The paperback edition of Andrew Lownie’s highly regarded Stalin’s Englishman is now on sale with updates which did not appear in the hardback version. It is a riveting biography of the notorious Eton- and Cambridge-educated British spy and traitor Guy Burgess, bristling with new information based on first-hand sources including hitherto unpublished letters and files. Significantly, a careful reading, between the lines, reveals a lot for the discerning Irish reader about a hidden and deeply murky aspect of the Troubles here.
RECUPERATING IN IRELAND, BURGESS-STYLE
Burgess was a frequent visitor to these shores. One of his trips landed him in the dock of the District Court.
Lownie describes how Burgess had tumbled down two flights of stone steps after a drunken midnight wrestle with a friend called Fred Warner, as the pair was leaving the Romilly Night Club in London in early 1949. Burgess smashed his elbow, slightly cracked his skull and dislocated three ribs. Warner pushed him into a taxi, bleeding profusely, and took him back to his rooms from where he telephoned without avail, every doctor whom he knew by name or repute. He received no reply and he remained there all night, with Burgess groaning on the bed. In the early dawn, he found a doctor who took Burgess off to the Middlesex Hospital. Some rest and recuperation were advised and, after ten days in hospital in London, Burgess went with his mother, with whom he often holidayed, first to Wicklow and then for a few days at the Shelbourne hotel in Dublin.
In Dublin Burgess met the writer Terence de Vere White. Lownie’s recalls how de Vere wrote how Burgess was “travelling with his mother, a quiet lady. He took the centre of the stage. He was dark and bright-eyed and was either an old-looking young man or a young-looking middle-aged man, I was not quite certain which . . . He was in the Foreign Office and was taking a rest in Ireland on account of an accident in the Reform Club [sic], where he had fallen and bashed his head on the stairs. As a result of this, he was under doctor’s orders to keep off alcohol and if he disobeyed the rule, the result was a complete blackout, lasting for more than a day. I noticed that he drank tomato juice, which seemed out of character”.
ON TRIAL AT THE DISTRICT COURT IN DUBLIN
True to his reputation, Burgess was actually drinking incessantly. He and de Vere White parted ways after an hour as Burgess was off to enjoy a play at the Abbey Theatre. Shortly afterwards, on 4 March, de Vere White was contacted by phone and asked if he would give evidence for Burgess in the Dublin District Court. Burgess, he learnt, had been charged with “driving a car while drunk, driving without reasonable consideration, and dangerous driving” two days before, on Grafton Street. “Confronted with the most positive medical evidence of a shaky walk and alcoholic breath, Burgess was invited by the Justice . . . to explain how he reconciled this with his story of complete teetotalism”. He responded “with a most affable air” suggesting his tomato juice might have been doctored and pointed at de Vere White who was forced to give an account of the evening.
Burgess’s old friend from Eton, Dermot McGillycuddy, now a lawyer with an office on Kildare Street beside the Oireachtas, was brought in as his defence solicitor and managed to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The case was dismissed, with the judge describing Burgess as “a man of brilliance who appeared overwrought and nervous…a man of cultivated tastes” – he had been returning from seeing a play at the Abbey Theatre when the accident took place.
According to the doctor, a friend of McGillycuddy, who examined Burgess at the police station, “There was no smell of drink which witnesses could detect from his breath. He was smoking continuously, his speech was confused and when witnesses asked him to walk in a line, he was definitely unsteady and limp”.
DRUGS FIT FOR A HORSE
Burgess continued his excessive proto-rock star lifestyle while in Dublin. The tumble in London had left him with bad headaches and insomnia which he treated with Nembutal to put him to sleep and Benzedrine to wake him up. He managed to secure his supplies from a vet. The dosage was fit for a horse. A friend quoted by Lownie wrote later that, “Drugs, combined with alcohol made him more or less insensible for considerable periods in which, when he was not silent and morose, his speech was rambling and incoherent” to the extent he “seemed, hardly capable of taking in whatever it was one was saying to him”.
A LOT TO LEARN ABOUT THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE TROUBLES
Reading between the lines of Lownie’s book, there is a lot to be gleaned about the dangerous and seedy side of the Troubles. Burgess, of course, was an MI5 and MI6 officer who worked secretly for the Soviet Union as part of the infamous Cambridge Circle of traitors which included Sir Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and John Cairncross. Village has described aspects of the Anglo-Irish paedophile network of which Blunt and Burgess were members on a number of occasions over the last two years.
Burgess knew some of the more senior members of the Anglo-Irish Vice Ring. The ring had probably existed in one form or another for generations but was reorganised on a systematic basis after WWII with access to orphanages and care homes in NI for paedophiles. It survived until at least the mid-Troubles, if not long afterwards. The British Establishment is still engaged in an ongoing cover-up of its activities. Survivors are hopeful that at least some of its Irish branches will be put under the microscope by the London-based Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
The wider ring included friends of Burgess such as his fellow traitor Sir Anthony Blunt; the poet Brian Howard, both of whom served inside MI5; and Alfred Arnold, the most senior civil servant in NI who served Sir Basis Brooke, PM of NI for nearly two decades. (See Village October 2017.) It was Arnold who reorganised the ring after Brooke became Prime Minister of NI.
