Acts of contrition and acts of contrition
If you were there at the time you will likely have noticed that John Profumo died last week at the rarefied age of 91. Not a bad innings for a guy who succeeded, thanks to a bit of philandering, and then lying about it, managed to topple a government and bring to an untimely end the fortunes of a political party that had held power for 12 years.
If you weren't there, I'll briefly take you back. Profumo was the War Minister in the Tory government of Harold Macmillan back in 1963. A few months earlier he had, being middle-age crazy at age 48, embarked on a torrid sexual affair with one Miss Christine Keeler, aged a tender 19. Miss Keeler (pictured left) was, however, much more worldly-wise than Mr. Profumo. She was, in fact, a call-girl in the employ of a society osteopath called Dr. Stephen Ward. One day at a party Mr. Profumo glimpsed Miss Keeler rising starkers out of a swimming pool. The little head took hold, and the rest is sordid history of the sort that has been repeated countless times throughout the history of the sexual interchanges between men terrified of growing old, and young ladies who look to gain entre to certain material and societal advantages by removing their knickers to accommodate. The rumpy-pumpy ensued over a few months, but ultimately the truth came out in the convoluted tale, and Mr. Profumo, when confronted denied-denied-denied. Ultimately he told the truth and mega-scandal erupted. Christine and her cute li'l blonde cohort Mandy Rice-Davies became causes celebre for a few brief moments, much in the manner Monica Lewinsky did in a later scandal. A waggish bit of doggerel at the time paraphrased Ogden Nash by offering: "Christine is keen, but Mandy is dandy." Enough about that. The government fell and Mr. Profumo slunk off in disgraced and made his amends (successfully) to his wife, the actress Valerie Hobson.
But, he did more than that. His sin, you see, wasn't so much letting his pecker wander -- that happens every day -- but lying, and continuing to lie when his back was to the wall.
What he did, and this is where he again became noble in a way. He shut up about it. He didn't run around wailing how sorry he was and how he hoped a nation would forgive him for his transgression. He instead turned his energies to good works, quietly, without ever calling attention to himself. For the next four decades he turned his energies to Toynbee Hall, an east end London charitable settlement. And, no task was too humble for Mr. Profumo. He did the washing up and he swept the corridors. He did the books and put in long and arduous hours for years and years. Ultimately he became chairman of Toynbee Hall as a result of his talents and his labors. He didn't seek an exalted position, it just became a natural.
My point at the end of all this is, we who get caught with our hands in the pubic honeypot -- I know, but I'll not explain further -- find that our first impulse is to lie and deny. But then, if we cannot escape the revelation, we desperately try to make amends to the wronged party in hopes we'll be forgiven. Sometimes we are. Sometimes we're not.
But, Mr. Profumo chose another route. What he did was to simply shut up, and get on with it. He knew the past couldn't be changed. Yet, perhaps he can now be judged for something well above and beyond springing out of his y-fronts at a rather pedestrian looking lass who was, like Monica, not really worth the price of the disgrace.