This is a formidable account of one of the nastier episodes in our recent history. It poses a number of questions – about police integrity, about morality in public life, about the toxic influence of an unscrupulous popular press. However, one additional query might be: what made it a peculiarly English affair? After all, senior politicians in other countries get into hot water over women. No doubt they also tell lies about it. What did Profumo have that scandals in, say, Rome, Paris or Washington lacked? Richard Davenport-Hines quickly makes it clear that he is dealing with much more than one man’s disgrace. Instead he is recording what he sees as a ‘shattering blast’ that rocked an already insecure Establishment. It is the tawdry England of the Sixties that he sets out to dissect, and he goes about the task with energy and impressive command of detail.
Those who lived through that period will certainly recognise the scene. London was a shabby postwar city, many of its familiar features having been destroyed either by bombing or by ruthless ‘development’. Among its population was a fair proportion of chancers of one sort or another (including of course what