Anthony Blunt

Anthony Blunt

Anthony Blunt, the third and youngest son of the Revd Stanley Vaughan Blunt (1870–1929) and his wife, Hilda Master (1880–1969), was born at Holy Trinity vicarage, Bournemouth, Hampshire, on 26th September 1907. As a child he spent time in Paris, where his father was the British embassy chaplain.

Blunt was educated at Marlborough School where he developed a strong interest in art. According to his biographer, Michael Kitson: "Blunt was part of a group of rebellious young aesthetes), he was producing precociously fluent defences of modern art, much to the infuriation of the deeply conservative art teacher - an early indication of his academic talent and his instinctive contrariness." (1)

Blunt's best friend, Louis MacNeice, claimed that he suffered a great deal from bullying because he was an individualist and non-conformer: "Boys of that age are especially sadistic... They would seize him, tear off most of his clothes and cover him with house paint, then put him in the basket and push him round and round the hall... Government of the mob, by the mob, and for the mob... a perfect exhibition of mass sadism." (2)

Anthony Blunt at Trinity College

In 1926 Blunt won a scholarship to Trinity College. He arrived at Cambridge University during the General Strike. Like many students he felt sympathy for the miners. Maurice Dobb was a major influence on Blunt. A lecturer in economics, he had joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1922, and was open with his students about his communist beliefs. Dobb's friend, Eric Hobsbawm, has pointed out: "He (Dobb) joined the small band of Cambridge socialists as soon as he went up and... the Communist Party. Neither body was then used to such notably well-dressed recruits of such impeccably bourgeois comportment. He remained quietly loyal to his cause and party for the remainder of his life, pursuing a course, at times rather lonely, as a communist academic." (3) Blunt admitted that "Cambridge had literally been transformed overnight by the wave of Marxism... the undergraduates and graduate students were swept away by Marxism" and that "during the next three of four years almost every intelligent undergraduate who came up to Cambridge joined the Communist party some time during his first year." (4)

Blunt later claimed the two most important Marxists he came into contact with at university were John Cornford and James Klugmann. Blunt described Klugmann as "an extremely good political theorist" who "ran the administration of the Party with great skill and energy and it was primarily he who decided what organizations and societies in Cambridge were worth penetrating." (5) John Costello has argued that this suggests that Blunt was already a member of the communist underground cell: "How did Blunt know this if he was not deeply implicated in the cell? Blunt's statement reveals a familiarity with the inside workings of the Cambridge Communist party that is significant. To know how decisions were taken about penetration suggests that he and Klugmann must have been on very close terms." (6)

Roger Hollis
Anthony Blunt

Blunt also joined the Cambridge Apostles. Other members over the years had included Guy Burgess, Michael Straight, Alister Watson, Julian Bell, Leo Long and Peter Ashby. It has been pointed out by Michael Kitson that the values of the group included the cult of the intellect for its own sake, belief in freedom of thought and expression irrespective of the conclusions to which this freedom might lead, and the denial of all moral restraints other than loyalty to friends. "An influential minority of the society's members were, moreover, like Blunt himself, homosexual at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal in Britain." (7)

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." (8)

Guy Burgess
Guy Burgess

Anthony Blunt impressed his fellow students by his intellectual abilities. Victor Rothschild commented: "Like many others I was impressed by his outstanding intellectual abilities, both artistic and mathematical, and by what for want of a better word, I must call his high moral or ethical principles." (9) In 1932 he was elected a fellow of Trinity College on the strength of a dissertation on artistic theory in Italy and France during the Renaissance and seventeenth century. Blunt also wrote on art for the Cambridge Review.

In 1933 he became the art critic of The Spectator. He caused great controversy when he took a Marxist approach to criticise the annual summer show at the Royal Academy: "I found almost as little skill as soul". He showed contempt for modern painters who portrayed "the pleasures of contemporary bourgeois life in a technique which aims, I imagine, principally at a tone of simple badinage." He condemned the institution of only "satisfying the demands of a particular class." (10)

Kim Philby

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." (11)

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." (12)

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." (13)

Soviet Spy Network

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". (14) Maclean was also ordered to give up his communist friends.

In May 1934 Philby arranged for Deutsch to meet Guy Burgess. 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.

