, a Sardinian who had come to Britain in 1880 and made his fortune with the Provident Life Association, which the family sold for £6m in the 1980s. And although Jack never made much use of it, it was from his Italian ancestor that he ultimately inherited the title of Baron Profumo of the Kingdom of Sardinia; Jack being the 5th of his line.
Educated at Harrow and Brasenose College, Oxford, with the outbreak of World War II he joined the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and served in North Africa (when he was mentioned in despatches) and was present at the surrender of the German forces in Italy. Awarded a military OBE in 1944 he afterwards served with an armoured brigade on D-Day and fought at Caen and in Operation Goodwood, and was later promoted to brigadier and was Chief of Staff of the British liaison mission to General McArthur in Japan.
Jack Profumo appears to have entertained political ambitions from an early age; he became chairman of the Fulham Conservative Association at the age of twenty-one and was adopted as the Conservative candidate for Kettering in May 1939. He was thus forced to contest the surprise by-election held in March 1940 and so found himself at the age of twenty-five the youngest member of the House of Commons. His election was also something of a surprise as Kettering was the regarded as a safe Labour seat, but Profumo benefited greatly by the intervention of a Workers and Pensioners Anti-War candidate who split the Labour vote. He soon earned himself a small place in history as one of the thirty-three Conservative rebels who voted against Neville Chamberlain on the 8th May 1940 in the crucial Norway debate which was instrumental in bringing Winston Churchill into power.
Although Profumo lost his Kettering seat in the Labour landslide of 1945, in 1950 he returned to parliament for the safe Tory seat of Stratford-on-Avon and within two years he was a junior minister at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. He later served as Parliamentary under Secretary to the Colonies and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, before joining the cabinet in July 1960 as Secretary of State for War.
As the Secretary of War Profumo was responsible for the end of National Service and the establishment of the Territorial Army, but perhaps was most noted for rushing 6,000 troops to Kuwait in 1961 to deter a threatened invasion by General Kassem of Iraq. Although regarded as something of a disaster at the time, as the troops were unprepared for the conditions in the Middle East, General Kassem was duly deterred from invading. Neverthless Profumo appeared as one of the rising stars of the Conservative Party, being tipped as a possible future Prime Minister. His profile being very much helped by his marriage in 1954 to the glamorous Valerie Hobson, one of the stars of Kind Hearts and Coronets, whom he had first met whilst she was playing the lead in the King and I at Drury Lane.
Jack Profumo's fall from grace began when he was invited to a weekend party at the home of the Viscount Astor at Cliveden House in July 1961, and happened across a naked Christine Keeler in the swimming pool. He afterwards began an affair with the nineteen year old showgirl, apparently ignorant of the fact that he shared Miss Keeler's affections (such as they were) with one Yevgeny Ivanov who was the naval attache at the Soviet embassy. Rumours of the Keeler-Profumo connection began to circulate and on the 22nd March 1963 Profumo was obliged to make a statement to the House of Commons in which he asserted that "There was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler." Just over two months later he was forced to admit that this statement was untrue, and on the 4th June 1963 tended his resignation both as a minister and as a member of parliament. (See the the Profumo Scandal for further detail.)
Although the subsequent Denning Report into the affair concluded that national security had not been compromised, the scandal almost brought down the Macmillan government and appears to have one of the factors that persuaded Macmillan himself to stand down as Prime Minister soon afterwards.
Jack's disgrace was complete when he was forced to resign as a Privy Councillor (Macmillan wanted him thrown off and it was only the personal intervention of HM Elizabeth II herself who insisted that he be allowed to resign.) However his wife Valerie, to whom he had confessed his transgression whilst on holiday in Venice prior to his resignation, stood by him, and their marriage never appeared to have been troubled by the matter.
Jack Profumo thereafter dedicated his life to the work of Toynbee Hall, a charitable foundation based in the East End of London which provided, and still provides, support for the homeless and poor. He began working as a volunteer, performing such tasks as washing dishes, cleaning lavatories and helping out with the playgroup. But his real talents lay in fund raising and throughout the late 1960s and 1970s he used his considerable charm to great effect in raising significant sums to help fund the charity's many projects.
He was also a visitor at Grenden Psychiatric Prison and helped establish Toynbee Hall's sister organisation, The Attlee Foundation, as well as contributing to other initiatives such as establishing a housing association, an after-care unit for ex-offenders, and a family centre for the mentally handicapped. He later became the Chairman of Toynbee Hall and in 1975 he was awarded the CBE for his charitable services. Margaret Thatcher invited him to her 70th birthday dinner at Claridges many years later in 1995 when she seated him next to the Queen and went so far as to describe him as "one of our national heroes".
Although by this time he had effectively retired he still remained as president of Toynbee Hall. He and his wife were close friends of the late Queen Mother, was often a guest at Clarence House and was one of those invited to the ceremony held at St Paul's Cathedral to celebrate the Queen Mother's 100th birthday. This being one of the many public appearances that Jack made in later life when memories of the events of 1963 had faded and he regularly attended memorial services such as those for James Callaghan, Edward Heath and Angus Ogilvy.
He died peacefully in his sleep on the 10th March 2006 at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, having been admitted two days previously after suffering a stroke.
It has been reported that his son David Profumo has signed a deal with the publishers John Murray to write a memoir of his parents, although the book has yet to appear in print. Jack himself however, always maintained a dignified silence about the events of 1963 and refused to speak to the press about the matter. He appears to have felt that by his actions he had let down his family, his party and his country and offered no excuse nor sought any sympathy for his plight. Rather he sought atonement by devoting his life to helping others. The Daily Telegraph in its editorial of the 11th March concluded that by "concentrating on good works ... he did far more good for his fellow man than any politician of his time" .
- The obituary of John Profumo from the Daily Telegraph 11 March 2006
- John Profumo, Brief description of achievement, from
- From the Daily Telegraph online at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
W F Deedes, What Profumo did next (17/11/2003)
Son writes Profumo memoirs (21/06/2003)
Chris Hastings and Susan Bisset, Profumo's sacking from Privy Council stopped by Queen in act of clemency (13/10/2002)
- From BBC NEWS http://news.bbc.co.uk/
Former Tory minister Profumo dies Friday, 10 March 2006
Obituary: John Profumo, 10 March 2006