In 1979, a British solicitor made desperate attempts to stop the release of an upcoming book by a little known Scottish journalist. The Climate of Treason: Five Who Spied For Russia, told the sensational true story of a group of British elite at the centre of a Soviet spy-ring. Among them was the so-called ‘Fourth Man’, referred to in the book by the pseudonym ‘Maurice’.
That solicitor, it was later revealed, had been hired by a former employee of the Royal family: art historian Sir Anthony Blunt, Surveyor of The Queen’s Pictures.
This man, who’d lived and worked within the palace walls, who’d be a trusted Royal advisor for decades, was the true ‘Fourth Man’; a former KGB spy involved in one of the biggest security breaches of the 20th century.
Watch: The Crown S3 shines a light on some of the palace’s biggest secrets.
Sir Anthony’s extraordinary story is the hook of the opening episode of season three of The Crown, in which the academic is played by Samuel West. But the Netflix series only reveals part of the story…
How Anthony Blunt became part of the Cambridge 5 spy ring.
It was a friendship that led Anthony Blunt astray.
During his time at Cambridge University in the 1930s, he struck up a bond with undergraduate Guy Burgess, a flamboyant, charismatic young man, and enthusiastic Marxist. Like many students of the era, Blunt embraced extreme left-wing politics as a reaction to the rise of fascism and Hitler: he later wrote, “largely owing to the influence of Guy Burgess… I realised that one could no longer stand aside”.
It turned out that Burgess had been secretly recruited by another Trinity College student, Kim Philby, alongside Donald Maclean, to “go underground” for the Comintern, Stalin’s international Communist organisation. Blunt became the group’s ‘talent spotter’, and in turn recruited their ‘Fifth Man’, John Cairncross, and later an American named Michael Straight.