Guy Burgess (1911−1963), aka "Mädchen," "Paul," "Hicks"

British aristocrat, BBC journalist, diplomat, Soviet intelligence officer

In an interview with The Times in 1979, Anthony Blunt said: "Guy Burgess was one of the smartest people I have ever met. However, it is also quite true that he sometimes got on people’s nerves." Even admitting these occasional bouts of irritation, you would not know from Blunt’s mild description that Burgess was the most notorious of the Cambridge Five and the subject of a good deal of legend and gossip.

Following the family tradition, Guy Burgess seemed destined for service in the Royal Navy. Generation after generation, his family tree is dotted with admirals. Guy’s father, a naval officer, fought valiantly against Germany in World War I and rose to the rank of vice admiral. Guy was fitted from birth with an admiral’s golden epaulettes bearing the image of His Majesty’s crown. A year after completing studies at the prestigious Eton College, Guy enrolled in the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. Academics always came easily to him.

Soon after, however, Guy decided to leave college, telling his parents "It's too great an honor for the Royal Navy to get Guy Burgess." After that abrupt change of course, he returned to Eton, where he devoted himself to the study of history and earned the prestigious William Gladstone Prize.

Left: Guy Burgess at Eton
Right: Guy Burgess, a Trinity College student, wearing an Old Etonian tie, 1935

In 1930, Burgess entered Cambridge University’s renowned Trinity College. His

teachers immediately noted his potential as a scholar. In 1932, he received the highest mark in history, and it seemed that the young man had finally settled on a path in life.

But the reality was more complicated. Burgess was one of many young people at the time who seriously studied Marxism, eventually joining the communist student group. By then he had already studied theory, from Marx and Lenin, to other thinkers of modernity and the past. In conversations and debates, Burgess often turned to Marx, reciting quotes from memory with ease.

Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, which devastated not only the United States but also Europe, the knowledge Guy had gained and his critical mind pushed him towards breaking with the ruling class and the notorious "bourgeois mindset" and lifestyle. In his third year, he participated in a student strike in support of the maintenance staff of Trinity College which resulted in a victory for workers. Next,

Guy organised and participated in rallies and strikes of city bus drivers and street cleaners.

With his bohemian flair, Guy Burgess moved in diverse circles of British society, easily making new friends and acquaintances who were drawn to his charm, wit and culture.

Guy Burgess during his Trinity College years

In 1934, Guy Burgess visited Germany, already firmly under Hitler’s control, and from there travelled to the Soviet Union, wishing, as he said, "to see with my own eyes the difference between two systems, two state structures — Soviet and fascist." On 30 June 1934, the Night of the Long Knives, elite SS officers, in a bid to consolidate Hitler’s power, purged the ranks of the SA. At that moment Guy understood what fascism would do to the rest of Europe.

In the USSR, on the other hand, a small group of British students, which included Burgess, met with leading members of the Comintern and the Communist party. It became clear for Guy that only the communists had what it took to defeat the far right. After careful thought and reflection, Burgess not only chose to align with the USSR, but to devote his life to the fight against fascism.

Guy came to the attention of Soviet intelligence thanks to his friends Kim Philby and Donald Maclean, who described him as "a very capable and adventurous guy who can get in anywhere." However, Burgess was last on Kim’s list of comrades he could recommend, due to Guy’s singular ability to "get on people’s nerves" as Anthony Blunt put it.

In January 1935, Guy met "Stefan," aka Arnold Deutsch, the deputy head of the Soviet Union’s illegal intelligence service in London, and accepted his offer to work together. Burgess was given the code name "Mädchen." Later he went by "Paul" and "Hicks."

Guy Burgess, aristocrat and Marxist

After graduating from Cambridge, Guy settled in London and became a financial advisor to the mother of Victor Rothschild, Burgess’s friend at Trinity College, before taking a position as personal assistant to the young far-right parliamentarian John Macnamara, a member of the Anglo-German Fellowship, which promoted

friendship with Nazi Germany.

