Guy Burgess at the BBC | The early career of the Cambridge spy

A letter of reference for Burgess

An astute assessment of Burgess' strengths and weaknesses by his Cambridge University tutor.

BBC ARCHIVE
WRITTEN DOCUMENT
1936

[Page 1 of 1]

From
J. Burnaby, M.A.
Tutor
TRINITY COLLEGE
CAMBRIDGE

[handwritten] Private
10th August 1936

Reference: AS/WSP

Dear St John,

Guy Burgess is an exceptionally able young man, with perhaps the liveliest mind I
have known in any of my pupils for five years. After a period of enthusiastic
communism during his last years here, he has now I believe arrived at some form of
left wing conservatism; but how long that will last I should be sorry to predict.
Since he went down he has been doing a good deal of free lance journalism, and had
a temporary post with The Times. I think journalism is his first love, and that
what he really likes is the varied and exciting life of knocking up and down
behind the scenes of politics. He is very good company, and I like him personally.
But there is no doubt that he has the faults of a nervy and 'mercurial' temperament,
and if by 'taking him without qualms' you mean taking him with complete confidence
in his reliability - well, he is not that sort of man. I do not mean that he is
untrustworthy in the sense that you could not be sure of his doing what he was told.
But if you take him, you will be getting quite first class and extremely fertile
brains, and a most vigorous personality; and you will be taking risks. On the whole
I think that if I were in your place I should think it worth while to take them.

Yours ever,

[Signed] J. Burnaby

DST
[handwritten note] I think we need not worry any more about this now
[illegible signature]


[handwritten note] C(A) Thank you
[illegible signature]

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Document Type | Letter

10 August 1936

Document version

Writtenin

1936

Synopsis

Guy Burgess' personal tutor presents an insightful analysis of the young man's character, abilities and potential as a future BBC employee. It is interesting to see how much of what he says is borne out by other documents in this collection.

Did you know?

After serving as a tutor until 1938, Burnaby became a college lecturer in theology. Later, he was renowned as an expert on Saint Augustine and rose to become Regius Professor of Divinity at Trinity College. He was ordained in 1941 and listed acting, rock-climbing and reading Russian among his hobbies.

Contributors

Referenced
John Burnaby
Writer

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A concerned Director of Talks reports on his handling of Burgess and the locked door incident.

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Burgess' case for travelling first class is disputed.

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Burgess persists with his claim for first-class travel.

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The head of the Talks Department is reluctant to let Burgess go.

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A summary of Burgess' strengths, weaknesses and suitability for re-employment.

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Record of a telephone conversation between the BBC and the Foreign Office.

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The BBC and the Foreign Office are called to account for employing Burgess.

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