Guy Burgess, the elder son of Commander Malcolm Kingsford de Moncy Burgess and his wife, Evelyn Mary, was born in Devonport, Devon, on 16th April 1911. Burgess's father died in 1924 and his mother later married John Retallack Bassett, a retired lieutenant-colonel. (1)
Burgess went to Eton College where he was taught history by Robert Birley. He later recalled: "He (Burgess) had a gift for plunging to the root of any question and his essays were on occasion full of insights. His career in the upper school passed wholly without blemish. No evidence whatever of any weaknesses or defects of character came to light." (2)
Burgess won an open scholarship to read modern history at Trinity College. According to Phillip Knightley, the author of Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988): "He (Burgess had come up from Eton to Trinity in 1930, set the university buzzing with his homosexual exhibitionism, and had been elected an Apostle, a mark of outstanding and all-round distinction. (The Apostles was a mixture of a dining club and a secret society which divided itself between King's, its spiritual home, and Trinity, where it had many members.). (3)
Burgess joined the Cambridge University Socialist Society (CUSS) and most of his new friends held left-wing views. This included Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean and James Klugmann. At university he was described as "amoral, witty, supremely dangerous and loud in his advocacy of communism." (4) It has been claimed that Maurice Dobb recruited Burgess to the Communist Party of Great Britain in November 1932. Over the next two years he managed to inject into the CUSS's "debates a note of passionate left-wing political content to replace the usual literary, artistic and philosophical subjects." (5)
Robert Birley claimed that when he visited Burgess at university in 1931: "Guy wasn't in when I arrived so I entered his room in New Court and waited (during the summer of 1931). There were many books on his shelves, and I'm always drawn to other people's taste in reading. As I expected, his taste was fairly wide and interesting. I noticed a number of Marxist tracts and textbooks, but that's not what really shocked and depressed me. I realized that something must have gone terribly wrong when I came across an extraordinary array of explicit and extremely unpleasant pornographic literature. He bustled in finally, full of cheerful apologies for being late as usual, and we talked happily enough over the tea-cups." (6)
According to John Costello, the author of Mask of Treachery (1988), Blunt became very close to Guy Burgess: "Blunt was intensely fond of Burgess, and his personal loyalty never wavered... Burgess and Blunt did not share a lifelong sexual passion for each other, according to other bedmates... Such evidence as there is confirms that their intimacy quickly outgrew the bedroom. This was in keeping with the character of Burgess and his insatiable sexual appetite... Burgess had a peculiar talent for transforming his former lovers into close friends. To many of them, including Blunt, he became both father confessor and pimp who could be relied on to procure partners. Burgess devoured sex as he did alcohol - an over-indulgence that suggests he was drowning a deep sense of sexual inadequacy." (7)
Burgess gained a first in part one of the history tripos (1932) and an aegrotat in part two (1933), and held a two-year postgraduate teaching fellowship. (8) Although his friends admired his intelligence and wit he made a lot of enemies: "He (Burgess) had epigrammjatic wit and an air of omniscience which belied his years; yet his goatlike agility of mind went with an unguarded tongue. He would utter malicious and wounding comments at the drop of a hat against anyone blocking the maze of intersecting paths he followed." (9)
In January 1934 Arnold Deutsch, one of NKVD's agents, was sent to London. As a cover for his spying activities he did post-graduate work at London University. In May he made contact with Litzi Friedmann and Edith Tudor Hart. They discussed the recruitment of Soviet spies. Litzi suggested her husband, Kim Philby. "According to her report on Philby's file, through her own contacts with the Austrian underground Tudor Hart ran a swift check and, when this proved positive, Deutsch immediately recommended... that he pre-empt the standard operating procedure by authorizing a preliminary personal sounding out of Philby." (10)
Kim Philby later recalled that in June 1934. "Lizzy came home one evening and told me that she had arranged for me to meet a 'man of decisive importance'. I questioned her about it but she would give me no details. The rendezvous took place in Regents Park. The man described himself as Otto. I discovered much later from a photograph in MI5 files that the name he went by was Arnold Deutsch. I think that he was of Czech origin; about 5ft 7in, stout, with blue eyes and light curly hair. Though a convinced Communist, he had a strong humanistic streak. He hated London, adored Paris, and spoke of it with deeply loving affection. He was a man of considerable cultural background." (11)
Deutsch asked Philby if he was willing to spy for the Soviet Union: "Otto spoke at great length, arguing that a person with my family background and possibilities could do far more for Communism than the run-of-the-mill Party member or sympathiser... I accepted. His first instructions were that both Lizzy and I should break off as quickly as possible all personal contact with our Communist friends." It is claimed by Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) that Philby became the first of "the ablest group of British agents ever recruited by a foreign intelligence service." (12)
Arnold Deutsch asked Kim Philby to make a list of potential recruits. The first person he approached was his friend, Donald Maclean, who had been a fellow member of the Cambridge University Socialist Society (CUSS) and now working in the Foreign Office. Philby invited him to dinner, and hinted that there was important clandestine work to be done on behalf of the Soviet Union. He told him that "the people I could introduce you to are very serious." Maclean agreed to met Deutsch. He was told to carry a book with a bright yellow cover into a particular café at a certain time. Deutsch was impressed with Maclean who he described as being "very serious and aloof" with "good connections". Maclean was given the codename "Orphan". (13) Maclean was also ordered to give up his communist friends.
