Thursday, 30 July 2009

Anthony Blunt memoir available in British Library Reading Rooms

by Kathryn Hadley

Last Thursday, July 23rd, the manuscript memoir of Anthony Blunt became available for study in the Manuscripts Reading Room at the British Library. The manuscript was given to the British Library in July 1984, just over a year after Blunt’s death, by a donor who wished to remain anonymous and on the condition that the manuscript be withheld from public access for 25 years. Anthony Blunt began to write his memoir in 1979, after his public exposure as a spy.

Anthony Frederick Blunt (1907-1983) studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was named Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures and oversaw the opening of the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace in 1961. He was Professor of History of Art at the University of London and Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art from 1947 to 1974. During the Second World War and until 1951, he worked for MI5 and was knighted in 1956 for his work.

Blunt was also a Russian spy. He joined the Communist Party at Cambridge and was initially recruited by the Russian NKVD, as a ‘talent spotter’, in 1937. Following a series of interrogations by British security forces in the 1950s, he was independently identified as a spy in 1964. He was granted immunity from prosecution and the British government agreed to keep his spying career an official secret for 15 years in return for a full confession. In the 1970s, however, he was identified as the ‘Fourth Man’ of the Cambridge Five, a group of spies including Kim Philby, Donald Duart Mclean, Guy Burgess and John Cairncross who worked for the Soviet Union during the Second World War and into the 1950s. In 1979, he was publicly named a spy by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the House of Commons. He was stripped of his knighthood and was removed as an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College.

Frances Harris, the British Library’s Head of Modern Historical Manuscripts, described the manuscript:
‘The manuscript survives in two versions: a draft, partly typewritten and partly
in Blunt’s handwriting, and a typewritten fair copy of it. It begins with
Blunt’s birth in Bournemouth in 1907, and continues with an account of his life
and career until his public exposure in 1979. In the preface he states that he
had written it for the benefit of the friends who had stood by him and for those
members of the public who wanted to have his own version of events. In the
course of his own narrative he makes frequent and specific comments on the
accuracy or otherwise of earlier published accounts. Although it contains no
revelations, the memoir is important as an account of Blunt’s life and motives
in his own words and with his own emphasis, composed not under interrogation or
pressure of events, but with time to reflect and when he must have realized his
health was failing and this would be his last opportunity. It is the one central
document bearing on this long, complex and controversial episode in recent
history which has been known to exist, but has not hitherto been accessible. The
lifting of restriction on public access means that it can now be considered
alongside the many records and commentaries from other sources. The time that
has elapsed and the information that has come to light since it was written mean
that it can now receive a more considered and knowledgeable assessment than
would have previously been possible.’

Dr Klaus Fuchs was a British nuclear physicist and spy who helped the Soviet Union develop the atom bomb. In May 2003 MI5 released files on Fuchs. In our article Radioactive Leak Andrew Cook compares the MI5 files with Russian intelligence files held in Moscow.


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