In 1963, the year of his disgrace, the sleek, balding, faintly exotic Jack Profumo was secretary of state for war. It sounds like an important job – what could matter more than war for the functioning of the state? Undoubtedly this helped to give impetus to the Profumo affair. Help! The war secretary is cavorting with call-girls and Russian spies! But Profumo’s job title was somewhat misleading. The war secretary was really a junior minister responsible for the army, ranking only fourth in the defence hierarchy. He was not in the cabinet. In the early 1960s Profumo had two basic roles to fulfil. The first was as a point man between the British military establishment and the new government in Washington, a town presided over by another John/Jack the lad. Profumo’s go-getting reputation and unstuffy demeanour made him attractive to the men around JFK, who liked that he didn’t seem like a typical Brit, never mind a typical Tory. He was extremely sociable, and well suited to the work hard, play hard culture of Camelot. Set against the rest of Macmillan’s ageing government, Profumo was viewed by some in Washington as the coming man. It probably suited Macmillan’s government to let them believe this.
LRB 21 February 2013 | PDF Download