In October 1936, Burgess joined the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The Cambridge graduate had all necessary qualities for radio journalism: broad-based

knowledge, social skills, the ability to establish a rapport with anyone and synthesise information from multiple sources.

Due to Burgess’s sociable nature and, as Deutsch noted in his psychological portrait, his amazing ability to "easily make acquaintances," he was assigned the role of scout and recruiter. In intelligence work, it is the most difficult and dangerous job: a single

miscalculated "approach" to the wrong person could result in "disclosure," with all the attendant consequences for the agent and the larger mission.

Burgess not only understood but eagerly supported the method of recruiting

"promising" students from Cambridge and Oxford employed by the Station in London. Guy immediately set about making both theoretical and practical

contributions to that effort.

At the theoretical level, he prepared a report for the foreign department of the NKVD.

"Working with the university students," Burgess wrote in his memorandum, "is of the utmost importance, because it would allow us to manage a regular flow of people going into public service who could be recruited before they became too high profile, and find them secure employment in a particular branch of service."

At the practical level, Burgess quickly sized up the people around him as possible recruits, and unsurprisingly landed on Anthony Blunt, his closest friend, a refined aristocrat who was already teaching art history at Trinity College. In November 1937, Guy introduced him to Arnold Deutsch. An understanding was reached.

Guy Burgess also communicated with John Cairncross, a very different kind of friend from a working-class background, who made it to Cambridge through to his exceptional intelligence and hard work. Credit for Cairncross becoming the fifth and final member of the famous Cambridge Five, goes primarily to Guy, as well as to Anthony Blunt.

As a BBC radio host, Burgess dealt mainly with domestic political affairs and anchored the popular The Week in Westminster programme. It was no coincidence that "people with intelligence backgrounds" began to appear more frequently on his programmes. He interviewed usually well-known and influential people who expressed opinions favourable to the Soviet Union, although there is no documentary

evidence that it was done on instructions from his Soviet handlers. Very often, Guy acted on his own initiative, and not without success.

Such was the case in early October 1938, right after the signing of the Munich agreements between Britain, France, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Knowing that Winston Churchill, the most influential backbencher of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons, strongly disagreed with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, Burgess invited Churchill on the air.

Guy Burgess in his youth

During a preliminary meeting at Churchill’s Chartwell estate, the 27-year-old Soviet intelligence agent was so convincing in his plea for the prominent statesman to "use all his eloquence to resolve the current crisis," that Churchill was moved to present him with a signed copy of his book Arms and the Covenant. After Burgess left, he grunted to his entourage: "Why are there so few young British like Guy Burgess, young fellows with judgments you can rely on!"

Unfortunately, that programme featuring Churchill was not released. Burgess’s

selection of guests often encountered resistance from the BBC leadership, which, despite its much touted independence, was afraid to confront Chamberlain’s government over its disastrous course. Guy believed that was why the broadcast with Churchill was blocked. In November 1938, after a programme with another guest was pulled under the pressure from the Prime Minister’s office, Burgess decided to resign from the BBC.

While still a director of radio broadcasts for the BBC, Burgess was recruited to work for British intelligence MI6 as a trusted informant. Since 1938, MI6 officer David Footman, who recruited Burgess, was giving him intelligence assignments of a political nature. Soon the Soviet agent became a courier, passing secret messages between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier.

Importantly, Burgess had sworn allegiance to the Soviet intelligence service first, and only later, with Moscow’s blessing, did he join the ranks of MI6.

In their letters, the British and French leaders discussed plans to appease Nazi Germany by abandoning Czechoslovakia. Channeling Hitler’s aggression to the East would save them, or so they thought. Upon receiving Prime Minister Daladier’s letters from his confidant, Burgess took them to Chamberlain at the Hotel Saint Ermin, where MI6 rented a room for its needs. There, the messages of the French prime minister were photographed, and Guy translated them from French. Guy had an excellent memory, so Moscow was informed in minute detail about the British-

French position on the eve of the Munich meeting.

