Anthony Blunt

Title:                  Anthony Blunt

Author:                  Miranda Carter

Carter, Miranda (2001). Anthony Blunt: His Lives. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

LCCN:    2001050135

DA585.B58 C37 2001


Date Updated:  September 4, 2015

This well-written biography examines the many masks of the infamous Anthony Blunt (1907-1983), the Cambridge art historian turned spy who worked simultaneously for British Intelligence and the Soviet Union during WWII. Why did he betray his country? Carter provides an exhaustive psychological study of Blunt’s early life. His brutalizing public school (where he was unhappy and unpopular), Carter argues, “inadvertently fostered a questioning and subversive attitude and a profound distrust of authority.”

When the Depression hit England in the 1930s and the specter of fascism threatened Europe, communism became fashionable among left-leaning intellectuals like Blunt and his Cambridge friend Guy Burgess. Blunt’s homosexuality, like Burgess’s, also appears to have alienated him from the establishment. During WWII, Blunt was assigned to British intelligence, giving him easy access to military secrets, which he smuggled to the Soviets. After his Cambridge spy friends Burgess, Donald MacLean and Kim Philby defected to the Soviet Union after the war, British Intelligence began investigating Blunt. In 1964, he was granted immunity in exchange for his confession and full cooperation. British intelligence worked hard to keep “the Blunt affair”a secret. He wasn’t publicly exposed until 1979, when Margaret Thatcher denounced him.

The biggest challenge any Blunt biographer faces is Blunt himself, a man of almost legendary emotional detachment. Blunt revealed little about his personal life, yet Carter has managed to bring readers as close to this enigmatic man as humanly possible. The book is thoroughly researched and carefully crafted, and includes 16 pages of photos.

This is one of several books on a reading list by Nigel West.

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[1]

From the Notting Hill Gate tube station, east along Notting Hill Gate until becomes Wellington Terrace, then left into Palace Court. On the right side is

Site 55: 30 Palace Court. Anthony Blunt was recruited to Soviet Intelligence in 1937 by Burgess. Unlike the other Cambridge recruits, Blunt wanted to be an art historian, not a civil servant, and in 1937 he began working at the Warburg Institute in London. He was still talent-spotting for the Soviets while now trying to distance himself publicly from left-wing views—“a rather difficult task,” he explained to Moscow. This prewar residence of Blunt’s was a meeting place for the tightly knit little group of Marxists/intellectuals/Oxbridge graduates/homosexuals whom Blunt and Burgess tended to attract and exploit.

Shortly before WWII, the Soviets instructed Blunt to enter Britain’s military intelligence. He received a commission in the military police and with his language abilities had a good chance of entering counter-intelligence. During the Sitzkrieg (or Phoney War), he served with the British Expeditionary Force in France and busied himself writing to influential friends who might get him into MI5 or MI6. After the Blitzkrieg and his safe return to England, a friend soon did pave the way for MI5 to hire him (see Site 83: 5 Bentinck Street).

These were heady days for Soviet moles. They shared an optimism that things were going their way, that they belonged to an elite brotherhood even more exclusive than the Cambridge Apostles, that they were serving in the engine-room of history. As Anthony Glees points out in The Secrets of the Service[2], “it was precisely because the British political class was so small; and so heavily dependent on a few select public schools and Oxbridge, that to penetrate it was so relatively easy and effective.” Crucial to the success of the Soviet moles, Glees writes, were the informal networks based on their Oxford and Cambridge friendships—networks that included so many homosexual relationships as to earn this group its label as “the Homintern”.

[1] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 135-136

[2] Glees, Anthony (1987). The Secrets of The Service: A Story of Soviet Subversion of Western Intelligence. New York: Carroll & Graf,


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2 Responses to Anthony Blunt

  1. Pingback: The Literature of Intelligence | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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