Guy Burgess

Guy Burgess

Guy Burgess was a member of the ‘Cambridge Five’ spy ring. He worked as a Soviet spy during World War Two and the start of the Cold War. He headed to the USSR in 1951 with Donald Maclean, where he died in 1963.

Guy Burgess was born on 16 April 1911 in Devonport, Devon. Burgess’ father was a naval officer and Burgess attended the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. However, poor eyesight cut off a laid out Royal Navy career for Burgess. He was schooled at Lockers Park School and Eton College.

In 1930 Burgess went up to Trinity College, Cambridge to study modern history. He taught a postgraduate role for two years after his graduation in 1933. Along with Anthony Blunt, Burgess was a member of the secretive Cambridge Apostles Group.

Burgess was recruited by the Soviets in 1934. He then renounced communism as a way to disguise his true support for Moscow. To add to his disguise, Burgess even joined the pro-Nazi group Anglo-German Fellowship even though he probably detested it.

Amongst other things, Burgess worked for the Times and the BBC after leaving Cambridge. He was in Spain for a while during the Spanish Civil War. Burgess joined Section D in 1938 as an expert on propaganda and worked in the Foreign Office’s press department during World War Two.

He became Hector McNeil’s secretary - the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, in 1945. Burgess was able to get hold of information that was extremely sensitive within this role. He took documents and papers home before his work was over so his handler could photograph them, before returning to the Foreign Office the next morning before it was obvious they were missing.

Burgess proved a useful asset to the USSR. However, he was prone to self-destruction as he suffered from alcoholism and could behave unpredictably. For example, while he was serving at the British Embassy in Washington DC after the war, he openly insulted the wife of a high-ranking CIA official.

The diplomat Harold Nicolson wrote in 1950:

“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 he is just an imitation of what he once was.”

Whilst he was working in Washington, another member of Cambridge Five, Kim Philby, realised that Donald Maclean was close to being uncovered as a Soviet spy. He informed Burgess of the development and Burgess was tasked with journeying from Washington to London to warn Maclean. He got to London on 7 May 1951 and informed Anthony Blunt of the development. The Soviets were keen to get Maclean out of the country before he could be interrogated. Yuri Modin, the KGB controller, also wanted Burgess to defect to the USSR. He arranged for both men to leave the country secretly and Burgess then reappeared in Moscow in 1956.

Burgess did not enjoy his time in the USSR. He could not speak Russian and his issues with alcoholism spiralled out of control even more. He died on 30 August 1963 at the age of 52.

See also: Kim Philby

MLA Citation/Reference

"Guy Burgess". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess
Birth Date: 16 April 1911, Devonport, Devon, England
Death: 30 August 1963 (aged 52), Moscow, Russian SFSR,Soviet Union
Education: Lockers Park School Eton College Trinity College, Cambridge