Guy Burgess
Anthony Blunt

Guy Burgess now suggested the recruitment of one of his friends, Anthony Blunt. Later, he claimed that he could not remember the date when he became a Soviet spy. John Costello, the author of Mask of Treachery (1988), has carried out a special study of the subject: "Since the consensus of American intelligence opinion is that the actual closing would have taken place outside England, it is likely to have occurred in the spring of 1934, when Blunt was traveling through France and Austria en route to Italy." (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)

Second World War

On the outbreak of the Second World War Blunt joined the British Army. In 1939 he was sent to France where he served with the Army Intelligence Corps. When the German Army invaded in May 1940 he returned to England. Soon afterwards he was recruited by MI5. Blunt was placed in charge of the section that dealt with examining the communications of foreign embassies. This enabled him to pass valuable information to the Soviet Union. He later became the personal assistant to Guy Liddell, Deputy Director-General of MI5.

In early 1941 managed to help Tomás Harris, possibly another Soviet spy, to join MI5. (23) Later that year Harris established a social group of younger Secret and Security Service officers in both intelligence and special intelligence that met at his home at 6 Chesterfield Gardens. Other members included Blunt, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Victor Rothschild, Guy Liddell,Richard Brooman-White, Tim Milne and Peter Wilson. "They were known among themselves simply as the Group, and they met in a magnificent house at 6 Chesterfield Gardens, the home of one Tomas Harris... Tomas had inherited much of his father's artistic talent, as he had inherited the house and his father's fortune." (24)

Philby later explained he was a regular visitor to 6 Chesterfield Gardens and asked his friend if he could get him a job with British intelligence: "It was now more than ever necessary for me to get away from the rhododendrons of Beaulieu. I had to find a better hole with all speed. A promising chance soon presented itself. During my occasional visits to London, I had made a point of calling at Tomás Harris's house in Chesterfield Gardens, where he lived surrounded by his art treasures in an atmosphere of haute cuisine and grand vin. He maintained that no really good table could be spoiled by wine-stains. I have already explained that Harris had joined M15 after the break-up of the training-school at Brickendonbury." (25)

In 1944 Blunt was responsible for liaison between MI5 and Allied Supreme Headquarters concerning the invasion of Europe. Blunt became involved in what became known as the Double-Cross System. Created by John Masterman, it attempted to "influence enemy plans by the answers sent to the enemy (by the double agents)" and to "deceive the enemy about our plans and intentions". (26) Blunt also played a part in the deception plans for the D-Day landings. The key aims of the deception were: "(a) To induce the German Command to believe that the main assault and follow up will be in or east of the Pas de Calais area, thereby encouraging the enemy to maintain or increase the strength of his air and ground forces and his fortifications there at the expense of other areas, particularly of the Caen area in Normandy. (b) To keep the enemy in doubt as to the date and time of the actual assault. (c) During and after the main assault, to contain the largest possible German land and air forces in or east of the Pas de Calais for at least fourteen days." (27)

John Costello, the author of Mask of Treachery (1988) has explained that Blunt worked with Tomás Harris and Juan Pujol García (Garbo) in this operation: "To reinforce this deception, Blunt and Harris had Garbo invent a subsidiary agent who supposedly operated in the Dover area. This agent was a disaffected Welsh nationalist seaman, code-named Donny. He provided a steady stream of sightings of American and Canadian troops assembling in the vicinity of England's principal channel port. His reports continued even after Allied troops had landed on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. This contributed to the German High Command's decision to recall divisions already on their way south, in anticipation of a second and bigger operation taking place in the Pas de Calais." (28)

The Royal Documents

At the end of the war Anthony Blunt went on a secret mission for the Royal family. According to Hugh Trevor-Roper, Blunt had been sent to retrieve documents that were believed to be in the hands of the royal family's many German relations. It was feared that the contents of these letters would be published in American newspapers. Blunt told Trevor-Roper that his mission had been successful and gave him some of the details of what was in the letters. It was clear that Blunt had made himself familiar with the contents of these papers. (29)

