Philby, Burgess, Maclean & Blunt – 1934-1963

By | January 27, 2017

“I have no reason to conclude that Mr Philby has betrayed the interests of this country”


Kim Philby jokes with newsmen at his mother’s London home during a 1955 press conference


In 1929 Kim Philby went up to Trinity College, Cambridge to read history and economics, followed a year later by Guy Burgess and in 1931 by Donald Maclean. Maclean wrote an article calling capitalism a “crack-brained criminal mess”, yet in 1935 joined the Foreign Office.

Burgess became personal assistant to a Tory MP and later worked for the BBC. In 1935 he recruited Anthony Blunt, a fellow homosexual, to their espionage network. Philby became a spy in 1934 and while covering the Spanish Civil War for The Times, ironically escaped death when a Russian-made shell hit his car. In January 1939 Burgess began working for MI6 and in August 1940 he hired Philby. In 1939 Blunt had joined MI5. In 1944 the bisexual Maclean worked in the British embassy in Washington DC.

In August 1945 a Russian defector offered to name three moles inside the British establishment — the man sent to arrange his defection was Kim Philby. The defector was also asked to find the traitor known as Homer but Philby already knew his identity —Maclean. On Friday 25 May 1951 — Maclean’s 38th birthday —Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison authorized the interrogation of Maclean on the following Monday. Burgess and Maclean fled England at 11pm that night although there is still a mystery as to why Burgess went. Philby told him not to and it threw suspicion on others, including Philby himself.

Philby was tried secretly in June 1952 but the evidence against him was circumstantial. On 7 November 1955 Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan said in the Commons, “I have no reason to conclude that Mr Philby has at any time betrayed the interests of this country.” Unbelievably, Philby continued to work for MI6 until 1962 when the CIA provided definite evidence of his treachery. In January 1963 he, too, fled east.


London, England




In 1956 Burgess and Maclean were paraded by the Soviets. Neither man was happy behind the Iron Curtain. Burgess died a hopeless alcoholic on 30 August 1963 and Maclean died on 6 March 1983. Philby was happy – he became a senior KGB officer and married Donald Maclean’s ex-wife. He died on 11 May 1988. In April 1964 Blunt (Sir Anthony from May 1956) confessed his treachery but was allowed to keep his job as Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures for 15 more years until his public exposure in November 1979, when he was stripped of his knighthood. He died in March 1983.

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