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reporters were already clustered at the door of the block, prevented by the hall porter there from entering. I took a suitcase with an old loose overcoat that had belonged to my stepfather, mufflers and a broad-brimmed stitched tweed hat that I wore when walking dogs in the rain. Leaving the car unlocked in the road, I went into Portsea Hall and, without hesitation, up the stairs to the sixth floor, suggesting, I hoped, to anyone who might be looking, that I was on my way only to the first.
Anthony let me in. John Gaskin I instructed to take their bags, walk down the stairs and, as unhurriedly as he could manage, put them in the boot of the car and then sit behind the driver’s seat — the front passenger seat was already far back on its runners so as to accommodate Anthony’s long legs. Squinting through a crack in the curtains I could see that he had attracted no attention. That much achieved I, with Anthony muffled as an invalid and leaning heavily on me, took the lift to the ground floor, tottered past the hall porter (who knew perfectly well who we were) and, deep in conversation, made our slow way across the forecourt to the car. There was an awkward moment with his long legs as I got him into his seat, but not once did I look back at the reporters and it was only when I started the engine that one of them began to run.
On the way to Ravenscourt Park Anthony gave me very clear instructions. He presumed that the running reporter had a note of the car’s registration plate and that I would soon be besieged. I was to keep the press occupied and him informed if they lit on anything particularly ghastly — as one paper immediately did with the claim that Anthony, in betraying them to the Nazis, had been responsible for the deaths of 49 British secret agents in occupied Holland. A journalist was kind enough to tell me my telephone was being tapped and that I should not use it for any call I did not want the authorities to hear, by which I supposed him to mean MI5 and MI6; thus I made my calls to Anthony from the Kensington Court flat of Joe McCrindle, an art collector and friend.
Reporters and photographers massed in my front garden day and night, followed me to Kensington Gardens in the early morning when I walked my dogs, watched me shop in Gloucester Road, and one of them even brought a bicycle when I took to riding mine in an effort to evade them, discovering my use of Joe’s telephone and bribing the porter of his block; nothing I did went unobserved.
In retrospect it would have been wiser to disobey Anthony, say nothing and do nothing, for every scrap of rebuttal to a mob of journalists determined on obloquy and odium served only to reinforce their savagery. It has been said that Anthony was displeased by much of what I said and did, but he said nothing at the time, offered no change of instruction and the exhausting pantomime continued. John Golding or James Joll could easily have told me of Anthony’s displeasure — if any — but did not, and when, with the publication of Miranda Carter’s book in 2001 I first learnt of it, I sensed the voice of Golding, always more possessive of Anthony’s friendship than I ever was, more exclusive, and by the time he talked to Miss Carter he had been the victim of my comments on him as a painter.
At the time, I could not understand how Anthony’s presence in the Golding-Joll house had been discovered — to be followed by a mad dash back to Portsea Hall and the televised press conference arranged by Rubinstein — and it was only from Miss Carter’s book that I learnt the reason: James Joll, in responding to a radio ‘‘ phone-in’’ programme, had revealed it. That I should be reviled by the Golding faction when it was itself responsible for betraying Anthony’s whereabouts seems particularly wry.
From Anthony’s brothers, Christopher and Wilfred, on the other hand, there was a deal of encouragement to continue the diversion. Christopher wrote: ‘‘ The purpose of this letter is to express the greatest appreciation from both of us for the defence of Anthony you put up — something neither Wilfred nor I is qualified to do. We want you to know how deeply grateful we are.’’ There was even more reassurance from Michael Rubinstein from whom, at the time, I had support almost amounting to instruction. Years later, long after Anthony’s death, when an odd sort of ‘‘ clearing the decks’’ friendship had developed between us, Michael confessed that his initial advice, based on the conviction that he could scupper Boyle’s book, had been in error, that everything that followed had been an ad hoc response and that the press conference he had arranged at The Times, far from settling the matter, had inflamed it. When I asked if the statement then read by Anthony, so uncharacteristic in style and temper, had been written, not by him but (as I suspected) by the Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong, he deflected the question at some length, leaving it unanswered.
On their return to Portsea Hall
after the interview, Anthony and John were virtually imprisoned by the continuing attendance of journalists and photographers. Anthony could have braved them, but John could not and instead insisted on reverting to the regime of the days before their flight to John Golding’s house, refusing to switch on the lights or pull the lavatory chain, pointless deprivations that deceived no one, and that ended when Anthony could stand the stink no longer.
Michael Kitson, Anthony’s one loyal supporter in the Courtauld Institute, Anita Brookner, Joe McCrindle and I (and, no doubt, others too) took them food and drink until Anthony felt able to brave a local supermarket; Joe and I, having prepared the ground by telling the staff what we proposed to do, walked him to lunch in the familiar Italian restaurant and the welcome was wonderfully emotional. There were, he told me, episodes of jostling and shouting in the street that unnerved him, but when these died away he managed well enough. The cruellest blow was struck by the Courtauld, suddenly forbidden to him — but Anita Brookner broke the sanction and ferried library books to and fro.
Following Anthony’s exposure, three of many letters of support for him were published by The Times on November 17. Mine concluded with a declaration that ‘‘ the fifth man is dead’’, for the press, having labelled Anthony the fourth man after Burgess, Maclean and Philby, were already busily hunting for the fifth. It was disingenuous of Anthony to tell the press that he had no idea who was in my mind — it was, of course, Andrew Gow, to whom he himself had sent me all those years before — and yet, in a tricky way it was true, for we had never discussed that burdensome interview at which I had formed the not unreasonable assumption that as Gow had clearly played father confessor to Anthony, he might well have been his puppet master too — and possibly for others. Later, when the press had hounded Leo Long (again, I saw Anthony weep), John Cairncross and others, it became evident that the process was not unlike paring away the layers of an onion and that each revelation exposed another, but the sleuths eventually lost interest and never exposed the onion’s core. When, very shortly before his death, Anthony asked who my fifth man was, he did not demur when I said, ‘‘ Andrew Gow’’, but broke eye contact and stared out of the window.
In his political life, Anthony drifted, uncertain, influenced by friends and lovers until, trapped by affections and unwise private loyalties, he became a Communist spy of sorts. It is difficult to believe that he enjoyed the dangers and absurdities of this as an intellectual game, or that so intelligent a man could not see that, compelled to depend on obviously unreliable friends, he was sowing the seeds of his own destruction. At heart he had no politics and never voted in any general election; he was touched by Britain’s evident poverty in the Thirties, touched by the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War, touched by the inevitability of conflict with Germany, but it is to be doubted that he had any profound interest in the political reasons or remedies for any of them.
How then could so scrupulously scholarly a man, so dry, precise, considered and unemotional in everything he wrote of art and architecture, be such a fool as to put his scholarship at risk for a political philosophy in which he had virtually no belief? And to this the answer is Guy Burgess, with whom he perhaps never went to bed, but who won from him undying loyalty — Burgess, at first handsome, charming, witty and homosexually amoral, at last a scruffy drunken slob with the halitosis of a dragon. The obvious question to ask is why was Guy a Communist? Had he not been, nor would Anthony.
Anthony Blunt, above, with Queen Elizabeth II at the Courtauld Institute, London, in 1959; Guy Burgess, far left; and Kim Philby, left