It has been claimed that these documents included letters from the Duke of Windsor to Adolf Hitler. It has even been suggested that there was evidence in these documents that Windsor might have provided information about Britain's war plans: "This plan required the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to advance northward in the event of a German invasion of Belgium... The Ardennes was precisely the sector where General Guderian's XIX Panzer Group burst through on May 10, when Hitler unleashed his offensive in the West. This fact raises the possibility of a connection between the Duke of Windsor's activities at Allied GCHQ and the German decision of February 1940 to scrap their original attack plan in favor of a bold drive through the Ardennes to the Belgian coast so as to cut off the British forces." (30)

These documents also showed that Windsor was close to breaking with his brother, King George VI, and moving to Nazi Germany. However, according to a telegram from Eberhard von Stohrer to Berlin, Windsor changed his mind the British media would "let loose upon himself the propaganda of his British enemies which would rob him of all prestige for the moment of possible intervention". (31) Donald Cameron Watt, who has examined the Duke of Windsor section of the German Foreign Ministry files and says that important documents that refer to the Windsors' meeting with Hitler at Berchtesgaden are missing. (32)

Surveyor of the King's Pictures

A few months later Blunt retired from MI5 to become Surveyor of the King's Pictures. This seemed to be a strange decision as it now meant that he could no longer be much use to his Soviet masters. Blunt later argued that "from 1945 I ceased to pass information to the Russians". The reason he gave was that he began to doubt that the Soviet regime "was following the true principles of Marxism." (33) John Costello has argued that the Soviets would only have sanctioned Blunt's move from MI5 only if two conditions were satisfied: "(i) Moscow already had in MI5 another agent - or agents - of equivalent seniority and access. (ii) Blunt convinced Moscow that he would continue providing high-level intelligence about the British government."

Costello goes on to suggest that the KGB gave permission for Blunt to work for the royal family because it was in their interest to do so. "Once Blunt gained knowledge of the explosive royal secret, it became his gold-plated insurance policy. Even if his espionage was uncovered, Blunt would argue, his crime paled before the enormity of Windsor's wartime activities. And given the lengths to which the British government was willing to go to cover up these activities, Blunt would have been able to make a convincing case that he had a cast-iron guarantee against ever being publicly exposed. The Kremlin must also have appreciated that, in the Palace, Blunt could also provide a safety net for the other Cambridge agents. No one Blunt had recruited could ever be brought to public trial in Britain without implicating Blunt. Again, to expose Blunt would threaten the Windsor secret." (34)

He continued to be a member of the spy ring led by Kim Philby and in May 1951 helped Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to defect to the Soviet Union. The KGB feared that this would lead to the arrests of other members of the network. Blunt was ordered to go through Burgess's flat, searching for and destroying incriminating documents. He failed, however, to notice a series of unsigned notes describing confidential discussions in Whitehall in 1939. During this investigation, MI5, they interviewed Sir John Colville, one of those mentioned in the notes. He was able to identify the author as John Cairncross. (35)

MI5 began surveillance of Cairncross and followed him to a meeting with Yuri Modin. Just in time, Modin noticed the surveillance and returned home without meeting Cairncross. (36) Anthony Simkins was in charge of the operation and when he read the report that said Cairncross lit a cigarette, he exclaimed, "He's a non-smoker! He was smoking to warn his Soviet contact." Modin later told Cairncross how to handle the inevitable interrogation. "I told him to admit his Communist sympathies and an innocent friendship with Burgess and deny any link with espionage." (37)

Cairncross was eventually interviewed by Arthur Martin and Jim Skardon, two senior MI5 officers. Cairncross denied being a spy but admitted to supplying information to Burgess. It was agreed that he should resign his post in the Treasury. (38) Modin paid Cairncross "a large sum of money" and was encouraged to live abroad. Modin later recalled: "I liked Cairncross best of all our London agents. He wasn't an easy man to deal with, but he was a profoundly decent one"

Blunt, who had been seen in the company of Burgess and Maclean just before they disappeared. He was interviewed by MI5. Blunt admitted that his friendship with Burgess and Maclean meant he "was going to be a prime suspect". Moscow suggested he should "go to Russia". (39) However, he refused, convinced that his "royal insurance policy" would protect him.

Guy Burgess
Queen Elizabeth II with Anthony Blunt in 1959.