In May 1934 Philby arranged for Deutsch to meet Guy Burgess. (14) At first Deutsch rejected Burgess as a potential spy. He reported to headquarters that Burgess was "very smart... but a bit superficial and could let slip in some circumstances." Burgess began to suspect that his friend Maclean was working for the Soviets. He told Maclean: "Do you think that I believe for even one jot that you have stopped being a communist? You're simply up to something." (15) When Maclean told Deutsch about the conversation, he reluctantly signed him up. Burgess went around telling anyone who would listen that he had swapped Karl Marx for Benito Mussolini and was now a devotee of Italian fascism. (16) Burgess along with Philby joined the also joined the Anglo-German Fellowship, a pro-fascist society formed in 1935 to foster closer understanding with Adolf Hitler.
Burgess now suggested the recruitment of one of his friends, Anthony Blunt. According to Blunt's biographer, Michael Kitson: "Blunt - hitherto the image of an elegant, apolitical, social young academic - began to take an interest in Marxism under the influence of his friend the charming, scandalous Guy Burgess, a fellow Apostle, who had recently converted to communism. Blunt's move to the left can be plotted in his art reviews, in which he turned from a Bloomsbury acolyte into an increasingly dogmatic defender of social realism. He eventually came to attack even his favourite contemporary artist, Picasso, for the painting Guernica's insufficient incorporation of communism." (17)
Other friends, John Cairncross and Michael Straight were also recruited during this period. Arnold Deutsch handled recruitment but much of the day-to-day management of the spies were carried out by another agent, Theodore Maly. Born in Timişoara, Romania, he studied theology and became a priest but on the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Austro-Hungarian Army. He told Elsa Poretsky, the wife of Ignaz Reiss: "During the war I was a chaplain, I had just been ordained as a priest. I was taken prisoner in the Carpathians. I saw all the horrors, young men with frozen limbs dying in the trenches. I was moved from one camp to another and starved along with other prisoners. We were all covered with vermin and many were dying of typhus. I lost my faith in God and when the revolution broke out I joined the Bolsheviks. I broke with my past completely. I was no longer a Hungarian, a priest, a Christian, even anyone's son. I became a Communist and have always remained one." (18)
As Ben Macintyre, the author of A Spy Among Friends (2014), has pointed out: "For a spy, Maly was conspicuous, standing six feet four inches tall, with a shiny grey complexion", and gold fillings in his front teeth. But he was a most subtle controller, who shared Deutsch's admiration for Philby." (19) Maly described Philby as "an inspirational figure, a true comrade and idealist." (20) According to Deutsch: "Both of them (Philby and Maly) were intelligent and experienced professionals, as well as genuinely very good people." (21)
Christopher Andrew has argued in his book, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009): "KGB files credit Deutsch with the recruitment of twenty agents during his time in Britain. The most successful, however, were the Cambridge Five: Philby, Maclean, Burgess, Blunt and Cairncross.... All were committed ideological spies inspired by the myth-image of Stalin's Russia as a worker-peasant state with social justice for all rather than by the reality of a brutal dictatorship with the largest peacetime gulag in European history. Deutsch shared the same visionary faith as his Cambridge recruits in the future of a human race freed from the exploitation and alienation of the capitalist system. His message of liberation had all the greater appeal for the Five because it had a sexual as well as a political dimension. All were rebels against the strict sexual mores as well as the antiquated class system of inter war Britain. Burgess and Blunt were gay and Maclean bisexual at a time when homosexual relations, even between consenting adults, were illegal. Cairncross, like Philby a committed heterosexual, later wrote a history of polygamy." (22)
Guy Burgess had a wide variety of different jobs. A friend from university, Victor Rothschild, introduced Burgess to his mother, Rozsika Rothschild. She engaged him at £100 a month to give her advice about her investments. "This was a sum five times what his contemporaries were earning, and the effort needed to earn it was so slight it left him time for other enterprises." (23) Burgess made three visits to Nazi Germany. This included a "fact-finding group" that included the right-wing Conservative Party MP, Captain John Macnamara, a fellow member of the Anglo-German Fellowship. They concluded that the Nazi government was doing a great job for Germany.
