Tuesday, 3 January 2012
ANTHONY BLUNT WAS EXPOSED BY MARGARET THATCHER AS A TRAITOR
Last secrets of the Queen Mother's favourite traitor: Memoirs of society spy Anthony Blunt could rock Royals
By Geoffrey Levy
Last updated at 1:47 AM on 27th June 2009
Early next month, a strongroom in the basement of the British Library in Euston Road will be unlocked by a curator.
He will disturb, for the first time in 25 years, the typewritten sheets that are the unfinished memoirs of Anthony Blunt, the Soviet spy who worked for the Queen.
At last the questions over what the manuscript contains - and who it exposes - will be over.
Blunt, a crashing snob and rampant homosexual, was the 'fourth man' in the infamous Cambridge spy ring which included Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby.
Friends of Blunt have played down the significance of the 30,000-word document written after the patrician art historian, who advised the Queen on her collection for two decades, was publicly exposed as a traitor by Margaret Thatcher in 1979. He died four years later from a heart attack.
One of the handful of people who have seen the manuscript is artist and fellow art historian John Golding, Blunt's friend and executor. He has said that he is 'not aware of any great revelations'.
So why did he ask the British Library to lock it away for a quarter of a century?
Golding's explanation: 'I did so because, although most of the figures mentioned were dead, their families might not like it. It covers his Cambridge days and there are a number of names. They weren't all spies, but Communism was common among intellectuals in the Thirties.'
Are there new or unexpected names? 'I'm not sure,' says Golding. 'It's 25 years since I read it, and my memory is not that good.'
One name that could well appear in Blunt's description of his early life is that of his cousin, a certain Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon - later, of course, to become the Queen Mother.
Blunt's mother Hilda was a 2nd cousin of the Earl of Strathmore, Elizabeth's father.
The young Anthony and his two brothers Christopher and Wilfrid occasionally used to have tea with Elizabeth at the family's London home in Bruton Street, Mayfair - the house from which she was driven to Westminster Abbey in 1923 (when Blunt was 16) to marry the Duke of York, later King George VI.
'I'm sure the Queen Mother was kept out of the loop when MI5 finally got Blunt to privately admit his guilt in 1964,' says a frequent royal houseguest. 'Few apart from the Queen were allowed to know.
'But after he was exposed in 1979, it was different, though no one ever mentioned his name in front of the Queen Mother. While in no way condoning what he'd done, she didn't like to hear him being disparaged.'
Blunt's 1964 confession was covered up as part of a deal in which he was granted immunity from prosecution. In return, he was meant to reveal to MI5 all he could about the Soviets.
But one old friend of Blunt's circle says he 'still doubts very much whether Anthony would have stooped to telling them everything'.
His Communist sympathies, going back to his Cambridge university days, had long been recognised.
He arrived at Trinity College as a brilliant Maths scholar in 1926, a time of depression, hunger marches and political ferment. The Spanish Civil War was looming. Class guilt and genuine concern about the rise of fascism were turning aesthetes such as Blunt into men of action.
By 1932, when he was made a fellow of Trinity and the poet Stephen Spender was describing him as 'the most amusing man in Cambridge', he had been recruited by Russia to spot potential spies among his peers.
He was lured in by his brilliant, hard-drinking and gay friend Guy Burgess, an Old Etonian who became a double agent working for MI6 while his real masters were the KGB.
Burgess found him easy to manipulate. He had seen in the emotionally stunted Blunt not just a wish to commit himself to anti-fascism, but also an appetite for subversion which, in those days of illegal homosexuality, was keenly whetted.
Burgess had himself been recruited by Kim Philby, another British intelligence officer supplying information to the Soviet Union, who defected to Russia in 1963 with the fourth Trinity-educated spy, Donald Maclean.
Of the quartet, only Blunt sailed smoothly on. He had joined the British Army from Trinity in 1939. MI5, recruited him the following year.
His known Communist sympathies were deemed relatively insignificant compared to the need to defeat Hitler. There is a --difference between being a sympathiser and an agent.
Eventually, colleagues did become suspicious. Years later, it emerged that he was passing on important messages from encripted Enigma intercepts to the Soviet Union, but the British authorities could never prove it. He ended the war a Major.
Blunt continued to be watched during the Cold War period.
He was appointed director of the Courtauld Institute of Art, turning it, in the words of his friend and former pupil, Brian Sewell, 'from a finishing school for witless girls into a seminary with a worldwide reputation'.
As suspicions deepened that he was a Soviet agent, he was interrogated 11 times by MI5, but they never broke him down and could do nothing.
Whether King George VI, who made Blunt his keeper of the King's pictures after the war in 1945, was ever told of the security service's suspicions beyond him being a communist sympathiser is unknown.
A royal source tells the story of how, in 1948, a young ex-officer, Philip Hay, came to Buckingham Palace to be interviewed for the post of Private Secretary to the widowed Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, mother of the present Duke.
As he walked down a red-carpeted corridor with Sir Alan Lascelles, the King's private secretary, they passed Blunt in silence. When they were out of earshot, Sir Alan whispered to Hay: 'That's our Russian spy.'
Indeed he was, but no one had proved it, and to the world at large, he remained a figure of great integrity.
