According to Andrew Sullivan the latest Vanity Fair (my copy has disappeared into the clutches of Mrs. Stuttaford and is, therefore, unlikely to turn up any time soon) includes a favorable piece about a new TV series that apparently portrays Britain’s infamous Cambridge spies in a sympathetic manner. Given the way that support for Stalin is usually (and wrongly) regarded as having been infinitely less reprehensible than support for Hitler, this would be no surprise.
I need (obviously) to read the Vanity Fair piece, but the conclusion to Sullivan’s post is, in particular, worth reproducing in its own right. He takes this extract from Vanity Fair:
“Double agents are hard to root for – but Cambridge Spies makes a splendid case. ‘It is controversial, portraying these guys as heroes,’ says [actor Rupert] Penry-Jones. ‘But to stand up for what you believe in the way they did is pretty heroic.’”
And then Sullivan asks:
“”Heroic.” What does that make Solzhenitsyn or Havel? Fools?”
Still, in the end these Gulag groupies faced justice of a sort, albeit inadequate. Blunt died a despised figure in Britain, and as brilliantly suggested by the movie An Englishman Abroad (with Alan Bates extraordinary as Guy Burgess) the new lives that Philby, Burgess and Maclean tried to build in the supposed socialist paradise were suitably miserable, although infinitely preferable, of course, to the prison cells they so richly deserved.
Fans of a good graveyard (I’m one – I’ve always wanted to write a guide to the best worldwide, to be called, of course, Necropolitan, although a quick Google search would suggest that the name has been used elsewhere) will enjoy a visit to Philby’s final destination, a splendidly bleak spot just outside Moscow. In one section people are classified according to the services they rendered the Soviet state (or at least they were – I saw this in the early 1990s). So, for example, the air force men are all buried in one section, the naval folk in another. The tombstones often reflect these career choices. Those for the airmen sometimes carry aviation motifs, while the naval section boasts a good number with a more nautical design.
Naturally (this was the ex-USSR) the spies and other secret policemen had their own section (this is where Philby can be found). And on their tombstones? Appropriately enough, at least a couple featured people with fedoras pulled down low over their faces.
As for Burgess: For all his crimes, it was always said that his London club would credit him with one thing. Before fleeing to Moscow he apparently made sure that the books he had borrowed from the club’s library would be returned in good time. Betraying his country was one thing, letting down his club quite another – a nice little example of how the Cambridge spies remained weirdly true to the class that they worked so hard to destroy.