In October 1936 Burgess was appointed to a post at the Talks Department of the BBC. This brought him into contact with senior British politicians. In March 1938 he was a courier between Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, and in September he urged Winston Churchill to repeat his warning against Adolf Hitler to Joseph Stalin. Churchill developed a friendship with Burgess and he gave him a signed copy of Churchill's Arms and the Covenant (1938). Burgess used his influence to arrange for friends Anthony Blunt and E. H. Carr to broadcast on the BBC. (24)
In December 1938 Burgess joined the British secret service. He was appointed to section D of MI6, dedicated to sabotage and subversion. He became close to Guy Liddell and other senior officers. Burgess had become a member of the establishment. As Phillip Knightley, the author of Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) has pointed out: "They considered themselves a class apart... Who else would have tolerated the drunken, aggressive, dirty, drug-taking Guy Burgess, seducer of sailors, lorry drivers and chorus boys, except the Bentinck Street clan who saw beyond his appalling facade into a brilliant and original intellect." (25)
In 1945 Burgess became PA to Hector McNeil, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. In December 1947 Burgess moved to the Information Research Department. The following year he joined the Far Eastern Department and held this post until 1950 when he became the first secretary at the British embassy in Washington.
In October 1950 Kim Philby warned Burgess and Donald Maclean that they were being investigated by MI5. Burgess returned to London and in May 1951 he defected with Maclean to the Soviet Union. This created serious problems for Guy Liddell as he was a close friend and they were often seen together at parties, clubs and the opera.
Guy Burgess died in 1963.
Guy wasn't in when I arrived so I entered his room in New Court and waited (during the summer of 1931). There were many books on his shelves, and I'm always drawn to other people's taste in reading. As I expected, his taste was fairly wide and interesting. I noticed a number of Marxist tracts and textbooks, but that's not what really shocked and depressed me. I realized that something must have gone terribly wrong when I came across an extraordinary array of explicit and extremely unpleasant pornographic literature. He bustled in finally, full of cheerful apologies for being late as usual, and we talked happily enough over the tea-cups.
I considered him (Guy Burgess) intelligent, but rather babyish, with the slightly protruding teeth of the thumb-sucker. He was voluble to the point of spluttering, obviously neurotic, good looking with curly hair and fresh complexion, and his chief attraction was vitality and rather boyish enthusiasm. Before he graduated he talked the usual left-wing stuff, overemphasized the fact that he joined the hunger marchers on their walk to London, and was obviously sincere about his sympathy for the underdog. But so was everyone else.
One of his outstanding weaknesses was his total lack of debating ability. In those days I used to argue with him, taking a conventional Socialist line, while he wanted a bloody revolution and was a self-styled Marxist. On one occasion I reduced him to floods of tears and there after felt he was scarcely fair game and I hadn't the heart to bait him in general discussions.
