Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess was born at 2 Albemarle Villas, Devonport, Plymouth, 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 in Hertfordshire and for a period 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. In London Burgess resided at Chester Square and later 5, Bentinck Street, for sometime with Anthony Blunt. Kim Philby and Donald Maclean would often visit him there for consultations or socialising. The house belonged to Lord Rothschild.
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, becoming personal assistant in the following year (1934) to the right-wing Conservative MP Captain “Jack” Macnamara. 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.
Donald Maclean by Ramsey & Muspratt, National Portrait Gallery, bromide print, 1930s?, 8 1/4 in. x 5 7/8 in. (211 mm x 150 mm), Given by Jane Burch, 1988, Primary Collection, NPG P363(16)
Guy Burgess by Ramsey & Muspratt, National Portrait Gallery, bromide print, 1930s, 8 1/4 in. x 6 in. (210 mm x 151 mm), Given by Jane Burch, 1988, Primary Collection, NPG P363(5)
The Ramsey & Muspratt Studios was at 23 Cornmarket Street, Oxford England. Lettice Ramsey and Helen Muspratt opened their first joint studio in Cambridge above a row of shops in 1932. Ramsey brought her connections to Muspratt's know-how to create a style of relaxed but perceptive portraiture that gained popularity with Cambridge's leading pre-war intellectual and literary figures. In 1937 Muspratt married and expanded the studio to Oxford, whilst Ramsey remained in Cambridge and continued to run the original studio until the 1970s. The Gallery holds many works donated by Ramsey's daughter in 1988.
Anthony Blunt by Lord Snowdon, National Portrait Gallery, bromide print, 24 October 1963, 10 1/8 in. x 15 1/8 in. (258 mm x 383 mm), Given by Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, 2000, Primary Collection, NPG P797(4)
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," Burgess may have quipped, "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. (Picture: Kim Philby)
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 than in the United Kingdom, and this may have been a problem, though he lived openly with 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.
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 claims that there was “nothing sexual” in their relationship.
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”.
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 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, 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.
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.
His body now lies in West Meon, a small village in Hampshire, England.
Works based on his life: Another Country, a play by Julian Mitchell, and Another Country a film based on the play, was directed by Marek Kanievska. Made in 1984, it starred Rupert Everett as Guy Burgess. Colin Firth played Tommy Judd. Cary Elwes played Burgess' lover, James Harcourt.
Burial: St John the Evangelist Churchyard, West Meon, Hampshire, England. Plot: Family plot.
Guy Burgess: Revolutionary in an Old School Tie by Michael H. Holzman
Paperback: 398 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 21, 2012)
Amazon: Guy Burgess: Revolutionary in an Old School Tie
Guy Burgess: Revolutionary in an Old School Tie is based on extensive research in archives, including those of the BBC, Eton, King’s College (Cambridge), Christ Church (Oxford), the National Archives (Kew) and many others. It is the first book to take Burgess seriously as a political figure, interpreting his espionage activities in the context of the Depression, the Second World War and the first years of the Cold War. Guy Burgess: Revolutionary in an Old School Tie shows how Burgess used his flamboyant personality to conceal his extraordinary activities as the center of the Cambridge Five spy ring and how, after his departure for Moscow, that personality and his well-known homosexuality, were used by the British Establishment as part of its effort to minimize knowledge of his effectiveness as an agent.
Deceiving the Deceivers: Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess by S. J. Hamrick
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press; 1St Edition edition (November 10, 2004)
Amazon: Deceiving the Deceivers: Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess
Among the more sensational espionage cases of the Cold War were those of Moscow’s three British spies—Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, and Guy Burgess. In this riveting book, S. J. Hamrick draws on documentary evidence concealed for almost half a century in reconstructing the complex series of 1947–1951 events that led British intelligence to identify all three as Soviet agents.
Basing his argument primarily on the Venona archive of broken Soviet codes released in 1995–1996 as well as on complementary Moscow and London sources, Hamrick refutes the myth of MI5’s identification of Maclean as a Soviet agent in the spring of 1951. British intelligence knew far earlier that Maclean was Moscow’s agent and concealed that knowledge in a 1949–1951 counterespionage operation that deceived Philby and Burgess. Hamrick also introduces compelling evidence of a 1949–1950 British disinformation initiative using Philby to mislead Moscow on Anglo-American retaliatory military capability in the event of Soviet aggression in Western Europe.
Engagingly written and impressively documented, Deceiving the Deceivers breaks new ground in reinterpreting the final espionage years of three infamous spies and in clarifying fifty years of conjecture, confusion, and error in Anglo-American intelligence history.
Scandal: Infamous Gay Controversies of the Twentieth Century by Marc E. Vargo
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (January 8, 2003)
Amazon: Scandal: Infamous Gay Controversies of the Twentieth Century
Examine the cornerstone incidents of modern gay political history!
Scandal: Infamous Gay Controversies of the Twentieth Century is a compelling and thorough examination of same-sex controversies that range from accusations of obscenity and libel to espionage, treason, murder, and political dissent, with penalties that included censorship, imprisonment, deportation, and death. In each case, scandal brought the subject of homosexuality into public view in an explosive, sensational manner, stalling (and sometimes reversing) any progress made by the gay and lesbian community in mainstream society. Author Marc E. Vargo details the dignity, courage, and wisdom displayed by the gay men and women under attack in the face of public judgment.
A unique blend of biography and gay political history, Scandal: Infamous Gay Controversies of the Twentieth Century recounts seven international incidents that tally the cost of being homosexual in a heterosexual society. In each episode, gay men or lesbians are targeted for legal persecution, subjected to sensationalized media coverage, and publicly condemned. The book examines the short- and long-term consequences of each controversy for those involved and the impact each scandal had on gay and mainstream society.
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