In 1939, after proving reliable as a trusted informant, Guy was recruited as an SIS agent. After a probationary period, he was moved to a permanent position in the secret reconnaissance and sabotage service of British intelligence, Section D

(Diversion). His main responsibilities were to run disinformation campaigns and carry out activities with the purpose of influencing political developments. Guy Burgess was the first of the Cambridge Five to join the SIS.

Naturally, the next thing Guy Burgess did was to help his comrade Kim Philby into the SIS, which happened in the summer of 1940, with Kim becoming Guy’s deputy.

Guy’s "brainchild," the reconnaissance and sabotage school, soon underwent a

reorganisation, and most of its staff were dismissed. Burgess himself, as he believed, "fell victim to bureaucratic intrigue," and as a result Kim Philby was left alone at that school. Probably, the "intrigue" was nothing more than a reaction to Guy’s personal

characteristics, such as lack of discipline and insubordination.

On the plus side he soon landed a coveted spot in the Ministry of Information, while his connection with the British special services continued. Now he maintained contacts with the counterintelligence department of MI5 and, at its instruction, managed operational support for the London-based "governments-in-exile" of Nazi-occupied European countries. In particular, he was tasked with identifying German

agents in their midst and seeking out people willing to work with the British special services. The information he gathered was transmitted not only to British counterintelligence, but also to Moscow.

In early 1941, Burgess returned to the BBC, where his old Cambridge friend George Barnes ran a "debate club."

Guy Burgess in Moscow

Burgess’s relationship with Soviet intelligence was not always easy. Some in

Moscow believed that Guy was a double agent and questioned the credibility of his information. For example, Boris Kreshin, who worked at the Centre in the late 1930s, was very alarmed when Burgess asked for a British passport under a false name in the event of trouble. Kreshin changed his mind only when he came to London himself as station head and was able to assess conditions in the field. Gradually, the relationship between Burgess and the Centre straightened out.

Kreshin observed the contradictions in Guy’s devoted but dissolute character:

"The greatest challenge for each of us is to describe ‘Mädchen.' Before I came here and before I contacted him, I had a certain prejudice, like everyone who had known him only from the documents he provided, but not personally. ‘Mädchen' made a much better impression on me, than the one I got from his materials and characteristics back home. His distinguishing feature, compared to other agents I meet, is his crude bohemianism. He is a young, interesting, quite smart, cultured, inquisitive, insightful person, he reads a lot and knows a lot. But along with these qualities, he is sloppy, walks around filthy, drinks a lot and lives the life of a ‘gilded youth.' Politically and theoretically, he is strongly grounded, in conversations he quotes Marx, Lenin, Stalin…"

Kreshin also had a chance to witness how Burgess reacted in the face of real danger. During a clandestine meeting, when Guy had to pass his handler a whole pack of Foreign Office secret documents to be photocopied, they were stopped on a dark street by a policeman, who wanted to know what they were carrying. Guy quite calmly presented his papers and opened the briefcase, so the policeman was convinced that he was authorized to possess such documents. Guy was so confident that the policeman did not even inquire about the identity of the second gentleman.

At the next meeting, Burgess explained the situation. It turned out that the policeman was looking for burglars and assumed that the briefcase might contain equipment. Guy verified that such checks were not reported by the police to the services.

In a conversation with another Soviet operative who kept in touch with Guy, Yuri Modin, Kreshin once said with confidence: "Burgess is devoted to us with all his soul and identifies himself with the cause of world revolution to such an extent that he would gladly give up his life to achieve it."

Guy strongly believed the world revolution would come to pass, and he saw the Soviet Union as its launching pad. He could not envision any other path for the future of humanity.

