Guy Burgess: Wikis


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Guy Burgess
Allegiance Soviet Union Soviet Union
Codename(s) Hicks
Birth name Guy Francis De Moncy Burgess
Born 16 April 1911(1911-04-16)
Devonport, Plymouth, Devon, England
Died 30 August 1963 (aged 52)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Nationality British
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge

Guy Francis De Moncy Burgess (16 April 1911 – 30 August 1963) was a British-born intelligence officer and double agent, who worked for the Soviet Union. He was part of the Cambridge Five spy ring that betrayed Western secrets to the Soviets before and during the Cold War. Burgess and Anthony Blunt contributed to the Soviet cause with the transmission of secret Foreign Office and MI5 documents that described Allied military strategy.



Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess was born at 2 Albemarle Villas, Devonport, Plymouth, England the elder son of Commander Malcolm Kingsford de Moncy Burgess RN and his wife, Evelyn Mary, daughter of William Gillman. He attended Lockers Park Prep School and then a period at Eton College. Burgess spent two years at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, but poor eyesight ended his naval prospects and he returned to Eton. He won an open scholarship to read modern history at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1930, 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. Whilst at Cambridge, he was recruited into the Cambridge Apostles, a secret, elitist debating society, whose members at the time included Anthony Blunt. Like Blunt, Burgess was homosexual.

Notorious for his bad behaviour and overt alcoholism, Burgess initially worked for The Times and the BBC, as the producer of The Week in Westminster, covering Parliamentary activity - wherein he was able to further his acquaintance with important politicians. He spent some time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. At Cambridge, he had been a friend of Julian Bell, the English poet who was killed while driving an ambulance in that conflict. Burgess and the other members of the "Five" were divided with regard to the impact of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which compromised their hard left ideals.

Wanted poster of Burgess (right) with Donald Duart Maclean.

Burgess was most useful to the Soviets in his position as secretary to the British Foreign Minister of State, Hector McNeil. As McNeil's secretary, 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. When assigned to Washington, D.C., Hector McNeil cautioned him to avoid three things: "the race thing", contact with the radical element, and homosexual adventuring. "Oh," quipped Burgess, "you mean I shouldn't make a pass at Paul Robeson?"

Assigned to the British embassy in Washington, Burgess continued his life as an unpredictable heavy drinker and indiscreet homosexual. He lived with Kim Philby in a basement flat, perhaps so that Philby could keep an eye on him. Nonetheless, Burgess was irrepressible, once insulting the wife of a high-ranking CIA official at one of Philby's dinner parties.

In 1951 Burgess accompanied Donald Maclean in an escape to Moscow after Maclean fell under suspicion for 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.

Unlike Maclean, who became a respected Soviet citizen in exile and lived until 1983, Burgess did not take to life in the Soviet Union very well. Homosexuality was far less acceptable in the Soviet Union, and this may have been a problem, even though he had a state-sanctioned lover. Also, unlike Maclean, he never bothered to learn Russian, and even continued to order his clothes from his Savile Row tailor.

Becoming ever more dependent on drink, he appears to have been killed by his alcoholism, aged 52.

Harold Nicolson, diplomat and writer, describes Burgess a year before his defection in a letter to his wife:

'I dined with Guy Burgess. Oh my dear, what a sad, sad thing this constant drinking is! Guy used to have one of the most rapid and acute minds I knew. Now his is just an imitation (and a pretty bad one) of what he once was. Not that he was actually drunk yesterday. He was just soaked and silly. I felt angry about it.'
-Harold Nicolson to his wife Vita Sackville-West, 25 January 1950


In his memoirs which were released to the public on 22 July 2009, 26 years after his death, Anthony Blunt describes Burgess as "an extraordinarily persuasive person" who talked him into joining the spy ring.[1 ] Although they were both homosexuals and even shared a house together, Blunt claims that there was “nothing sexual” in their relationship.[1 ]

Blunt also attacked Burgess for defecting to Russia in 1951 and "not taking into account the consequences that this action might have for his friends”.[1 ]

The most immediate consequence was that 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 enquiry 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.[2] Genrikh Borovik, author of The Philby Files, claims 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.[2]

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 secretly return to Britain and visit his dying mother. Informed by telegram, the then-Attorney General Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller claimed that there was not enough 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 Burgess from visiting Britain on a return trip from Cuba in 1963.[3]



  • 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. Is inducted into the Cambridge Apostles, a secret society that is strongly Marxist at this point
  • 1934: To hide his sympathies, he renounces communism and joins the Anglo-German Fellowship, a pro-Nazi group. Philby is also a member
  • 1936-1944: works for the BBC. Produces the programme The Week in Westminster
  • 1939-1941: Seconded to MI5 to work on war propaganda
  • 1944: Joins the Foreign Office news department
  • 1947: 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
  • 1963: Dies in Moscow in the same year that Philby defects to Soviet Union. According to Philby, they never met
  • 1983: The grandson of Donald MacLean marries the great-grandniece of Guy Burgess in Dayton, Ohio (USA).

His body now lies in West Meon, a small village in Hampshire, England.

Works based on his life

Biographies, etc.

  • Deacon, Richard (1986), The Cambridge Apostles: a History of Cambridge University's Elite Intellectual Secret Society.
  • 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.

See also

  • Mitrokhin Archive
  • 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.


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