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Cambridge Spies

Wednesday 22 May 2013, 18:03

Martin Dempsey Martin Dempsey

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Editor's note: A season of programmes relating to the five Cambridge graduates whose treachery shocked the British establishment - listen to Cambridge Spies from Saturday 25th May 2013

Anthony Blunt and Donald Maclean Two of the 'Cambridge Five' - Anthony Blunt & Donald Maclean.

Cambridge Spies“ is in many ways, a misleading title.

George Blake wasn’t strictly a part of that particular set. John Profumo certainly had no connection, he was to some extent just unlucky.

Yet the phrase sums up the contradiction at the heart of the matter. As a concept, espionage is always presented as an intrusion. Enemy agents breaching borders, slipping through defences via subterfuge and false identities.

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An excerpt from Adventures in the BBC Archive - Stella Rimmington on the Cambridge Spies.

Perhaps what shook this perception was the idea that 1930s Cambridge, the very image of a venerated English institution, could be home to the ‘enemy’. More than that, the enemy itself was home grown. Some would say the apparent betrayal by Burgess, Maclean, et al wasn’t part of some insidious plan to topple the country. It seemed born of a sincerely-held belief that communist Russia was the best alternative to fascism.

If you’re not familiar with the Cambridge Five – Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess (a confession by ‘fifth manCairncross came some years later) – then the paradox is even more striking. A group of almost textbook flamboyant, eccentric Englishmen (diplomats, art history professors, even sometime BBC radio producers) who were nonetheless apparently willing to pass information to the Soviet Republic during wartime. It certainly flies in the face of conventional spy imagery.

Kim Philby and Guy Burgess Guy Burgess and Kim Philby

Not that this information would emerge until the following decades. In fact, it was November 1979 before Margaret Thatcher made a clear admission about Anthony Blunt’s role. Those who hadn’t defected had long since confessed in exchange for diplomatic immunity. A very human reaction. A long way from the steely cold resolve of secret agent cliché.

It’s this conflicting, human dimension which we’ve sought to capture with a season of programmes under that moniker – the Cambridge Spies. It takes in others caught in that uneasy era of revelation (Profumo, Blake) and a variety of styles (features, comedies, dramatized accounts). Hopefully though, it reflects the lack of easy conclusions on offer when it comes to Blunt and company.

Anthony Blunt Anthony Blunt

Listen to the Cambridge Spies season:

Sat 25th May - Rebels : Guy Burgess – Spies investigated: Guy Burgess according to people who knew and worked with him, including brother Nigel. From October 1984.

Sat 25th May - Rebels : Guy Burgess – Spies investigated: Guy Burgess according to people who knew and worked with him, including brother Nigel. From October 1984.
Sat 25th May - An Englishman Abroad – Spies in decline: what did the agent say to the actress? Burgess meets Coral Browne. Stars Michael Gambon and Penelope Wilton.
Sun 26th May - Another Country – Spies in the making: the childhood of young Guy Bennett could well have a major impact on his adulthood. Stars Tom Hiddleston. 
Tue 28th May - Blunt Speaking – Spies reflecting:  Sir Anthony Blunt considers his life and the shame of his exposure. Written and performed by Corin Redgrave.
Wed 29th May - After the Break – Spies unchained: George Blake’s daring defection made headlines. But what about life behind the Iron Curtain? Stars Jack Klaff. 
Thur 30th May - The Reunion : Courtauld Institute - Spies revealed: Brian Sewell and other former students discuss the impact Anthony Blunt had on the worlds of art and espionage. 
Thur 30th May - Lost, Stolen or Shredded  - Spies pursued: Rick Gekoski attempts to track down diaries and effects of Kim Philby. Are they as elusive as their former owner?
Friday 31st May - Adventures in the BBC Archives – Spies examined: ex-head of MI5 Stella Rimmington explains the long-term impact on her own life of Burgess, Maclean and others.  
Fri 31st May - Radio Active : Probe Round the Back – Spies parodied: The team's investigators are on the trail of the 'Fifth Man'. Starring Angus Deayton. From September 1987.  
Saturday 1st June - Iron Curtain Call – Spies lampooned: how else would you commemorate Burgess, Maclean and team but with an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular?Rebels : Guy Burgess – Spies investigated: Guy Burgess according to people who knew and worked with him, including brother Nigel. From October 1984.

