Perhaps it is because his father told the most famous lie in modern British history that David Profumo has chosen to be so searingly honest about his parents in this book. His father, Jack, had a successful career as a politician before resigning from the House of Commons, and from his job as Secretary of State for War, in June 1963. He had denied, in a statement to the House three months earlier, any ‘impropriety’ – the word itself already has a period flavour – with a tart, Christine Keeler. The lie provoked a shame that Jack felt for the rest of his life, even though almost everyone (with the interesting exception, according to the author, of Prince Philip) readily forgave him. For forty-three years, until his death earlier this year, Profumo senior never spoke in public about the scandal that bore his name. The author himself, who was seven at the time of the events, did not learn about it until a ‘shitweasel’ of a boy told him the full details on his first day at Eton five years later. He found his parents’ keeping him in the dark on this significant matter hard to understand, and seems never quite to have forgiven them for it. Indeed, a tone of anger at Jack and Val – his mother was the 1940s film star Valerie Hobson – sprouts quite frequently from the undergrowth of the author’s always ornate prose, and at times it is easy to see why.
The tale of what happened in 1963 is, as the author himself acknowledges, tediously familiar; and Jack’s life, redeemed by more than forty years in the dedicated service of the poor and underprivileged at Toynbee Hall in the East End, was worthy after his fall from grace, and rather straightforward