Blunt was interviewed eleven times by Arthur Martin and Jim Skardon but was eventually cleared of any involvement in their spying activities. When George VI died in 1953 Queen Elizabeth II asked Blunt to become Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures. He was also the author of several books including Art and Architecture in France, 1500–1700 (1953), Nicolas Poussin (1967), Sicilian Baroque (1968), Picasso's Guernica (1969) and Neapolitan Baroque and Rococo Architecture (1975).

Kim Philby

Ever since Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean fled to Moscow, Kim Philby was suspected of being a Soviet agent. An old friend of Philby's, Flora Solomon, disapproved of what she considered were Philby's pro-Arab articles in The Observer. It has been argued that "her love for Israel proved greater than her old socialist loyalties." (40) In August 1962, during a reception at the Weizmann Institute, she told Victor Rothschild, who had worked with MI6 during the Second World War and enjoyed close connections with Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service: "How is it that The Observer uses a man like Kim? Don't the know he's a Communist?" She then went on to tell Rothschild that she suspected that Philby and his friend, Tomas Harris, had been Soviet agents since the 1930s. "Those two were so close as to give me an intuitive feeling that Harris was more than a friend."

It was expected that Arthur Martin would be sent out to interview Kim Philby in Beirut at the beginning of 1963. However, it was decided to send Philby's friend and former SIS colleague Nicholas Elliott instead. According to Philby's later version of events given to the KGB after he escaped to Moscow, Elliott told him: "You stopped working for them (the Russians) in 1949, I'm absolutely certain of that... I can understand people who worked for the Soviet Union, say before or during the war. But by 1949 a man of your intellect and your spirit had to see that all the rumours about Stalin's monstrous behaviour were not rumours, they were the truth... You decided to break with the USSR... Therefore I can give you my word and that of Dick White that you will get full immunity, you will be pardoned, but only if you tell it yourself. We need your collaboration, your help." (41)

Roger Hollis wrote to J. Edgar Hoover on 18th January 1963, about Elliott's discussions with Kim Philby: "In our judgment Philby's statement of the association with the RIS is substantially true. It accords with all the available evidence in our possession and we have no evidence pointing to a continuation of his activities on behalf of the RIS after 1946, save in the isolated instance of Maclean. If this is so, it follows that damage to United States interests will have been confined to the period of the Second World War." (42) This statement was undermined by the decision of Philby to flee to the Soviet Union a week later.

It later emerged that Philby met Yuri Modin in Beirut just before he defected. Modin had been the KGB controller for Blunt, Philby, Burgess and Maclean. Modin later wrote: "To my mind the whole business was politically engineered. The British government had nothing to gain by prosecuting Philby. A major trial, to the inevitable accompaniment of spectacular revelation and scandal, would have shaken the British establishment to its foundations... the secret service had actively encouraged him to slip away... spiriting Philby out of Lebanon was child's play." (43)

Anthony Blunt was also in the Lebanon when Philby defected. He stayed with his old friend, Moore Crosthwaite, the British ambassador in Beirut. "The possibility therefore exists that Modin met Blunt to tell him of the immunity deal offered to Philby. Blunt would have returned to London fortified by the knowledge that with Philby in Moscow, if MI5 ever obtained hard evidence against him, it would offer him the same secret immunity deal. The thought would have reassured him. He would never need to flee to Moscow or spend the rest of his life in prison." (44)

Michael Straight

On 4th June 1963, Michael Straight was offered the post of the chairmanship of the Advisory Council on the Arts by President John F. Kennedy. Aware that he would be vetted - and his background investigated - he approached Arthur Schlesinger, one of Kennedy's advisers, and told him that Anthony Blunt had recruited him as a spy while an undergraduate at Trinity College. Schlesinger suggested that he told his story to the FBI. He spent the next couple of days being interviewed by William Sullivan. (45)

Straight's information was passed on to MI5 and Arthur Martin, the intelligence agency's principal molehunter, went to America to interview him. Michael Straight confirmed the story, and agreed to testify in a British court if necessary. Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) has argued that Straight's information was "the decisive breakthrough in MI5's investigation of Anthony Blunt". (46)