Burgess fled to the Soviet Union in 1951 with his fellow traitor, Donald Maclean. Anthony Blunt’s treachery was discovered by MI5 in 1963. When it investigated Blunt’s treachery in the mid-1960s, it learnt the details of the Anglo-Irish Vice Ring, something that later provided a springboard for the most vile and dirtiest of all the covert tricks perpetrated by MI6 and MI6 in Ireland during the Troubles. The significance of the so-called Kincora scandal – which is intrinsically linked to the Anglo-Irish Vice Ring – cannot be underestimated. The network was exploited by MI5 and MI6 to blackmail senior Unionist politicians and recruit Loyalist terrorists as part of a covert shoot-to-kill collusive assassination programme.
Although Lownie’s book does not deal specifically with this terrain, reading between the lines, he reveals hidden aspects of its hinterland, namely gures who were part of the Vice Ring which MI5 and MI6 were able to manipulate.
Blunt agreed to make a confession in 1964 in return for immunity and the wholescale betrayal of the secrets of everyone he knew. Like Burgess, Blunt was a frequent visitor to Ireland and a member of the Irish branch of the paedophile network. Peter Wright of MI5 was assigned to interrogate him and spent seven years unravelling and mapping the various circles and networks he had frequented in Ireland and elsewhere. In return for his apparent co-operation, Blunt was given a pardon and his treachery was concealed from the public. The pardon was not limited to his treachery; in addition, it afforded him blanket immunity for any crime he had ever committed, something undoubtedly designed to cover his sexual transgressions.
While many of Blunt’s friends and colleagues knew or suspected he was gay, only a select few knew that deep in the shadowy recesses of his private life he hid a dark and sinister secret: he liked the ‘rough trade’, the abuse of impoverished male urchins condemned to eke out livings as male prostitutes in seedy toilets in London. Blunt ‘cottaged’ for them around the lavatories in Hyde Park near Speakers Corner, despite his left-wing pretence to care for the underprivileged.
Details of Blunt’s private life and his fondness for visiting Northern Ireland have been described in many of the biographies written about him. Lownie’s book is valuable for now describing Burgess’ connections to Ireland.
“SMALL BOYS ARE CHEAP TODAY, CHEAPER THAN YESTERDAY”
Burgess was addicted to ‘rent boys’. While Burgess affected a concern for the downtrodden, he made jokes about the children he exploited from their ranks. On one occasion he wrote a nauseating adaptation of La donna e mobile which he thought was hilarious: “Small boys are cheap today, cheaper than yesterday”.
ARISTOCRATIC FRIENDS APLENTY
Lownie’s book contains new details about Burgess’ visits to his extensive circle of friends in Ireland. Lownie reveals that he was a visitor to Whitechurch House, Cappagh, Waterford, a Georgian house set in 57 acres, once the home of Earl of Huntingdon. Burgess used to visit Bill Allen who owned it. It is now available for holiday lets.
Burgess’ best friend at Lockers Park preparatory school and Eton was Dermot McGillycuddy (1911- 1974), the man who defended him against the drunk-driving charge in Dublin. McGillycuddy was a Trinity graduate, where he had been President of the Boat Club. He also rowed and coached at Henley. He was a Governor of Rotunda Hospital and director of a number of companies including Gulf Oil. In addition, he was a member of the National Hunt Committee and a well-known gure at Dublin Horse Show and for 18 years manager of Punchestown racecourse.
Another friend – and a lover – was Sir Anthony Weldon (1902-71), the 7th Baronet Burdett, of Dunmore, Co. Carlow who died unmarried. He was part of an artistic Irish set which included Derek Hill (a friend of the British Queen Mother and Lord Louis Mountbatten) and Peter Montgomery of Fivemiletown who was Blunt’s boyfriend.
Yet another Irish friend was the MI6 spy Milo Talbot, the 7th Baron Malahide (1912-1973). Burgess coached him for his Foreign Office entry examination. He credited Burgess with improving on his 2:2 in Economics in 1933. He joined the Foreign Office in 1937. During WWII Talbot worked for the Ministry of Economic Warfare and was then attached to the Foreign Office 1940-1943 where he worked some of the time with the Political Warfare Executive’s propaganda department. Later again, Burgess eased his way into MI6. Talbot inherited Malahide Castle in Ireland in August 1948 and received Anthony Blunt there on a number of occasions. Talbot rose to become Deputy Head of the Foreign Office Security department in 1951 and its head in 1953, but only temporarily while the mandarins sought out a permanent successor.
Talbot quit after six months, probably because of his association with Burgess and Maclean but did subsequently serve briefly as Consul-General for the Kingdom of Laos and then as Ambassador in Laos, 1954-6. He retired aged 45 and died at the age of 60. His death is still shrouded in mystery – there was no post mortem. Many of Talbot’s papers were seized by secret services, others were burnt by his sister Rosie. The great ancestral castle is now run as a park by Fingal County Council.
With a bit of luck, Lownie will one day turn his full attention to the activities of the Cambridge spy ring in Ireland and uncover other recondite and spooky connections between Ireland and Britain’s more notorious spies, and others.
Joseph de Búrca