John Profumo

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John Dennis Profumo (30 January 1915 - 9 March 2006) was a Conservative politician best known for being forced to resign as Minister for War as a result of a 1963 scandal involving a prostitute.

Broadcasting and the BBC

In 1947 Profumo joined the Conservative Central Office as the party's first head of broadcasting. There he set up a unit to monitor supposed left-wing bias at the BBC. He was also one of a group of Conservative backbenchers who campaigned to end the monopoly of the BBC and paved the way for the creation of ITV in 1955. [1]

Profumo was instructed to set up the BBC monitoring unit by Winston Churchill, who according to Profumo was convinced that the BBC was ‘honeycombed with communists’. [2] (It should be noted however that according to MI5's official historian, Churchill privately believed that communist influence in the BBC was 'very slight' and did not 'constitute a serious security danger.' [3]) Profumo told the author and journalist Michael Cockerell:

I wanted to keep an eye on left-wing bias at the BBC. I couldn’t think how we could do it. Whenever we wrote to Haley, the Director-General, he would say that we should look not just at one programme but at the whole lot. I decided to put an advertisement in the Daily Telegraph saying I was looking for long-term patients in hospital who had a radio – or if they didn’t, we would give them one. When people replied, we asked if they would agree for a small payment to listen to the programmes we chose and then write to a box number. We appointed six monitors. And each week we would have a monitoring conference at Conservative Central Office on the day the Radio Times was published and we would select the programmes to be monitored. We would say, “That chap looks left-wing” and we wanted to see whether his broadcasts were biased. I still remember one programme – about tapestries, of all things, and the commentary said something like: “To think these tapestries hang on the walls of the rich, yet they were woven in the hovels of humble peasants”. I suppose creative young people are left-wing. But as a result of our efforts we made a great deal of headway with the BBC – it had its effect. [4]


  1. Obituaries: John Profumo. Secretary of State for War sensationally forced out of politics after lying to the House of Commons', Independent, 11 March 2006
  2. Michael Cockerell, 'Broadcasters caught in crossfire of politics', Manchester Guardian Weekly, 2 April 1995
  3. Duncan Gardham, 'BBC wanted more vetting from MI5', Daily Telegraph, 28 May 2010/
  4. Michael Cockerell, Live from Number 10: The Inside Story of Prime Ministers and Television (London: Faber and Faber, 1988) p.7