Peter Wright, who took part in the meetings about Anthony Blunt, argues in his book, Spycatcher (1987) that Roger Hollis decided to give Blunt immunity from prosecution because of his hostility towards the Labour Party and the damage it would do to the Conservative Party: "Hollis and many of his senior staff were acutely aware of the damage any public revelation of Blunt's activities might do themselves, to MI5, and to the incumbent Conservative Government. Harold Macmillan had finally resigned after a succession of security scandals, culminating in the Profumo affair. Hollis made little secret of his hostility to the Labour Party, then riding high in public opinion, and realized only too well that a scandal on the scale that would be provoked by Blunt's prosecution would surely bring the tottering Government down." (47)

Anthony Blunt was interviewed by Arthur Martin at the Courtauld Institute on 23rd April 1964. Martin later wrote that when he mentioned Straight's name he "noticed that by this time Blunt's right cheek was twitching a good deal". Martin offered Blunt "an absolute assurance that no action would be taken against him if he now told the truth". Martin recalled: "He went out of the room, got himself a drink, came back and stood at the tall window looking out on Portman Square. I gave him several minutes of silence and then appealed to him to get it off his chest. He came back to his chair and confessed." He admitted being a Soviet agent and named twelve other associates as spies including Michael Straight, John Cairncross, Bernard Floud, Jenifer Hart, Phoebe Pool, Leo Long and Peter Ashby. (48) They were also given immunity from prosecution.

Guy Burgess
Anthony Blunt

Arthur Martin was disappointed about the way Roger Hollis and the British government had decided not to put Anthony Blunt on trial. Martin once again began to argue that there was still a Soviet spy working at the centre of MI5 and that pressure should be put on Blunt to make a full confession. Hollis thought Martin's suggestion was highly damaging to the organization and ordered Martin to be suspended from duty for a fortnight. Martin offered to carry on with the questioning of Blunt from his home, but Hollis forbade it. As a result, Blunt was left alone for two weeks, and nobody knows what he did... Soon afterward, Hollis picked another quarrel with Martin, and though he was very senior, summarily sacked him. Martin believes that Hollis sacked him because he feared him, but his action did Hollis little good, whatever his motive." (49)

Peter Wright now took over the questioning of Blunt. He later recalled: "although Blunt under pressure expanded his information, it always pointed at those who were either dead, long since retired, or else comfortably out of secret access and danger". Wright asked him about Alister Watson, who he was convinced was a spy. Watson was still engaged in secret scientific work for the Admiralty. Blunt told Wright he could never be a Whittaker Chambers. "It's so McCarthyite, naming names, informing witch-hunts." Wright told him that his acceptance of the immunity deal obligated him to play the role of Chambers. (50)

Wright arranged a joint meeting with Blunt. Wright tried to persuade Blunt to name Watson as a spy. He refused to do that, but when Wright suggested that he would be given immunity if he confessed, Watson turned to Blunt and said: "You've been such a success, Anthony, and yet it was I who was the great hope at Cambridge. Cambridge was my whole life, but I had to go into secret work, and now it has ruined my life."

Wright claims in his book, Spycatcher (1987): "No one who listened to the interrogation or studied the transcripts was in any doubt that Watson had been a spy, probably since 1938. Given his access to antisubmarine-detection research, he was, in my view, in particular, clinched the case. Watson told a long story about Kondrashev. He had met him, but did not care for him. He described Kondrashev in great detail. He was too bourgeois, claimed Watson. He wore flannel trousers and a blue blazer, and walked a poodle. They had a row and they stopped meeting."

Wright claims that this fits in with what the Soviet defector, Anatoli Golitsin, had told MI5. "He (Golitsin) said Kondrashev was sent to Britain to run two very important spies - one in the Navy and one in MI6. The MI6 spy was definitely George Blake... Golitsin said Kondrashev fell out with the Naval spy. The spy objected to his bourgeois habits, and refused to meet him. Golitsin recalled that as a result Korovin, the former London KGB resident, was forced to return to London to replace Kondrashev as the Naval spy's controller. It was obviously Watson." (51)

As John Costello, the author of Mask of Treachery (1988), has pointed out: "The immunity deal was a convenient but flawed solution for all concerned. It was predicated on the assumption by MI5 that Blunt would live up to his side of the bargain. That he would provide the full and detailed confession that they needed. Once Blunt had been given the guarantee against prosecution, it would be impossible to bring him or any of those he implicated to justice. The price of uncovering the Cambridge network was that none of its members could ever be called to account." (52)