Kuibyshev, early 1950s

As a well-known and influential journalist, Burgess gained a foothold in many government agencies dealing with defence and security issues. His sources were very knowledgeable people, with access to a great deal of top secret information. Among Guy’s contacts was, for example, Dennis Proctor, the personal secretary of Stanley Baldwin, three-term prime minister of Great Britain. It was through him that Burgess learned about the secret negotiations between Roosevelt and Churchill in 1943, first in Casablanca and then in Canada, behind the back of the Soviet leadership. During these talks the British and American leaders discussed timing and plans for the opening of the Second Front in Europe, which differed significantly from those promised to their Soviet allies.

In the spring of 1944, Donald Maclean, continuing to move up the diplomatic career ladder, left for Washington to take up the post of the First Secretary of the British Embassy. It was an important promotion, but Soviet intelligence lost its most valuable source at the British Foreign Office. The Centre decided that only Burgess could replace Maclean.

Guy’s request to transfer to the Foreign Office was approved by the BBC, and on 3 June 1944, he began working in his new capacity in its press office. He had no access to meaningful secrets, and for more than a year, there was minimal information from Burgess. But Soviet intelligence patiently waited for Guy to work his way up.

As Burgess started his new job in the Foreign Office, the Centre set new goals for intelligence activities in Britain for the post-war period. Although Churchill’s Fulton speech of March 1946 was still a way off, tensions between the erstwhile allies were evident, and with the end of the war they would only deepen, taking the confrontation to whole new level. The directive came down that "the main task of the Station will be obtaining information concerning the domestic and foreign policy of Britain and the United States, primarily the policy of these countries toward the USSR."

Some instructions concerned Burgess directly, such as the guidance "to protect him in every possible way and to aim him at obtaining documents that would characterise the main thrust of the foreign policy of Britain itself and other major countries."

After the war, it was Burgess who became the most valuable source of Soviet intelligence in Britain after Philby.

As expected, Burgess quickly rose through the ranks of the Foreign Office: in 1946, he became the personal assistant of the Minister of State at the British Foreign Office, Hector McNeil (he was the "second" minister appointed by the Labour Party to help Ernest Bevin, the so-called Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs — that is, the "first" minister). With this appointment, Burgess gained access to all the classified

information of the Foreign Office. Moreover, McNeil greatly valued the skills of his secretary and tried to make maximum use of them, entrusting him with preparing all the most important documents. Guy Burgess conscientiously followed orders, though the papers he prepared ended up in Moscow a little earlier than they landed on the desks of the British Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister.

Burgess did not simply select documents designated as "secret" to pass on to the Station. He assessed the significance of the information, indicated the sequence and urgency of getting the materials to the Centre, and often annotated them.

After Burgess had worked for two years as a personal assistant to the Minister of State, the Foreign Office leadership offered him a job in the Far East Department, which at that time was becoming one of the most important divisions of the British Foreign Office, primarily in connection with events in China, where a civil war was raging. Information on that region was of particular importance for the Soviet Union, which had been providing military assistance to the Chinese communists since the 1930s. Interestingly, as Burgess reported, the British foresaw the possibility of a cooling in Soviet-Chinese cooperation in the future. But obviously that warning was not taken seriously in Moscow.

In 1950, Guy Burgess got another promotion: he became the second secretary of the British Embassy in Washington, a prestigious and very useful appointment.

The first person Burgess met on American soil was, of course, Kim Philby, in whose house he stayed while getting settled. That was perhaps the only mistake that Philby and Burgess ever made, but it was a costly one. Soon, Guy appeared to be on the verge of detection and had to flee to the Soviet Union.

Upon arrival in the USSR in 1951, together with Donald Maclean, he lived at first in Kuibyshev, now Samara, and later moved to Moscow. Occasional consulting for Soviet foreign intelligence could not satisfy Burgess, who was used to much more excitement and adventure in life.

Restlessness, nostalgia and declining health quickly got the better of the

extraordinary person that was Guy Burgess. He died in Moscow in 1963, at age 52.

Guy Burgess in Moscow. 1962