Guy Burgess: the spy who was more Mr Bean than Mr Bond

What's extraordinary about Guy Burgess is how the boastful spy got away with it for so long.


Indiscreet, slobbish, drunk but full of Etonian charm

Stalin's Englishman, Andrew Lownie's new biography of Guy Burgess, shows that he was a much more dangerous and effective spy than has often been thought. What is truly extraordinary, though, is how he got away with it for so long, as he never seemed to make much effort to disguise what he was up to. As Craig Brown put it in The Mail on Sunday, it was "almost as if he couldn't see the point of being a spy if no one knew about it".

The Reverend Eric Fenn, a clergyman who worked alongside Burgess at the BBC during the war, was well aware of his double life. "We knew Burgess was a spy. Whenever he was drunk which was most of the time he used to tell us all about it. I remember one night when he said to me, When we get into power after the war you, Fenn, will be one of the first to hang from a lamppost'."

But despite being drunk, bolshie, promiscuous, indiscreet and a slob, Burgess managed to use his Etonian charm to get almost any job he applied for, and some he didn't. After leaving Cambridge, where he collapsed from an overdose of Benzedrine during his finals but was still awarded the equivalent of a First, he spent most of his life in the West moving between the BBC and the Foreign Office.

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The historian GM Trevelyan described him as "first-rate"; the future Lord Hailsham called him "charming, sensitive and civilised"; Winston Churchill told him to get in touch if he ever needed a job. His Soviet minders were less susceptible to his Etonian charm, and his spying methods, as Craig Brown puts it, owed "more to Mr Bean than Bond": once, delivering secret documents to his Soviet controller in a London pub, he dropped them all over the floor. Yet a KGB general told Andrew Lownie that of all the Cambridge spies he was the most valuable.

He hated his 12-year exile in Moscow, sometimes wearing an Old Etonian tie along with his Order of the Red Banner ("It helps in restaurants"). On his desk he kept pictures of himself at Eton and a yearbook of English roses. His mother would send him hampers from Fortnum & Mason. ("Goody goody gumdrops," he would say as he tucked in.) He once even wrote to the Chancellor, then Peter Thorneycroft, asking for money from his bank account so that he could settle bills at Fortnum's and at his tailor's. Amazingly, Thorneycroft obliged. Asked by a journalist, shortly before his death, whether it had all been worth it, he replied: "Well, we all make mistakes."

I think most books, like most newspapers, would be better if they were shorter a view which I'm glad to find is shared by the Queen. In The Sunday Times, Michael Jones, the paper's former political editor, wrote about meeting Her Majesty some years ago on board the royal yacht, Britannia. He told her he'd been reading an advance copy of Mrs Thatcher's autobiography. "I haven't read it,' she said. It's very long,' I said. All books are too long,' she replied.It has a good index,' I ventured. That's cheating,' she countered, and smiled.'"

Tabloid money: what's this foul creature doing at the LSE?

"Good to see my old university, the London School of Economics, in the news," says Rod Liddle in The Sun. "One of the leaders of the fatuous and violent Class War protest in the city is actually an academic at this great seat of learning. The henna-haired harridan Lisa McKenzie was part of the mob that daubed scum' on the window of a caf and shouted obscenities. She's got form, too. Not so long ago she was pulled up by the Old Bill for a truly revolting placard. It said We have found new homes for the rich' underneath a picture of a graveyard. Lovely. What is this foul and thick-as-mince creature doing at one of our top universities?"

"Having quit the Labour whip to head up the Tories' new National Infrastructure Commission, I wonder if Lord Adonis will revive one of his schemes moving the House of Lords to Salford," says Ephraim Hardcastle in the Daily Mail. "Would peers make such a great effort to book into a Salford chamber for their £300-a-day allowance? Lord Adonis's new boss, Chancellor George Osborne, might think this is taking the northern powerhouse' too far."

"Anyone who doubts the economy's vibrancy should try to find a bit of office space in London," says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. "Because there isn't any. To make my new motoring show, I have set up a production company that needs to buy a base. But even though London is really very big and we have a cheque book so far we've drawn a blank."

"Ms Diezani Alison-Madueke, Nigeria's former oil minister, has just been nicked in London over allegations that £13bn (yes, £13bn) has gone walkabout from her country's coffers," says Kelvin MacKenzie in The Sun. "Apparently she was looking at buying a massively expensive apartment at One Hyde Park. With £13bn I'm surprised she didn't buy the whole of Hyde Park."