Dick White, the head of MI6, agreed with Martin that suspicions remained about the loyalty of Hollis and Mitchell. In November, 1964, White recruited him and immediately nominated Martin as his representative on the Fluency Committee, that was investigating the possibility of Soviet spies in British intelligence. The committee initially examined some 270 claims of Soviet penetration, which were later whittled down to twenty. It was claimed that these cases supported the claims made by Konstantin Volkov and Igor Gouzenko that there was a high-level agent in MI5. (53)

The people who Blunt named were interviewed by MI5. Jenifer Hart admitted being a member of the Communist underground but denied being a Soviet spy. Bernard Floud was interviewed by Peter Wright. After being interrogated he returned home and committed suicide on 10th October, 1967. Phoebe Pool, threw herself under a subway train, after being interviewed by Wright. Martin Furnival Jones, the director-general of MI5, was concerned that the suicides would "ruin our image" and brought and end to the investigation of Soviet spies named by Blunt. (54)

Blunt continued as Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures in 1972. He also taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Eight years after confessing to being a Soviet spy he was appointed Adviser of the Queens's Pictures and Drawings. A post he held until his retirement in 1978.

Blunt's role as a Soviet agent was exposed in Andrew Boyle's book, The Climate of Treason in 1979. This resulted in his knighthood, awarded in 1956, being annulled. Margaret Thatcher told the House of Commons that: "It was considered important to gain Blunt's cooperation in the continuing investigations by the security authorities, following the defections of Burgess, Maclean and Philby, into Soviet penetration of the security and intelligence services and other public services during and after the war. Accordingly the Attorney-General authorized the offer of immunity to Blunt if he confessed. The Queen's Private Secretary was informed both of Blunt's confession and of the immunity from prosecution, on the basis of which it had been made. Blunt was not required to resign his appointment in the Royal Household, which was unpaid. It carried with it no access to classified information and no risk to security and the security authorities thought it desirable not to put at risk his cooperation." (55)

Michael Kitson believes that Blunt was badly treated after the government statement: "The press, radio, and television began a campaign of vilification. Wild rumours accused him of spying for the Germans, of authenticating fakes, of salting away a fortune abroad; he was caricatured as snobbish, imperious, sexually predatory... Undoubtedly some of the agitation was motivated by Blunt's intellectuality and homosexuality as well as by class hatred. It is a striking fact that both Blunt's own actions and the treatment of him not only by the public but also by officials were pervaded at every turn by the class divisions in British society." (56)

Anthony Blunt died of a heart attack at his home, 45 Portsea Hall, Westminster, London, on 26th March 1983.

Primary Sources

(1) Chapman Pincher, Their Trade is Treachery (1981)

Blunt was one of the most damaging spies ever to operate in Britain, contrary to the common belief that, compared with Philby or Maclean, he was in the second division. His crimes against his country, dragged out of him during hundreds of hours of taped interrogations, are such an indictment of wartime security that every effort has been made to cover them from public knowledge.

(2) Goronwy Rees met Anthony Blunt on 28th May, 1951. Rees disagreed with Blunt when he used E. M. Forster's view that betraying one's friend was worse than betraying one's country. He wrote about this meeting in his autobiography A Chapter of Accidents (1977)

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.

(3) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987)

Blunt was one of the most elegant, charming, and cultivated men I have met. He could speak five languages, and the range and depth of his knowledge was profoundly impressive. It was not limited solely to the arts; in fact, as he was proud of telling me, his first degree at Cambridge was in mathematics, and he retained a lifelong fascination with the philosophy of science.

