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ID: 2551
Autograph Letter signed "Stephen" to John Morris, Head of the Far Eastern Service of the BBC on the 'Cambridge Spies'
SPENDER, Stephen

Category: History

No Publisher. 18th June [1951].


Autograph Letter signed, 1½pp, original envelope, 4to, Albergo, Verona, [Italy], 18th June [1951]. "It happens that as Wystan [WH Auden] was staying with us, I was the last person telephoned by Guy Burgess, who wanted to see him. On this occasion, he made the harmless remark that World Within World exactly expressed his own views about politics, which I thought might as well be reported. Apart from this I know nothing of him, for I have not seen him for at least five years. Just after this appeared, John Lehmann wrote me a letter saying I was wrong, for various reasons, about Guy. Two days ago, a Daily Express reporter turned up and to show him I knew nothing about Guy, I showed him John's letter, explaining that he must on no account quote it, but that his office should seek out John perhaps. However, they have now quoted it in the most sensational way possible. I feel an absolute cad..." Spender's friend and fellow poet, WH Auden was suspected of playing a part in the escape to Moscow of Burgess and Donald Maclean. He had known Burgess for 20 years (they were at Cambridge together) and he had been at school with Maclean. Auden repeatedly evaded British intelligence's attempts to find out whether he was involved in the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean.
The suspicion was triggered by this call to Spender by Burgess the day before he left England. Investigators thought Burgess may have been planning to flee to Auden's holiday villa on the island of Ischia off Italy, near Naples.
MI5 files released show that Auden evaded the security services' attempts to make him explain the incident, and ignored a request for an interview. Burgess and Maclean left Britain on a Channel ferry on May 25 after a warning by fellow Soviet double agent Kim Philby - who was working for MI6 in Washington - that Maclean was about to be unmasked as a Russian spy. A source, possibly a journalist, told MI6 that Spender had said that he and his wife were certain Burgess had called their home twice between May 20 and 24 and was "most anxious" to speak to Auden. When they informed Auden, they said he replied that Burgess "must be drunk". Auden denied being told about the call, leading MI6 to conclude that "either Auden or Spender is deliberately prevaricating". MI5, reported "there seems little doubt that Spender and his wife hold or at least held pro-Communist views ..." They also discovered a remarkable coincidence from the Italian police: Auden had arrived on Ischia three days after Burgess and Maclean fled. In late June 1951, MI6 reported that "Auden reluctantly admitted that Spender was probably right in saying he had told Auden of Burgess's telephone calls. Auden had been drinking heavily. It is likely that Auden was lying when he previously stated he remembered nothing of Burgess's calls."
However, when he was eventually interviewed by Italian police at the end of the month, he returned to his original story that Spender had not mentioned the call. M16 was still desperate to interview him, but he refused to reply to a letter requesting a meeting and in October abruptly left for his adopted home in America. In Britain MI5's efforts to reconstruct Burgess's social network led to Anthony Blunt, who named the poet Christopher Isherwood and three others.

Price £2250.00

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