Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess (16 April 1911 â" 30 August 1963) was a British radio producer, intelligence officer and Foreign Office official. He was a member of the Cambridge Five spy ring that passed Western secrets to the Soviets before and during the Cold War.
Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt and Kim Philby were the four confirmed members of the Cambridge Five, a spy ring that contributed to the Communist cause with the transmission of secret Foreign Office and MI5 documents that described NATO military and Marshall Plan economic strategy.
Early life and education
Burgess was born in Devonport, Devon, England, the son of Evelyn Mary (Gillman) and Malcolm Kingsford de Moncy Burgess (1881-1925), a naval officer. The Burgesses were of Huguenot origin, having changed the name from 'Bourgeois', and had been successful bankers in Kent during the Napoleonic wars. Although Burgess attended the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, he failed to follow in his father's footsteps. Like most of the Cambridge Five, he came from a privileged background, attending Lockers Park School and Eton College, and eventually attending Trinity College, Cambridge. He joined the conservative Pitt Club but was also recruited into the Cambridge Apostles, a secret, elite debating society at the University, whose members at the time were largely Marxist and included Anthony Blunt. Burgess, together with Blunt, Maclean and Philby, was recruited by the Comintern.
Life and career
Upon coming down from Cambridge, Burgess initially was personal assistant to the Conservative MP Captain "Jack" Macnamara. He then worked for the BBC as a Talks Assistant, producing a wide variety of programmes. As war approached he was recruited into Section D of MI6 as a propaganda specialist, then returned to the BBC, eventually becoming the producer of The Week in Westminster, the flagship programme covering Parliamentary activity â" wherein he was able to further his acquaintance with important politicians.
In London Burgess resided at Chester Square and later 5, Bentinck Street, for some time with Anthony Blunt and Teresa Mayor, later Lady Rothschild. The house, which belonged to Lord Rothschild, was a famous centre of bohemian life during the Blitz. In the spring of 1944 Burgess was recruited into the News Department of the Foreign Office by Alexander Cadogan, Permanent Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, a position that gave him access to Foreign Office communications. When the Labour Government took office in the following year, Burgess became an assistant to Hector McNeil, Minister of State in the Foreign Office. As McNeil's assistant, Burgess was able to transmit top secret Foreign Office documents to the KGB regularly, secreting them out at night to be photographed by his controller and returning them to McNeil's desk in the morning.
Burgess later worked in the Foreign Office's Far Eastern section and in the Washington Embassy. During the Marshall Plan negotiations, Burgess and Maclean provided information to the Soviets about the negotiations and the implications of the agreements. Just before going to Washington, he fell down a marble staircase in the Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall during a fight with a colleague and suffered multiple skull fractures, injuries from which he never fully recovered. While assigned to the British embassy in Washington, Burgess lived with Kim Philby in a basement flat, perhaps so that Philby could keep an eye on him.
In 1951 Burgess accompanied Donald Maclean in his escape to Moscow after Maclean fell under suspicion of espionage, even though Burgess himself was not under suspicion. The escape was arranged by their controller, Yuri Modin. There is some debate as to why Burgess was asked to accompany Maclean, and whether he was misled about the prospect for him returning to England. Much of his time in the Soviet Union was spent in sanitoria on the Black Sea.
Unlike Maclean, who became a respected Soviet citizen in exile and lived until 1983, Burgess did not take to life in the Soviet Union. He could not pursue his homosexual lifestyle as he had become accustomed, though he lived openly with a lover. Unlike Maclean he never bothered to learn Russian, furnished his flat from London, and continued to order his clothes from his Savile Row tailor.
He died aged 52, having become ever more dependent on alcohol in his last years. His remains were interred in the family plot at St John the Evangelist Churchyard, West Meon, Hampshire.
In the memories of his contemporaries
Harold Acton, in More Memoirs of an Aesthete, recalls meeting him at the beginning of World War II: "The most vindictive of these guys was Guy Burgess, later to win notoriety as one of the 'Missing Diplomats', though nobody could have been less diplomatic".
Anthony Blunt, in his memoir released to the public on 22 July 2009, 26 years after his death in 1983 and 46 years after Burgess's death in 1963, described Burgess as "an extraordinarily persuasive person" who talked him (Blunt) into joining the spy ring. Although they were both homosexual and even shared a house together, Blunt said that there was "nothing sexual" in their relationship.
Philby came under suspicion of being the "Third Man" who had tipped off Maclean and Burgess, especially since he and Burgess were known to be close friends and had shared a house in Washington. He was thus forced to resign from MI6 but was cleared by an official inquiry into the matter. Philby later defected to Russia in 1963. In an interview with spy writer and journalist Phillip Knightley held shortly before his death, Philby himself blamed his exposure on "that bloody man Burgess", who had effectively ruined his chances of becoming head of MI6 itself. Genrikh Borovik, author of The Philby Files, says that Burgess was actually tricked by the KGB into accompanying Maclean to Moscow on the basis that he would be able to return to Britain later, but never did.