The most striking thing about Blunt was the contradiction between his evident strength of character and his curious vulnerability. It was this contradiction which caused people of both sexes to fall in love with him. He was obviously homosexual, but in fact, as I learned from him, he had had at least two love affairs with women, who remained close to him throughout his life. Blunt was capable of slipping from art historian and scholar one minute, to intelligence bureaucrat the next, to spy, to waspish homosexual, to languid establishmentarian. But the roles took their toll on him as a man. I realized soon after we began meeting that Blunt, far from being liberated by the immunity offer, continued to carry a heavy burden. It was not a burden of guilt, for he felt none. He felt pain for deceiving Tess Rothschild, and other close friends like Dick White and Guy Liddell (he was in tears at Guy's funeral), but it was the pain of what had to be done, rather than the pain of what might have been avoided. His burden was the weight of obligation placed on him by those friends, accomplices, and lovers whose secrets he knew, and which he felt himself bound to keep.

(4) Margaret Thatcher, statement in the House of Commons (15th November 1979)

It was considered important to gain Blunt's cooperation in the continuing investigations by the security authorities, following the defections of Burgess, Maclean and Philby, into Soviet penetration of the security and intelligence services and other public services during and after the war. Accordingly the Attorney-General authorized the offer of immunity to Blunt if he confessed. The Queen's Private Secretary was informed both of Blunt's confession and of the immunity from prosecution, on the basis of which it had been made. Blunt was not required to resign his appointment in the Royal Household, which was unpaid. It carried with it no access to classified information and no risk to security and the security authorities thought it desirable not to put at risk his cooperation.


(1) Michael Kitson, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(2) Louis MacNeice, The Strings are False: An Unfinished Autobiography (1996) page 246

(3) Eric Hobsbawm, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(4) Anthony Blunt, lecture at the Courtauld Institute (1972)

(5) Anthony Blunt, press conference, The Times (21st November, 1979)

(6) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 233

(7) Michael Kitson, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(8) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 206

(9) Victor Rothschild, Meditations on a Broomstick (1977) page 16

(10) Anthony Blunt, The Spectator (5th May 1933)

(11) John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, Deadly Illusions (1993) page 134

(12) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 171

(13) Arnold Deutsch File 32826 (KGB Archives)

(14) Genrikh Borovik, The Philby Files: The Secret Life of the Master Spy - KGB Archives Revealed (1995) page 44

(15) Genrikh Borovik, The Philby Files: The Secret Life of the Master Spy - KGB Archives Revealed (1995) page 48

(16) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 45

(17) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 233

(18) Elsa Poretsky, Our Own People: A Memoir of Ignace Reiss and His Friends (1969) page 214

(19) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 45

(20) Anthony Cave Brown, Treason of Blood (1995) page 194

(21) Genrikh Borovik, The Philby Files: The Secret Life of the Master Spy - KGB Archives Revealed (1995) page 174

(22) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009)

(23) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 284

(24) Anthony Cave Brown, Treason of Blood (1995) page 249

(25) Kim Philby, My Secret War (1968) page 35-37

(26) John Masterman, The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939-45 (1972)

(27) Michael Howard, British Intelligence in the Second World War (1990) pages 106-107

(28) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 233

(29) Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Sunday Times (25th November, 1979)

(30) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 452

(31) Eberhard von Stohrer , telegram to Berlin (3rd August, 1940)

(32) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 457

(33) Anthony Blunt, press conference, The Times (21st November, 1979)

(34) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 469

(35) Christopher Andrew & Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) page 210

(36) Yuri Modin, My Five Cambridge Friends (1994) page 107

(37) Tom Bower, The Independent (10th October, 1995)

(38) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987) page 222

(39) Anthony Blunt, press conference, The Times (21st November, 1979)

(40) Flora Solomon, Baku to Baker Street (1984) page 226

(41) Genrikh Borovik, The Philby Files: The Secret Life of the Master Spy - KGB Archives Revealed (1995) pages 344-345

(42) Roger Hollis, letter to J. Edgar Hoover (18th January 1963)

(43) Yuri Modin, My Five Cambridge Friends (1995) page 236

(44) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 586

(45) Roland Perry, Last of the Cold War Spies (2005) page 291

(46) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 436

(47) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987) page 214

(48) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 437

(49) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 590-594

(50) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987) page 257 (47)

(51) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987) pages 251-259

(52) John Costello, Mask of Treachery (1988) page 590

(53) Chapman Pincher, Their Trade is Treachery (1981) page 34

(54) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987) page 266

(55) Margaret Thatcher, statement in the House of Commons (15th November 1979)

(56) Michael Kitson, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)