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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jun-18 > Spies like us

Spies like us

The Cambridge Spies hoodwinked the Establishment by hiding in plain sight, says Ferdinand Mount
© GETTY IMAGES
A Spy Named Orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean by Roland Philipps (Bodley Head, £20)
Enemies Within: Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain by Richard Davenport-Hines (William Collins, £25)

Friday 25th May 1951 was Donald Maclean’s 38th birthday. He celebrated by taking his oldest friends to lunch at Schmidt’s in Charlotte Street, notorious for its heavy German food and its surly German waiters. There he bumped into two other Fitzrovia cronies, the writers Cyril Connolly and Humphrey Slater, an ex-Communist who had been Commissar of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, during which he had changed his name to Hugh because he thought it sounded more proletarian.

That evening, Maclean joined up with Guy Burgess and caught the midnight boat train to St Malo. “The missing diplomats” as they came to be called were not reliably glimpsed again until they surfaced in Moscow nearly five years later.

Connolly and Slater both had prior reason to suspect that Maclean was a Soviet agent. Three years earlier Slater had written a remarkable short novel, The Conspirator. Its protagonist, Major Desmond Lightfoot, bears an unmistakable resemblance to Maclean, except that he is a military secretary not a diplomat and was recruited by the Soviets at Oxford rather than Cambridge. (In real life Oxford Communists tended to drift into the Labour Party.) Like Maclean, Lightfoot is tall and muscular, alternately brusque and charming, wilful but capable of extraordinary self-discipline, a master of what was not yet called “tradecraft”: vain, brutal, ruthless and an alcoholic.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Isabel Hilton, Rana Mitter, Kerry Brown and Yuan Ren debate the rise of China and what it means for the UK and the rest of the world. Hilton argues that China’s ideas could dominate the next century, just as American ideas dominated the last. Rana Mitter charts how those ideas have developed from Confucius to modern political theorist Wang Huning. Kerry Brown explores how Australia is dealing with the rise of China, by reimagining itself as an Asian country and drifting from the US. Yuan Ren asks whether China’s young people will forge a new path for the country in the coming decades. Elsewhere in the issue: Steve Bloomfield explores Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy, asking whether Britain would become a silent protester on the global sideline; Jonathan Liew asks if the World Cup has seen better days; Miranda France explores the life and meaning of Frida Kahlo, and Simon Jenkins says Trump’s charge through the China shop of world affairs is not all bad news.
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