LONDON – A display commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Profumo Affair opened Tuesday at the National Portrait Gallery, London. The British political scandal came to a head in 1963 and was named after John Profumo, the then secretary of state for war.
Profumo (married to the actress Valerie Hobson) had a brief affair with the nightclub hostess and model Christine Keeler, who was also romantically involved with the senior Russian naval attaché, Yevgeny Ivanov. The infamous affair took place against the backdrop of the Cold War and heightened political paranoia.
The display features a rare vintage print of one of Lewis Morley’s iconic seated nude portraits of Christine Keeler as well as Stephen Ward’s pastel of her, made at Cliveden. Images of the other protagonists in the Profumo Affair are portrayed through photographs, magazines and ephemera from the period.
Scandal ’63 was the title given to one of the many books published about the Profumo Affair at the time. It is also the title of a Pop Art work by Pauline Boty that incorporated Lewis Morley’s iconic photograph of a naked Christine Keeler. The painting features four of the key players: John Profumo; Keeler’s friend, artist and osteopath to the establishment, Stephen Ward; Keeler’s former lover the jazz promoter, Johnny Edgecombe; and his rival, the jazz musician Aloysius “Lucky” Gordon. Two of Michael Ward’s color photographs of Boty with this now lost painting also form part of the display.
Also featured are a number of contemporary press photographs of those involved, including Christine Keeler’s friends Mandy Rice-Davies and Paula Hamilton-Marshall, which describe the unraveling of the story in the media. The display features Tom Blau’s on-set photographs of Keeler, which were taken to publicize The Keeler Affair, a film banned in Britain that gained notoriety in Denmark and the United States. Two American lobby cards advertising the film are also included. The film was remade in 1989 as Scandal starring Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda as Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. Satirical comments on the scandal are represented by Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon of Harold Macmillan as Keeler appearing in Private Eye and an LP cover for That Affair featuring an illustration by Barry Fantoni.
The humiliation and distrust of the establishment at the height of the Cold War led to the end of Harold Macmillan’s tenure as Conservative prime minister and the election of Harold Wilson’s Labor Government in 1964.
“A great deal of ephemera and original press material has been sourced, which really illustrates what a key role the media played in unraveling the scandal. Despite the events occurring 50 years ago, the stories connected to these fascinating images still seem so vivid today,” said Clare Freestone, associate curator of photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London.
“Scandal ’63: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Profumo Affair” runs through Sept. 15.
ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE