Anthony Blunt was born in Bournemouth, Hampshire, in 1907. Anthony Blunt found post-war fame as the Royal Family’s advisor on art. However, Blunt held a secret, as he was the fourth man in a quartet (known as the ‘Cambridge Four’) who betrayed their country. Anthony Blunt was publicly exposed as a Soviet spy when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher named him as the ‘Fourth Man’ at the start of her first term in office in 1979.
The Security Service recognised Blunt’s communist sympathies while he was at Cambridge University. Blunt went to Trinity College in 1926 with a reputation for being a brilliant mathematician. In 1932, he was made a Fellow of Trinity College. However, by this year Blunt had already been recruited to spy for the Soviet Union. In particular, Blunt was challenged with finding other potential recruits at Cambridge University. The driving force behind Blunt was Guy Burgess who was a double agent ostensibly working for MI6 while actually working for the KGB. Burgess himself had been recruited by Kim Philby who, along with Donald Maclean, formed a team of four that was to do serious damage to the British intelligence machine especially as two of them, Burgess and Philby, worked for British intelligence.
In 1939, Blunt joined the British Army and a year later was recruited by MI5. Blunt was known to be a communist sympathiser but he was never seen as a real threat especially as it was felt that his energy would be targeted against Nazi Germany – Blunt had developed a real loathing of fascism and MI5 considered this to be a more telling factor as opposed to what they believed to be his fashionable dalliance with communism.
Blunt ended the war with the rank of major. However, during his time in MI5 he had started to be suspected by some. Their suspicions were correct, as Blunt had passed on secrets from Enigma to the KGB. In his mind, as the USSR was an ally in the crusade against Nazism, helping them to Enigma secrets was simply helping an ally and therefore the war effort.
However, the major change in European power politics following the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 saw a change in the way British intelligence viewed Blunt. With Eastern Europe dominated by the USSR and with the attempts by Stalin to undermine West European governments, the post-war USSR was a far more formidable opponent than it had been deemed pre-war.
After World War Two, King George VI also appointed Blunt Surveyor of the King’s Art in 1945. Blunt also became director of the Courtauld Institute of Art. He turned the Institute into a highly renowned organisation with a worldwide reputation. Blunt was also interviewed eleven times by MI5 officers during this time during “Operation Post Report” but on no occasion could they break him. Whether George VI knew of MI5’s suspicions regarding Blunt’s loyalty is unknown but it is thought – though not proven – that MI5 believed that Blunt would be a Soviet sympathiser if the Soviets invaded the UK.
Blunt’s elevated position in society remained throughout the 1950’s and into the early 1960’s. This all changed on April 23rd 1964. On this day an intelligence officer called Arthur Martin went to Blunt’s apartment near Oxford Street and told him that MI5 now had the proof they needed that he was indeed the ‘Fourth Man’. The source of information came from the FBI. A man called Michael Straight had confessed to the FBI his treachery and he had also named Blunt. The FBI passed on this information to MI5. Blunt, now Sir Anthony Blunt as he had been knighted in 1956, denied all of Martin’s charges. However, when Martin told Blunt that he had immunity from prosecution, Blunt confessed with the simple statement: “It’s true”.
His confession was kept secret. Blunt kept his knighthood. He continued to have access to the Royal Family even after the Queen had been briefed about his treachery. Outwardly, he kept his place in society and his reputation as an art expert continued to grow.
However, his world fell apart in November 1979 when Margaret Thatcher, when answering a question in the House, admitted that Blunt had been a Soviet spy. Many in MI5 privately applauded the Prime Minister’s openness as they had loathed the fact that a traitor had seemingly got away with treason. Blunt resigned his knighthood in fear that he might have faced the indignity of having it stripped from him. He also resigned from his gentlemen’s clubs and from the numerous academic posts he held.
Blunt became a recluse. Outwardly he remained a calm and dignified person. This ended one day when he went to the cinema in Notting Hill by himself incognito. However, he was recognised by another cinemagoer, who loudly announced his presence. The whole cinema turned on him and he left amidst a crescendo of booing. After this experience, Blunt became a withdrawn figure.
Blunt died in 1983.
In July 2009, Blunt’s memoirs were released. These had been held unopened for 25 years having been handed to the British Library in 1984. Prior to their release some feared that Blunt would name even more to the ‘Cambridge Five’ – those who had escaped detection. There were even fears that he would name those who had effectively covered for him while he worked for the Queen. In fact, for many the memoirs of Blunt were a disappointment. Blunt referred to his treachery as his “greatest mistake” but Professor Anthony Glees, as an example, believes that the memoirs are nothing more than a sham – that Blunt was only truly sorry that he had been found out and that he had lost his privileged position in society. The memoirs also fail to solve the question as to how Blunt escaped prosecution after admitting his treason in 1964. Blunt was not prosecuted having been given immunity from this – but the memoirs throw no light as to how this happened in the sense of who authorised it and who managed to launder Blunt from 1964 until 1979 when Margaret Thatcher exposed him.