The moment of truth in 1964 was April 23 - ironically St.George's Day.
Intelligence officer Arthur Martin arrived at Blunt's flat at the top of the Courtauld Institute off London's bustling Oxford Street and told him, that the agency now had unimpeachable evidence of his treachery.
The source was an American called Michael Straight who had confessed his own complicity to the FBI.
Blunt, knighted by the Queen in 1956, at first denied it. Martin told him he was authorised to grant him immunity from prosecution. Blunt paused briefly, then said: 'It's true.'
Endless hours of debriefings followed. Yet, outwardly, for the next 15 years, nothing changed in the exalted life of the angular, arrogant intellectual who had begun life as a mathematician, smoothly switched to languages, and had eventually risen to the pinnacle of establishment life as an art historian.
Privately, his domestic life with Scots-born former Irish Guards bandsman John Gaskin, described as so beautiful he turned men's heads as well as womens', continued. Gaskin had moved into Blunt's flat at the Courtauld Institute in the Fifties.
The Queen, fully briefed about Blunt's confession, played her part perfectly and Sir Anthony Blunt continued to be a familiar and welcome figure in the royal palaces, as official adviser on her art collection, just as he had been to her father.
Nor did his confession affect his presence at the highest tables. In 1966, two years after that clipped admission, Lord Annan, provost of King's College, Cambridge, held a small dinner party at his home.
Round the table were Labour's Home Secretary Roy (later Lord) Jenkins, father-figure of the permissive society, Ann Fleming, widow of James Bond author Ian, and Victor (Lord) Rothschild and his wife Tess.
With the Provost's permission, the Rothschilds had also brought their friend and house-guest - Blunt. Incredibly, while it might have made no difference to his being there, the Home Secretary had been left in complete ignorance by MI5 that the surveyor of the Queen's pictures had spent years as a Soviet spy.
Governments - Labour and Conservative - came and went. Blunt's reputation continued to grow.
Then, one November afternoon in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher had been in power a few months, she was asked in the House of Commons if rumours that Sir Anthony Blunt was a Soviet agent were true. Yes, she said.
For some in MI5 who believed Anthony Frederick Blunt should have been rotting in jail for his high treason, it was a moment of triumph.
For 15 years, they had been forced to bottle up their anger at what they saw as 'special treatment' for this well-connected establishment figure whose lofty life continued uninterrupted while more lowly Russian spies like John Vassell, a clerk at the British embassy in Moscow, were sent to prison for 18 years.
Some even dared wonder whether the cover-up could have been influenced by his being related to the Queen Mother and, through her, the Queen herself.
Mrs Thatcher has never explained why she ended Blunt's cosy arrangement with MI5. But Sir Bernard Ingham, her private secretary while she was at No 10, has little doubt.
'I believe she did it because she didn't see why the system should cover things up,' he says.
'This was early in her Prime Ministership. I think she wanted to tell the civil service that the politicians decide policy, not the system. She wanted them to know who was boss.'
SUDDEN exposure shocked Blunt but, outwardly, failed to shake him. 'He was so businesslike about it,' says his friend art expert Brian Sewell. 'He considered what the implications were about his knighthood and academic honours and what should be resigned and what retained. It was so typically Anthony.
'What he didn't want was a great debate at his clubs, the Athenaeum and the Travellers.
'So the resignation of the knighthood was quickly in the post and then he resigned from the clubs and a number of academic honours. He was incredibly calm about it all.'
One afternoon, however, when Blunt slipped into a cinema in Notting Hill, he was recognised and booed until he had to leave. The effect of such opprobrium after decades of admiration was greatest on his domestic partner John Gaskin.
Just a few months after Thatcher's bombshell, he threw himself from the 6th-floor balcony of their apartment in Bayswater. His fall was broken by railings and, incredibly, he survived.
But Blunt was now a withdrawn figure, seldom going out. It was Tess Rothschild who suggested he fill his time by setting down his memoirs, so he began to write.
According to Sewell, he never finished it because he was having to travel to the newspaper library in Collindale, North London, to check facts and 'he began to have difficulty using it, as he was being recognised and it was becoming intolerable'.
Others suggest that Blunt stopped writing when he reached the point at which he would have to expose names not already known.
'I do know he was really worried about upsetting his family,' admits Sewell. 'I think he was being absolutely straight with me when he said that if he could not verify the facts there was no point in going on.'
Blunt stopped writing some months before his death in 1983 leaving his estate - including the memoir - to Gaskin. He kept it for a year and then, in a state of near nervous-breakdown, called John Golding to take it away.
Golding decided to lodge it at the British Museum for 25 years, which ends this July. Four years later, having returned to his native Dundee in Scotland, Gaskin was killed by a train on an open-level crossing. Friends assumed he had killed himself.
'Those who were dealing with the memoir thought they were doing Anthony some kind of service by putting off its exposure for 25 years,' says Sewell. 'How absurd. Instead of dampening down the flames, it's all we've talked about for 25 years. I can't wait for it to be opened.'
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1195881/Last-secrets-Queen-Mothers-favourite-traitor-Memoirs-society-spy-Anthony-Blunt-rock-Royals.html#ixzz1iQAIBTZM