Christopher Booker
The Neophiliacs

The events of the following weeks and months had little real connection with the personal indiscretion of two summers before which was nominally their occasion. The Profumo affair was merely the focus and catalyst for the coming to a head of that revolution in the mood and character of English life which had begun to show itself in the late summer of 1955. It was the end of a trail which had had its beginnings
in those first grumblings of Henry Fairlie against the Establishment and Malcolm Muggeridge against the Monarchy; a trail that had led on through the Angry Young Men and all the resentments sown by Suez, through the heyday of affluence through all the mounting impatience with convention, tradition and authority that had been marked by the teenage revolution and the CND and the New Morality, through the darkening landscape of security scandals and What's Wrong With Britain and the rising aggression and bitterness of the satirists, in ever more violent momentum. And now, in that wet and windy June, the climax had arrived. Not one ingredient was missing. With Profumo's admission of guilt, all the swelling tide of scorn and resentment for age, tradition and authority, all the poisonous fantasy of limitless corruption and decay into which it had ripened, were finally unleashed in their full fury.

As the Daily Mirror thundered in its blackest capitals: 'WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN THIS COUNTRY?' Anything was possible and only the worst was to be believed. On 8 June, Stephen Ward was arrested for living on immoral earnings. On the following morning, the Sunday Mirror's publication of the letter from Profumo to Christine Keeler and the beginning of Miss Keeler's own story in the News of the World, lifting the veil of rumour on that nyktomorphic fantasy world of the Cliveden swimming pool and Ivanov and dressing up in suits of armour, seemed merely the first confirmatory instalment of an unending deluge of scandal to come. Over the following days, sensation followed sensation: in The Times, recalling his editorials as the voice of the Old Guard at the time of Suez, Sir William Haley lashing the decadence of a nation gone rotten with affluence, under the heading 'It Is A Moral Issue'; wild rumours of further cabinet assignations impending; on television, Lord Hailsham losing his temper with Profumo's deceit; the news that the Home Secretary was being rushed back from the Channel Islands, to deal with a new security crisis over a letter sent him by a London solicitor, alleging that Christine Keeler had admitted trying to persuade Profumo to divulge nuclear secrets—leading to an Evening Standard placard all over London reading 'CHRISTINE AND THE ATOM ROCKETS,' as if the whole thing had suddenly turned into an adventure of Rupert Bear. By Sunday, the frenzy of events at last found suitable expression, as the Insight column on the Sunday Times revived that breathless narrative style used by the Observer at the time of the Cuba crisis. Headlines packed with menace leaped from the page—'THE PROFUMO VOLCANO,' 'THE ORCHESTRATION OF A CRISIS.' The drama of politics had been transformed into screaming entertainment.

The following week, the hysteria was still rising, apparently without cease. On Monday, in the House of Commons debate, with twenty-seven Conservative abstentions and Mr. Macmillan giving the most broken performance of his career, nothing so betrayed his bewilderment as those few words 'I do not live among young people fairly widely.' Behind the by-now familiar facade of Profumo, Keeler, Ward, Ivanov and Mandy Rice-Davies, rumour was getting completely out of hand, people no longer content with mere exaggerations, but longing to believe any scandal about members of the Government, the Establishment or the upper-classes (however improbable). A town gone mad was obsessed with phantasms—with royal pimps and headless men and naked Ministers in masks.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.