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Guy Burgess

Died when: 52 years 136 days
Star Sign: Aries

Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess (16 April 1911 – 30 August 1963) was a British diplomat and Soviet agent, belonging to the Cambridge Five spy ring that operated from the mid-1930s to the early years of the Cold War. His defection in 1951 to the Soviet Union, with his fellow spy, Donald Maclean, led to a serious breach in Anglo-American intelligence co-operation, and caused long-lasting disruption and demoralisation in Britain's foreign and diplomatic services. Born into a wealthy middle-class family, Burgess was educated at Eton College, the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth and Trinity College, Cambridge. An assiduous networker, he embraced left-wing politics at Cambridge and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. He was recruited by Soviet intelligence in 1935, on the recommendation of the future double agent Kim Philby. After leaving Cambridge, Burgess worked for the BBC as a producer, briefly interrupted by a short period as a full-time MI6 intelligence officer, before joining the Foreign Office in 1944. At the Foreign Office, Burgess acted as a confidential secretary to Hector McNeil, the deputy to Ernest Bevin, the Foreign Secretary. This post gave Burgess access to secret information on all aspects of Britain's foreign policy during the critical post-1945 period, and it is estimated that he passed thousands of documents to his Soviet controllers. In 1950, he was appointed second secretary to the British Embassy in Washington, a post from which he was sent home after repeated misbehaviour. Although not at this stage under suspicion, Burgess nevertheless accompanied Maclean when the latter, on the point of being unmasked, fled to Moscow in May 1951. Burgess's whereabouts were unknown in the West until 1956, when he appeared with Maclean at a brief press conference in Moscow, claiming that his motive had been to improve Soviet-West relations. He never left the Soviet Union; he was often visited by friends and journalists from Britain, most of whom reported on a lonely and empty existence. He remained unrepentant to the end of his life, rejecting the notion that his earlier activities represented treason. He was well provided for materially, but as a result of his lifestyle his health deteriorated, and he died in 1963. Experts have found it difficult to assess the extent of damage caused by Burgess's espionage activities, but consider that the disruption in Anglo-American relations caused by his defection was perhaps of greater value to the Soviets than any information he provided. Burgess's life has frequently been fictionalised, and dramatised in productions for screen and stage.
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