CBC Digital Archives CBC butterfly logo

CBC Archives has a new look: Please go to cbc.ca/archives to access the new site.

The page you are looking at will not be updated.

Guy Burgess: why I defected to the Soviet Union

The Story

It was a revelation that rocked the NATO alliance in the early 1950s: British spies, later known as the Cambridge Five, shared Western intelligence with the Soviet Union before and during the Cold War. In 1951, two of the suspected spies, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, disappeared from England and resurfaced in Moscow five years later.

A CBC cameraman finds Burgess there in 1959, interviewing him for the current affairs program Close-Up. Burgess, speaking to an audience in the West for the first time since his defection, denies he is a traitor and says there is only hearsay evidence of it. He says he chooses to live in the Soviet Union because he is a socialist. "There is a phrase in Russia, which is 'a non-Party Bolshevik.' I would be very proud indeed if I had earned such a title."

Medium: Television
Broadcast Date: March 11, 1959
Program: Close-Up
Host: J. Frank Willis
Guest: Guy Burgess
Duration: 10:04

Did You know?

• This interview was shot by cameraman Erik Durschmied for the CBC. Durschmeid was a globe-trotting correspondent who interviewed Fidel Castro in Cuba just weeks before the revolution in 1959 and also filed reports from Hungary and Beirut that year. He travelled to China in 1964 as part of a three-man CBC crew and also brought Canadians stories from Gabon and Indonesia. In 1965 he was the cameraman for Beryl Fox's Vietnam documentary The Mills of the Gods.

• In this clip, Burgess mentions that he is part Canadian. His maternal grandmother, Maud Hooper, was born in Montreal in 1860 and married an Englishman, Portsmouth banker William Gillman, in 1880.

• Burgess visited Montreal in the summer of 1930, travelling aboard Canadian Pacific passenger ships. This was after he completed his education at Eton and before he began studying at Cambridge, where he met his fellow spies.

• In 2014 the BBC revealed the contents of newly released Soviet files on Burgess and Maclean. The documents, which had been smuggled out by Major Vasili Mitrokhin of the KGB, described the pair as constant drunks who nearly blew their cover more than once.

• According to the BBC, the files show that "Burgess alone handed over 389 top secret documents to the KGB in the first six months of 1945 along with a further 168 in December 1949."

• Guy Burgess died in Moscow in 1963 and is buried in his native England.


Cold War Culture: The Nuclear Fear of the 1950s and 1960s more