Anthony Blunt, a former MI5 officer, became Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures and worked at the heart of the Establishment.
Blunt was known as the ‘Fourth Man’ – alongside Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby – in the most effective Russian espionage operation of modern times.
He never spoke of his treachery but a memoir released in 2009 provides a fascinating insight into his life.
Four out of the five Cambridge spies: Clockwise from top left, Anthony Blunt, Donald Duart Maclean, Kim Philby and Guy Burgess
Blunt says he considered suicide when he was finally exposed. And he describes working for Moscow as ‘the biggest mistake of my life’.
The details were revealed in a 30,000-word manuscript, which was lodged with the British Library in London anonymously in 1984 – the year after Blunt’s death at the age of 75 – on condition that it remained closed for 25 years.
Blunt tells how he was ordered by his Russian controllers to flee Britain in 1951, as the net seemed to be closing on the Cambridge spies.
Burgess and Maclean had already been smuggled to Moscow but Blunt says he was uncertain and decided to sleep on it.
He wrote: ‘I don’t know whether one can be said to make decisions in one’s sleep, but this is what seems to have happened to me. I realised quite clearly that I would take any risk in this country rather than go to Russia.’
He managed to escape detection until 1964, when he confessed to MI6 after being offered immunity from prosecution, and it was not until 1979 that he was publicly unmasked, dramatically named as a spy by Margaret Thatcher in the Commons.
He believed his role would stay secret and It came as an ‘appalling shock’ when it became apparent in the late 1970s that his past was about to be made public.
Blunt said he ‘very seriously’ considered taking his own life.
‘Many people will say that it would have been the “honourable” way out.’ he wrote. ‘After a great deal of thought I came to the conclusion that it would be a cowardly solution. It would have solved all my problems, but it would have made things as bad as possible for my family and friends.’
After he was exposed by Mrs Thatcher, he said, he took refuge in ‘whisky and concentrated work’.
Blunt makes no reference to specific betrayals, or to the British agents or servicemen thought to have died as a result of his treason. As a wartime MI5 officer, he is said to have passed hundreds of documents to Moscow, including secrets from intercepted German communications after British experts broke their codes.