It later emerged that in 1959, when a British delegation led by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was visiting Moscow, Burgess contacted members of the group asking permission to return to Britain and visit his dying mother. Informed by telegram, the then-Attorney General Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller admitted that there was insufficient evidence to arrest and prosecute Burgess for treason. The British delegates withheld this from Burgess and his mother died without seeing her son again. Macmillan also encouraged the leaking of misinformation to prevent Maclean from visiting Britain on a return trip from Cuba. Nonetheless, after his death, Burgess's body was returned to England and was interred in his mother's grave in West Meon in Hampshire. His name is inscribed in a discreet way rather than on the main headstone.
In January 2014, Channel 4 News broadcast what at the time was thought to be the only known recording of Burgess. In this he recalled a 1938 meeting with Winston Churchill. It was the first time the material, recorded in 1951 shortly before his defection to the Soviet Union, had been heard publicly, after it was released to City University London researchers by the US government. Then in February 2015, the BBC programme Newsnight broadcast hitherto unknown footage of an interview with Burgess, filmed in January 1959 by Erik Durschmied. The film was made for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's programme "Close Up" and due to the archive of the programme being filed under the name of Dame Edith Sitwell, the programme's other invitee, the film went forgotten in a vault until after 2011.
- 1911: Born in Devonport, England
- Studies at Eton College
- Studies at Dartmouth Royal Naval College
- Studies at Trinity College, Cambridge. Meets the rest of the spy ring and becomes a supporter of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Is inducted into the Cambridge Apostles, a secret society that at this time is strongly Marxist
- 1934: To hide his sympathies, he renounces communism and joins the Anglo-German Fellowship, a pro-Nazi group. Philby is also a member
- 1936â"1944: works for the BBC. Produces the programme The Week in Westminster
- 1939â"1941: Seconded to MI5 to work on war propaganda
- 1944: Joins the Foreign Office news department
- 1947: Private Secretary to Foreign Office Minister of State
- 1948: Foreign Office Far Eastern Department
- 1950: Sent to Washington, D.C. as a second secretary of the British Embassy
- 1951: Meets Michael Straight in D.C.; Kim Philby warns Burgess that Maclean is under suspicion and will most likely be unmasked; Burgess and Maclean flee and go into hiding
- 1956: They appear in Moscow
- 1958: Meets Coral Browne in Moscow, the basis for Alan Bennett's play, An Englishman Abroad
- 1959: Is interviewed in Moscow on film by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
- 1963: Dies in Moscow in the same year that Philby defects to the Soviet Union
Works based on his life
- Another Country, a play by Julian Mitchell.
- Another Country, a film based on the play, was directed by Marek Kanievska. Made in 1984, it starred Rupert Everett as Guy Bennett, a character based on Burgess. Colin Firth played Tommy Judd. Cary Elwes played Burgess' lover, James Harcourt.
- Philby, Burgess And Maclean, a 1977 television film made by Granada Television for the ITV network about the Burgess-Maclean defection and the subsequent investigation of Kim Philby.
- An Englishman Abroad, a 1983 television play by Alan Bennett starring Alan Bates as Guy Burgess, subsequently adapted for the stage by Bennett as the first act of Single Spies.
- Cambridge Spies, a four-part BBC TV series, starring Tom Hollander as Burgess.
- A Morning With Guy Burgess, a dramatic biography by John Morrison, premiÃ¨red in 2011 by Black Pig Theatre at the Courtyard, Hoxton, London N1
- The Turning Point by Michael Dobbs explores a little-known 1938 meeting (mentioned above) between Burgess and Winston Churchill. The play was brought to life onstage in a live TV broadcast by Theatre LiveSky Arts with Benedict Cumberbatch portraying Burgess and Matthew Marsh as Churchill.
- Deacon, Richard (1986), The Cambridge Apostles: a History of Cambridge University's Elite Intellectual Secret Society.
- Holzman, Michael (2012), Guy Burgess: Revolutionary in an Old School Tie.
- Modin, Yuri (1994), My Five Cambridge Friends.
- Newton, Verne W. (1991), The Cambridge Spies: the Untold Story of Maclean, Philby, and Burgess in America.
- Carter, Miranda (2001), Anthony Blunt: His Lives.
- Barrie Penrose & Simon Freeman, Conspiracy of Silence: The Secret Life of Anthony Blunt, New York, 1987.
- Kim Philby, My Silent War, New York, 2002. ISBN 0-375-75983-2.
- Mitrokhin Archive
- London Times = 13 February 1956
- Guy Burgess at Find a Grave