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The Profumo Affair (Hardback)

P&S History > British History

By Vanessa Holburn
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 216
Illustrations: 16 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399062473
Published: 14th March 2024



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In the hot and steamy July of 1961, a hedonistic weekend at Lord Astor’s Buckinghamshire estate Cliveden set in motion a chain of events like no other. It was where John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, first decided he must bed the 19-year-old Christine Keeler, a model and showgirl. But that weekend Keeler headed home to London with diplomat, and known Russian spy, Yevgeny Ivanov instead.

Undeterred, Profumo quickly started dating Keeler, and begun to mix in her circle, which included society osteopath Stephen Ward and fellow model Mandy Rice-Davies. But alongside flirting with the decadent upper classes, Ward and Keeler also enjoyed the seedier side of city life, becoming entangled with violent petty criminals.

The heady mix of sex and espionage soon exploded. With Profumo exposed as a fraud, the government was left scrabbling to protect its reputation. Had its war minister been duped by the Soviets into careless pillow talk instigated by a Communist sympathiser? Both Ward and Keeler would become victims of the subsequent witch hunt. Ward would die by suicide and Keeler was branded a whore and liar.

The Profumo Affair was the scandal that rocked the 60s. But how and why did a brief romance between a married MP and a young showgirl go on to shatter so many lives and bring down the government of Harold ‘Supermac’ Macmillan?

Using the official Denning Report, recently released archival material and the accounts of those involved, Vanessa Holburn pieces together this surprisingly relatable story and asks; what really happened behind the headlines?

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

What an excellent book on the Profumo affair!!!. In the past I read some articles on this subject but I was left with more questions than answers....till I reached for this book. The author explained all the characters involved in the scandal and why it was a 'big issue' at that time. The book is amazingly well - written, logical and full of details. Highly recommended!!!

NetGalley, Meg Gajda

This is the best book that I have read on the Profumo affair so far, and I have read a few. I have also read Profumo’s son’s book, which I recommend. Vanessa Holburn forensically examines all the details of the case and its influence on society even today, without being salacious. Amazingly, it is still extremely complicated and there are many unanswered questions.

Was Stephen Ward a spy? Was the Russian Ivanov a spy? Did Ward use Christine Keeler to find out secrets from the War Minister, Profumo? Was Ward a scapegoat? Why did Profumo even get involved with this young woman so carelessly? Did PM Macmillan know that Profumo was lying to parliament?

It was certainly an age of spy scandals and loosening morality, ripe for another huge scandal, one that brought down the government. Always a fascinating story, it’s nevertheless difficult to ‘get a grip’ on it because it is so complicated, but Holburn does an excellent job. I am probably a bit more sympathetic to Profumo, than she is, though. After all, he did do his ‘penance,’ working at Toynbee Hall for a long time.

NetGalley, Lisa Sanderson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Utterly, utterly fascinating and very well written, this new take on the Profumo affair based on facts, not hyperbole is a must-read.

NetGalley, Ink Reads

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About Vanessa Holburn

This is the fourth book by journalist and author Vanessa Holburn. Her titles cover historical and modern day political topics and she was recently part of a law-changing campaign that took her to Number 10.
Vanessa’s written work has appeared in national newspapers including The Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Mirror and The Sun, and magazines such as Private Eye, Fabulous, Bella and Woman’s Own. She has appeared on radio and television, and spoken on podcasts and at literary festivals, libraries, universities and museums.

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