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PROFUMO TO SPILL SECRETS AT LAST ..FROM BEYOND GRAVE; The sex and spy scandal that brought Tories crashing down.

Byline: By NICK SOMMERLAD

JOHN Profumo, the man behind Britain's biggest political sex scandal, is finally to tell all - from beyond the grave.

The ex-minister, 91, died in hospital after remaining silent for 40 years on the infamous hookers and spies furore.

But he wrote his memoirs and locked them in a solicitor's safe, to be published after his death.

Even four decades on, his tale of his fling with vice girl Christine Keeler, their high-class orgies and the way the scandal brought down a government will make compulsive reading.

Author Stephen Dorril, who wrote a book on the affair, said: "It was the great scandal of the 20th century in that it changed things. It was one of the reasons the Swinging 60s happened."

Married Profumo - tipped as a future PM - had to resign in shame after lying to MPs to hide the affair.

The war minister first spotted Keeler, then 19, as she climbed naked from a pool at Berkshire mansion Cliveden - where toffs met hookers for sex parties.

But it was 1961, the world was in the grip of the Cold War and fears of Reds under the bed.

And Keeler had a Red in her bed - her Russian spy lover Eugene Ivanov.

To add to the scandal, another lover, West Indian Johnny Edgecombe, fired six shots at her home in a rage.

Although newspapers, curbed by draconian libel laws, published nothing, by 1963 rumours of Profumo's affair were rife.

In March, he denied it to Parliament. Veteran Press Association journalist Chris Moncrieff recalls: "It was the most highly-charged day I can remember in more than 40 years of reporting at Westminster.

"It had everything. Sex, espionage, the aristocracy, gunmen, call girls and high political drama. I remember my own hand shaking as I clutched my pencil."

Keeler, meanwhile, fled to Spain. But she was found by a newspaper and told all.

It was the end for Profumo. He had had a gilded route to the top via Harrow and Oxford. He became an MP at just 25 and had been tipped for PM. But in June he was forced to quit. Actress wife Valerie Hobson, star of Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, loyally stood by him.

The establishment was rocked by news his mistress was bedding a Soviet spy, with fears he was a blackmail risk.

But the rest of the country, still emerging from the austere post-war years of the 40s and 50s, was just as stunned by goings-on at Cliveden. Britain would never be the same again. Author Stephen added: "It was the moment between the staid 50s and the Swinging 60s.

"In the 50s you had a small group of people in London - actors, artists, minor royals, politicians - who had a very good time. The club was small and this blew it open.

"People saw for the first time the kind of lives a few were living."

Historian Anthony Howard believes the role Profumo played in bringing down the government is exaggerated but admits: "It did tremendous damage. The country went hysterical. People went absolutely crazy."

Proof of the grip it had on the public imagination came later that year as the Government published its findings on the scandal.

Despite being a whitewash, it remains the best-selling Government report. Stephen added: "People lined the street to buy it."

After the scandal broke, society Mr Fixit Stephen Ward - Keeler's housemate - was convicted of living off immoral earnings. He later committed suicide.

At his trial, when hooker Mandy Rice-Davies was told Cliveden owner Lord Astor denied bedding her, she famously replied: "He would, wouldn't he?"

Keeler got nine months in jail for failing to turn up as a witness at Edgecombe's trial. He got seven years.

The scandal contributed to Tory PM Harold Macmillan's resignation in 1963 due to ill-health. The scandal-hit party lost the 1964 election

Meanwhile, Profumo threw himself into charity work in London's East End and was awarded the CBE in 1975.

He died of a stroke on Thursday night at a West London hospital.

Tony Blair said yesterday: "He made a serious mistake, but then underwent a journey of redemption in which he gave support and help to many, many people." Keeler currently lives in North London. Rice-Davies lives in the US and is a gran.

mirrornews@mgn.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

THE MODEL Keeler caught Profumo's eye climbing out of a pool naked' SHAMED: Mirror story and right, Profumo in 2005' THE MINISTER Profumo before scandal broke in 1963' THE CALL GIRL Mandy Rice-Davies was at sex parties' THE RUSSIAN Spy Ivanov was also bedding Keeler
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 11, 2006
Words:767
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