Guy Burgess, though he preferred the company of the able to the artistic, also moved on the edge of the same world. He was of a very different physique, tall-medium in height, with blue eyes, an inquisitive nose, sensual mouth, curly hair and alert fox-terrier expression... He swam like an otter and drank, not like a feckless undergraduate, as Donald was apt to do, but like some Rabelaisian bottle-swiper whose thirst was unquenchable.... With all his toughness, however. Guy Burgess wanted intensely to be liked and was indeed likeable, a good conversationalist and an enthusiastic builder-up of his friends. Beneath the terribilita of his Marxist analyses one divined the affectionate moral cowardice of the public schoolboy.
What was common to both Burgess and Maclean at this time was their instability: both were able and ambitious young men of high intelligence and good connections who were somehow parodies of what they set out to be. Nobody could take them quite seriously: they were two characters in a late Russian novel.
Donald was seldom heard to talk politics. Guy never seemed to stop. He was the type of bumptious Marxist who saw himself as Saint Just, who enjoyed making the flesh of his bourgeois listeners creep by his pictures of the justice which history would mete out to them. Grubby, intemperate and promiscuous, he loved to moralize over his friends and satirize their smug, class-conscious behaviour, so reckless of the reckoning in store. But when bedtime came, very late, and it was the moment to put the analyses away, the word 'preposterous' dying on his lips, he would imply a dispensation under which this was one house at least, tills family, these guests, might be spared the worst consequences, thanks to the protection of their brilliant, hunger-marching friend whose position would be so commanding in the happy Workers' imminent Utopia.
During the Spanish War, I saw much less of Guy Burgess who had joined the BBC in Bristol. A terrible thing had happened - he had become a Fascist! Still sneering at the bourgeois intellectual, he now vaunted the intensely modern realism of the Nazi leaders: his admiration for economic ruthlessness and the short-cut to power had swung him to the opposite extreme. He claimed to have attended a Nuremberg Rally.
"Now, Mr Molotov, what is it that you want? What are you after? Do you want to get Austria behind your Iron Curtain? You can't do that. Do you want Turkey and the Straits ? You can't have them. Do you want Korea? You can't have that. You are putting your neck out too far, and one day you will have it chopped off.. .. You cannot look on me as an enemy of Russia. Why, when our Government was trying to stamp out your Revolution, who was it that stopped it? It was I, Ernest Bevin. I called out the transport workers and they refused to load the ships. Now again I am speaking to you as a friend... If war comes between you and America in the East, then we may be able to remain neutral. But if war comes between you and America in the West, then we shall be on America's side. Make no mistake about that. That would be the end of Russia and of your Revolution. So please stop sticking out your neck in this way and tell me what you are after. What
do you want?"
"I want a unified Germany," said Molotov.
"Why do you want that? Do you really believe that a unified Germany would go Communist? They pretend to. They would say all the right things and repeat all the correct formulas. But in their hearts they would be longing for the day when they would revenge their defeat at Stalingrad. You know that as well as I do."
"Yes," said Molotov, "I know that. But I still want a unified Germany."
And that was all he could get out of him.
His conversation was always entertaining and sometimes of arresting interest. He was at his most congenial on someone else's sofa, drinking someone else's whisky, telling tales to discredit the famous. The more luxurious the surroundings and the more distinguished the company, the happier he was. I have never heard a name-dropper in the same class.
Whether Guy and Kim became lovers is not known. Their contemporaries thought not, but even so it is not impossible, for Guy invariably attempted to establish an ascendancy over men who interested him sexually and politically, and he certainly dominated Kim for the next thirty-five years. It seems unlikely that Guy and Kim remained as interested in each other as they were without sex obtruding, for Guy had little interest in anyone unless the association culminated in a sexual act. Also, Guy was a relentless blackmailer, who usually completed his conquest with a reminder to his partner that male sexual relations were a criminal offense and that participants usually went to prison for long periods at hard labor. Certainly, Kim's association with Guy "dogged Kim's whole life, possibly shaping it more than any other human contact" - a possible exaggeration, for there were others who shaped Kim, including his father and his first Soviet controller. But it contained truth.