Sat 25th May - An Englishman Abroad – Spies in decline: what did the agent say to the actress? Burgess meets Coral Browne. Stars Michael Gambon and Penelope Wilton.

Sun 26th May - Another Country – Spies in the making: the childhood of young Guy Bennett could well have a major impact on his adulthood. Stars Tom Hiddleston. 

Tue 28th May - Blunt Speaking – Spies reflecting:  Sir Anthony Blunt considers his life and the shame of his exposure. Written and performed by Corin Redgrave.

Wed 29th May - After the Break – Spies unchained: George Blake’s daring defection made headlines. But what about life behind the Iron Curtain? Stars Jack Klaff. 

Thur 30th May - The Reunion: Courtauld Institute - Spies revealed: Brian Sewell and other former students discuss the impact Anthony Blunt had on the worlds of art and espionage. 

Thur 30th May - Lost, Stolen or Shredded  - Spies pursued: Rick Gekoski attempts to track down diaries and effects of Kim Philby. Are they as elusive as their former owner?

Friday 31st May - The Archive Hour – Spies examined: ex-head of MI5 Stella Rimmington explains the long-term impact on her own life of Burgess, Maclean and others.  

Fri 31st May - Radio Active : Probe Round the Back – Spies parodied: The team's investigators are on the trail of the 'Fifth Man'. Starring Angus Deayton. From September 1987.  

Saturday 1st June - Iron Curtain Call – Spies lampooned: how else would you commemorate Burgess, Maclean and team but with an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular?

 

 

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    Comment number 1.

    Thanks for this exploration. When "easy conclusions" fail, and the "inexplicable" becomes repetitive, perhaps a new way of seeing must be looked for.

    The evolution of 'more democratic' societies - at least in these early days - comes with, and depends upon, 'risk of awareness', not just awareness of democratic deficit, but the perception of deficit as constructed, deliberate, an engine or manifestation of dishonesty.

    Whether in lonely realisation, or in sectarian revelation, with any discovery being as varied in 'balance' as our 'educations' are unique, the fact of 'general moral failure' must mean 'radicalisation risk' - again as varied as individuals and contexts are unique - potentially for all. Seeking 'extra-territorial explanations', dwelling on 'evil genius' and 'brain-washing', or taking as critical any 'reason or excuse' in 'personal factors', we may fail to see the obvious, as to shared risk. 'at home'.

    Some of course will discount 'failure' in democratic deficit - even if many past and possible adverse consequences are explicitly put to them - seeing it as academic, 'perhaps a weakness', immaterial given that 'life seems to go on', and that change 'might bring worse'. This stance - whether morally relaxed or narrowly pragmatic at first - may harden to become defence at-all-costs of an untenable status quo.

    Confronting the 'radicalisation' of protest, and the 'radicalisation' of a naive or frankly corrupt form of conservatism, we can look forward to endless academic and theatrical analysis and interpretation. In times of 'naturally conservative majority', the lull between storms, study of 'reasons and excuses' should be as much or more 'of and for ourselves', as of any apparent rebels.

    Not to depend on the possibility that 'art and science' might in every heart - in the end - sum to teach a 'shareable morality', we need direct focus on that objective. It is intolerable, and highly dangerous, that children should have to discover alone the hollowness of 'our' supposed 'democracy', and so the hypocrisy of those previously trusted, as parents, teachers and political leaders.

    When we ask what could have induced our "eccentric Englishmen" of the mid-20th-Century "to pass information to the Soviet Republic during wartime", and what could possibly explain murderous martyrdom, in 21st-Century multicultural Britain, we have a choice 'for answer'. We might re-run all history, with Douglas Adams, 'on Magrathea'. Or, we could acknowledge the 'possession' of individuals by fear and greed, the 'direction' of states also effectively 'by Mammon'. Either way, our need will be seen - if not too late - for secure equal citizenship, for conscience to be liberated.

    As, de facto, joint inheritors and stewards of this Earth, we need to understand and agree equal partnership, infinitely desirable and urgently necessary. That all might belong, and our journey be for Good.

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    Comment number 2.

    Can't make a Comment as such. But i am overflowing with admiration and gratitude for the quality of this series. I have got up to Corin Redgrave, can it get any better? Where do you hide people of this calibre away? Narration, production, titantic.

 
 

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