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

The Langham incident - The response from Burgess

Burgess gives his version of events in the case of the locked door.

BBC ARCHIVE
WRITTEN DOCUMENT
1941

[Page 1 of 2]


FROM MR GUY BURGESS
4th June 1941

(1) I am extrememly sorry that any individuals should feel injured by the
manner in which I raised the question of getting into my room in the Langham
Hotel to remove some urgently necessary papers last Thursday. Also that the
Department should in any way be injured by this.

(2) Mr Pattinson will confirm that I did, in fact, explain to him that I was
in no sense trying to get at individuals - least of all at junior officials -
but merely endeavouring to reach the responsible authority on duty to clear up
what appeared to be a muddle over the master key. Mr Pattinson accepted this
apology on Thursday and agreed that the arrangements were not functioning
satisfactorily.

(3) It is suggested that the question cannot properly be viewed in isolation
and solely in regard to Thursday's incident. Attached see my memorandum of the
29th April in which the question was raised in advance and through the proper
channels. It will be seen that the matter was apparently settled by A.D.T's
speaking to the authorities on the points raised. A.D.T. told me verbally that
the view taken was that the matter had geen [sic] unnecessarily raised since I
could not be aware of the careful arrangements that in fact had been made to meet
the situation. In particular that while doors had to be locked, arrangements had
been made for master keys to be available in case of urgency.

(4) It was on this statement by the Administration that I based my search
for the master key last Thursday.

(5) A catalogue of the events will show how these careful arrangemets[sic] work
in practice:

(a) Ask at reception desk for my key.
(b) Receptionist discovers that the keys of different floors for the Langham
Hotel are muddled up on one string.
A quarter of an hour is spend[sic] by receptionist and boys in looking
for key amongst the muddle.
(c) Receptionist finally says he thinks key is not there.
Proceed to Langham Hotel to see if key was there.
Should [crossed out] Shout for watchman in hall. No reply.
(d) Return to reception desk. Told key has been found. Given wrong key.
(e) Ask reception desk where master key is. Reception desk say they have
never heard of master key, but that they supposed the watchman had it.
(f) Watchman on his rounds.
(g) Proceed to duty room assuming this to be central authority to ask Duty
Officer: "Who is responsible for master key."
(h) Mr Forty rings up House Superindent[sic] and tells him, at my request that
if master key, of whose existence I have been officially assured, cannot be
located, I shall have to take direct measures of entry into my room.
(Note: In threatening to break a door down, I am not the first, but merely
the most junior programme official to act in this way when up against an
apparent Administrative deadlock).
(i) Meet House Superindent[sic] in hall. He says, though not on duty, he thinks
the watchman may have master key. Two watchmen appear and stated they
have never heard of any master keys for the Langham Hotel.
(j) Renewed efforts to find out who is responsible. (It was at this stage
that I became rudest, under surely obvious provocation). Though more
officials appeared, none had apparently been informed of any concrete
arrangements for obtaining the master key.
(k) Crossed to Langham Hotel with Mr Pattison. We both shout, no watchman
appears. We search three floors - fail to find watchman.
(l) Arrive at third floor. Start to break down door.
(m) Mr Pattinson appears with watchman and master key. (Roughly 50 minutes
after original request for key).

(6) It is submitted that wherever the key of my room in fact was, that


[Page 2 of 2]


(a) the above series of events do not indicate that those arrangements for
the supply of a master key in an emergency, for which an assurance had been
give me, where in smooth operation:
(b) that whatever injury may have been done to the amour propre of various
individuals (and I am extremely sorry I lost my temper), the lack of
arrangements are a real point and call for a review. In this case the ordinary
key had apparently been delayed in transit - but the arrangements at the
reception desk where such that it would have taken some time to find the key
in any case. [handwritten]

(7) It must be remembered that the Langham Hotel's front door is open and
that shouts twice failed to produce the watchman in a building where
doors are only locked with bedroom keys and confidential papers may be in the
rooms.


[handwritten note] There is also the question of what, in the event of incendiaries
would happen with arrangements as they stand.

[Signed] G Burgess


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Document Type | Internal Memo

04 June 1941

Document version

Writtenin

1941

Synopsis

This is Guy Burgess' response to the report from the Langham Hotel watchman. He sets out, in itemised detail, his side of the story about the night when he couldn't get into his hotel room and recalls the ensuing disastrous consequences (particularly for the door of room 316).

Read the first document in this chain of correspondence.

Did you know?

The Langham Hotel, established in 1865, has had many famous guests to stay over the years. These have included American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Emperor Louis Napoleon III, writers Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, and the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley. The Langham was the first hotel in London to offer air conditioning and install hydraulic lifts, which were referred to as 'rising rooms'. It was also the only London hotel with its own post office.

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