Thursday, 10 July 2014

Who Else's Pictures did Anthony Blunt Survey?

Anthony Blunt was an extremely accomplished man. Fluent in French since his childhood days, he graduated from Cambridge in Modern Languages, having initially gone there to study Mathematics. During the Second World War he was recruited by MI5 and eventually attained the rank of major. Knighted in 1956, Blunt was also Professor of the History of Art at the University of London and Surveyor of the King's Pictures.

There was another side to him, however, for as early as his Cambridge student days he had been engaged as a Soviet spy — the Russians having correctly assumed that the concentration of privilege in the obsolescent UK would see its minions there land in a position of influence.

That happened during the Second World War, when Blunt passed to the Soviets information that had been gleaned from German intercepts — running the very real risk that the Nazis would grow suspicious enough to change the settings of their Enigma wheels.

Blunt's spying for the Communists was suspected from an early stage, and he was pointed out to a visitor to Buckingham Palace as a "Russian spy" as early as 1948. He chose not to follow orders to join Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in fleeing to Moscow in 1951, and, despite much questioning, denied all accusations of espionage until presented with undeniable evidence of it in 1964.

At that point, Blunt was offered a deal. Having given up several other spies, he was guaranteed immunity from prosecution in perpetuity and protection from exposure for 15 years.

It can be argued that Blunt's spying role was relatively minor; during the Second World War, he was actually passing information to an ally. He had also helped finger others, and public exposure would also prove damaging to the reputation of the British intelligence services. Nevertheless, there are other factors that must be considered:
  • Blunt was the third cousin of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the late Queen Mother;
  • In 1945 he travelled to Germany on a sensitive mission on behalf of the Palace to retrieve compromising, possibly treasonous correspondence between the Duke of Windsor and Adolf Hitler;
  • He may have known of other traitors whose names he did not reveal, some of them perhaps in senior roles in the intelligence services;
  • He may have known of other Establishment figures who were homosexual (illegal in England and Wales until 1967 and 1982 in Northern Ireland);
  • Perhaps most damaging of all, he may have known of Establishment figures who had engaged in sexual acts with children — another deceased individual rumoured to have connections with Kincora was frequent visitor to Ireland Lord Mountbatten.
Above all it is the Establishment circles in which Blunt moved that are remarkable, the well-known names that crop up casually again and again. Indeed, following his exposure in 1979, he was hidden by the entertaining television art historian Brian Sewell, a former pupil, though no one is alleging anything against him. As Blunt has been named on the Internet as a visitor to the Elm Guest House, the question of his enduring links with the great and good, the intelligence services — and, perhaps, paedophilia — is as pertinent today as it ever was.

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