Today is the 50th anniversary of Jack Profumo’s resignation, in the wake of the famous scandal. But the more times that the story is told, the more the detail and the lessons from it seem to become obscured.
Profumo did not excel academically, gaining a pass degree from Oxford, at a time when there were not just first, second and third class degrees, but a fourth class as well. Gaining a fourth had cachet, but Profumo didn’t do well enough to get one. However, he did do well at pole-vaulting and horse-riding instead.
He was elected to Parliament on 6 March 1940 under the wartime electoral truce, so he did not face a Labour or Liberal candidate. He easily beat his one opponent, a Workers’ and Pensioners’ Anti-War candidate.
Two weeks later, on 20 March 1940, Profumo became an Italian baron, on the death of his father. Somewhat inconveniently though, Italy declared war on Britain on 10 June 1940 and Profumo wisely decided to forgo using the title.
Profumo was the youngest MP in the House at that time, but on 8 May he was bold enough to vote against his own party in the Norway debate which ended Chamberlain’s premiership.
So, between March and May 1940, Profumo became an MP, lost his father, gained a title and helped to unseat the prime minister.
But, it was the early 1960s for which Profumo is mainly remembered. In 1960 Profumo, who had reached the rank of brigadier in the army during the war, was appointed Secretary of State for War. In many sources Profumo is described as a cabinet minister, but this post was actually outside the cabinet.
Profumo resigned from his ministerial post on 5 June 1963, over a sexual liaison which had actually ended nearly two years earlier and which almost certainly did not involve any risks to national security. The fact that he lied to Parliament was regarded as the unforgivable element of the whole debacle.
However, by the time he died in 2006, at the age of 91, his reputation was high, as a result of decades of charitable work.
In many ways, the most remarkable aspects of Profumo’s life are that the scandal did not cost him his marriage and that his son, David, has been able to write a remarkably balanced and insightful book, Bringing the House Down, about his parents and his early life.
How many of us can be sure that our children could write such a fair and balanced account of our lives? And how many of us will be able to echo Profumo’s sentiment ‘You know, I have enjoyed my life!’
Jack Profumo – someone to aspire to!