I’ve just been watching a BBC Storyville production, The Spy Who Went into the Cold, about the career of Kim Philby as one of the Cambridge [5 + any that weren’t caught]. Once again, it’s a tale not so much of spying, as there was no evidence presented that what he passed to the KGB was of great significance, but of the staggering amount of complacency, incompetence, ‘chaps’ness, class prejudice and general total lack of professionalism of MI6 at the time. Philby’s alleged confession was made in an interrogation (i.e. little chat) conducted not by a trained MI5 officer, because said man had only been an NCO in WWII and was therefore not thought to be someone who would impress Philby, but by a friend. The one man mentioned as not escaping to the USSR until 5 years after he’d been sent to Wormwood Scrubs for 42 years was George Blake*, notable for not having attended Eton or Cambridge, and definitely not having the sort of one-of-us background that made, for instance, having been simultaneously a KGB agent and the chief representative of MI6 in the USA, merely the cause for immunity from prosecution and a chat that gave you plenty of time to write an edited confession to be kept on file while you enjoyed life – or alternatively escaped to Moscow. There is some irony in that Philby’s ultimate flight seems to have been about devotion to the cause, rather than fear of retribution coming his way from Britain, because it quite plainly wasn’t.
Meanwhile, I’m reading Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy** and wondering whether, had I read the book first rather than seen the film and TV series, I would have spotted who the mole was before the revelation. Because reading with the benefit of hindsight, there are an awful lot of clues, some of them waving very big flags.
*Who is still alive. If I were him, I'd be counting that a victory, having made it nearly 20 years (so far) past the Cambridge lot who the security services seemed happy to let off with a slap on the wrist and allow, for instance, to remain director of the Courtauld Institute and Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures.
**And delighted to learn that the title is officially without commas.