He (Guy Burgess in 1950) was now perpetually taking sedatives to calm his nerves, and immediately followed them with stimulants in order to counteract their effect; and since he always did everything to excess, he munched whatever tablets he had on hand as a child will munch its way through a bag of dolly mixtures until the supply has given out. Combined with a large and steady intake of alcohol, this consumption of drugs, narcotics, sedatives, stimulants, barbiturates, sleeping pills, or anything, it seemed, so long as it would modify whatever he happened to be feeling at any particular moment, produced an extraordinary and incalculable alteration of mood, so that one could not possibly tell what condition he would be in from one moment to the next. On the whole, however, it was fair to assume that sooner or later he would lapse into one of those moods of morose silence to which he was more and more frequently liable.
I dined with Guy Burgess. Oh my dear, what a sad, sad thing the constant drinking is! Guy used to have one of the most rapid and acute minds I knew. Now he is just an imitation (and a pretty bad one) of what he once was.
Taking the line that it was almost inconceivable that anyone like Burgess, who courted the limelight instead of avoiding it, and was generally notorious for indiscretion, could have been a secret agent, let alone a Soviet agent from whom strictest security standards would be required. I did not expect this line to be in any way convincing as to the facts of the case; but I hoped it would give the impression that I was implicitly defending myself against the unspoken charge that I, a trained counter-espionage officer, had been completely fooled by Burgess. Of Maclean, I disclaimed all knowledge.... As I had only met him twice, for about half an hour in all and both times on a conspiratorial basis, since 1937, I felt that I could safely indulge in this slight distortion of the truth.
He (Anthony Blunt) was greatly distressed and said he would like to see me. On Monday May 28th he came to my house in the country, and on an almost ideally beautiful English summer day we sat by the river and I gave him my reasons for thinking that Guy had gone to the Soviet Union: his violent anti-Americanism, his certainty that America would involve us all in a Third World War, most of all the fact that he had been and perhaps still was a Soviet agent. He pointed out, very convincingly as it seemed to me, that these were really not very good reasons for denouncing Guy to MI;. His anti-Americanism was an attitude which was shared by many liberal-minded people and if this alone were sufficient reason to drive him to the Soviet Union, Moscow at that moment would be besieged by defectors seeking asylum. On the other hand, my belief that he might be a Soviet agent rested simply on one single remark made by him years ago and apparently never repeated to anyone else; in any case Guy's public professions of anti-Americanism were hardly what one would expect from a professional Soviet agent. Most of all he pointed out that Guy was after all one of my, as of his, oldest friends and to make the kind of allegations I apparently proposed to make about him was not, to say the least of it, the act of a friend. He was the Cambridge liberal conscience at its very best, reasonable, sensible, and firm in the faith that personal relations are the highest of all human values.
I said Forster's antithesis was a false one. One's country was not some abstract conception which it might be relatively easy to sacrifice for the sake of an individual; it was itself made up of a dense network of individual and social relationships in which loyalty to one particular person formed only a single strand. In that case, he said, I was being rather irrational because after all Guy had told me he was a spy a very long time ago and I had not thought it necessary to tell anyone. I said that perhaps I was a very irrational person; but until then I had not really been convinced that Guy had been telling the truth.
The volume of material Burgess supplied was so colossal that the cipher clerks of the Soviet Embassy were at times almost fully employed in enciphering it so that it could be radioed to Moscow, while other urgent messages had to be dispatched in diplomatic bags by couriers.
The security authorities were, of course, aware of leakage of information from the Foreign Office to the Soviet Government. They knew of this in January, 1949, but the information was so vague that it could not be traced to any individual. Highly secret investigations at a level which would be over the head of the Foreign Secretary and known only to the Prime Minister had begun, and by mid-April, when I had been Foreign Secretary for a month, the suspicion was focused on two or three officials. A fortnight later Maclean was regarded as the principal suspect, and on 25 May I sanctioned a proposal that Maclean should be questioned. Within a few hours Maclean, accompanied by Burgess, was making for France.
Burgess was the more lively and the more potentially dangerous partner. I did not meet him, so far as I can recall. I gathered that he was an intelligent and rather bumptious young man - a typical young career diplomat. As personal assistant to the Minister of State, Hector McNeil, he had access to most secret documents. McNeil liked him, regarded him as a live wire, with a pleasant manner and considerable intelligence; indeed, he had pressed for Burgess as his personal assistant.