Looking for Mr Nobody: The Secret Life of Goronwy Rees by Jenny Rees Weidenfield, £18.99
IDOUB I WHE. rHLK the surnames of Borges and Maclean mean very much to the young of today. But for those of us who were politically alive in 1951, when the two diplomats did their secret bunk to Russia, their names are as familiar as Marks and Spencer or Morecombe and Wise. In a sense they had everything to nourish the appetites of the most jaded journalist and spywriter.
They were part of the Establishment: public schoolboys, Cambridgeeducated, social gadflies. They betrayed their countries when Soviet tyranny was equal to that of Nazi Germany.
Of the two, Burgess was the more flamboyant of the Cambridge spy ring academically brilliant, a roaring drunk, a promiscuous homosexual, a fluent liar. Goronwy Rees, father of the author of Looking for My Nobody, had the misfortune to be a friend of his.
Rees, however, came from a totally different background from Burgess and Maclean and also from the eregious Anthony Blunt. he was Welsh (the son of a Calvinist Methodist minister), a scholarship boy who won his way, in the 30s, not to Cambridge but to New College, Oxford, where he more than held his own with the old Wykehamist undergraduates there He was handsome, charming, poopular and a bit of' a blood, reacting against his own star, Welsh upbringing. Like so many intellectuals of the 30s, he was Left wing and proRussian.
Rees showed his academic _mettle by taking a First and, before he was 22, being elected to a Fellowship at All Souls.
All was set fair for a successful, comfortable career but it did not work out. Burgess put paid to that by telling him he was a Comintern agent and asking for his help. He also told Rees that Anthony Blunt was involved. Did Rees help him before his disillusion with Russia in 1939 when Stalin signed the pact with Hitler? Was Goronwy Rees a spy as some contended? He always denied this.
But it is this question that his daughter sets out to answer here while giving us a detailed account of what it was like to live with a writerfather whose life was bedevilled by Burgess and who informed the Security Services of Blunt's treachury after B and M's defection.
It was Rees's misfortune not only that he was drawn into the messy, anarchic world of Burgess but that he played his cards so badly and naively in trying to unmask Blunt.
His, in turn, was a sad, strange and unsettled life (academic, soldier, writer, journalist) but really only worth a footnote in the depressing history of the Cold War.
His daughter has done him proud, but is he really worth a book of nearly 300 pages?
DESMOND At .HROW