Profumo's peace links, hazardous headlines, and drains for disarmament

IssueApril 2006
Comment by The Mole

A few months ago, The Mole was musing about the idea of a peace movement “Bacon Number, where we see how many links - of some defined sort! - it takes to build a connection between different peaceniks.

Well, a related thought was inspired by the recent death of John Profumo. (Recap for younger readers who haven't been following the news: he was the War Minister - yes, the government used more honest terminology in those days - who resigned, in 1963, after a famous scandal involving a young woman called Christine Keeler.) Would you ever guess that a certain long-time peacenik, who had nothing in common with the sort of circles that John Profumo and Christine Keeler originally frequented, found herself working alongside them both, albeit some years apart? This connection might well make her unique, including among non-peaceniks.

Anyway, said peacenik, having been involved in a demonstration at Marham air base, early in her campaigning career, ended up in prison after refusing to be bound over. One of her fellow inmates was Christine Keeler, inside for an offence related - in a way too complicated to explain here - to the main Profumo Scandal. The young Christine was very helpful to the also young activist (for whom this was the first experience of prison), showing her the ropes and so on.

Some years on, the same peacenik had become a leading light in a counselling service for members of the armed forces (guessed who it is yet?). The service, called At Ease, has office space at Toynbee Hall, a centre for many socially constructive activities in the East End of London. And who should our heroine meet during her time there but John Profumo, who famously - post-scandal - went and worked there, initially in a lowly volunteer role and moving on to be a key fund-raiser for the centre's work.

Scandalised subscribers

It's not possible to refer back to this particular `60s scandal (a proper old-fashioned Tory one, by the way), without also remembering a Peace News front page of that era.

If you think that PN (the paper itself, that is, not just its autonomous columnists like The Mole) has a habit of annoying people from time to time, well ... this is a long-running PN tradition. But, as old PN hands will tell you, it's not always obvious in advance quite what will set people off and get the angry letters rolling in.

More than once, the paper has had a lot of flak for its royalty-related coverage. In this instance, back in the time of Profumo (no-one then had to say “the Profumo Scandal”: the poor fellow's name alone was synonymous with a salacious political scandal), Her Maj had been up to her usual tricks, launching a new nuclear submarine or somesuch. So the folks at Peace News - reckoning that, on the scale of immorality, sanctioning weapons of mass destruction was leagues ahead of a bit of upper class naked cavorting round a swimming pool - ran a “Keeler for Queen” front page headline.

Firm statistics are hard to come by, but by most people's reckoning that front page brought in more cancelled subscriptions than anything else the paper has managed since.

Pipes of peace

There's a steady programme of refurbishment going on at 5 Cally Road (the home of Peace News, Housmans Bookshop, and other worthy outfits). So some of the massive, ancient, leaking, heavy duty drainpipes have recently been replaced. But, true to the building's commitment to recycling, they haven't been thrown away.

So if the MoD Police, at some future blockade of the new nuclear weapons developments at Aldermaston, find that the activists who are locked-on to one another are using pipes that are harder than usual to cut through, then they can blame the high quality of 19th century building supplies.

Topics: Nuclear weapons
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