February 22, 2024

Be it James Bond or Austin Powers, spy stories are always a thrill to follow. But, unfortunately, the reality of the life of secret agents is not as exciting as what we see in the movies. Every once in a while, though, a real-life spy story comes along that seems to have come out of the head of the most creative of authors. The story of Kim Philby, an MI-6 spy who acted as a double agent for the Soviet Union, is one such story. played Guy PearcePhilby is the subject of MGM+’s newest thriller, A spy among friends. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name Ben MacIntyreThe limited series revolves around Philby’s relationship with his friend and fellow spy Nicholas Elliott (Damien Lewis) and how the revelation of Philby’s involvement with the Soviets affects their lives.


Arguably one of the most notorious double agents to ever live, Philby is a villain in his homeland, but he died a hero in the country he chose to serve. His story has served as inspiration for famous authors of the spy genre, for example Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy‘s John le CarrĂ©. But what is his real story? What is the truth about Harold Adrian Russell Philby, aka Kim?

Who was the real Kim Philby, MGM+’s ‘Spy Among Friends’?

a spy among friends damian lewis guy pearce
Image via MGM+

He was born on January 1, 1912 in Ambala, India, as he described it “The Ruling Class of the British Empire”Harold Philby earned the nickname Kim after her Rudyard Kipling A novel of the same name about a boy who served as a British spy during the 19th century political conflict between Great Britain and Russia. Quite ironic, considering where Mr. Philby’s loyalties really lay. His long career as a spy began somewhere in the early to mid-1930s, when he was recruited along with a group of Cambridge students by the Soviet Secret Service, later known as the KGB.

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The exact date of Kim Philby’s first contact with the Soviets is still a matter of debate. For example, reputable sources Encyclopedia Britannica, says he was recruited by the USSR in 1933, when he was in his last year of university. However, Philby himself disagrees. According to him Obituary in the New York Times, Philby always maintained that his recruitment took place in 1934, during a trip to Vienna, where he worked with local activists and married his first wife, the Austrian Communist Litzi Kohlman. played Morgan Ferru In the MGM+ miniseries, Kohlman divorced Philby after four years of marriage in 1938. It’s a believable story, though, as told. The times, many Western intelligence officials believed that Philby had already gone to Austria as a Soviet agent to complete some probationary assignments. In this version of the story, Philby lied about the hiring to protect colleagues who might go through the same process.

This, however, is the most important part of his story. Whichever version of the story you want to believe, what really matters is what came after Philby’s hiring. And while he would eventually become a master secret agent known as “the spy who betrayed a generation,” the beginning of his career was less than spectacular. , recovered by the BBC, Philby stated that his recruitment was “essentially a long-term project. No immediate results were expected or could be expected”.

However, it was clear from the start that Moscow had it in Britain’s Secret Service, known as MI6. In order to be hired as a secret agent in the UK, Philby began working as a journalist, covering conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War. His reports, always supportive of fascist General Francisco Franco, won him the Red Cross of Military Merit after Franco’s forces took Madrid. For decades to come, he would use the medal to deflect accusations that he was a communist.

Kim Philby quickly rose through the ranks of MI6


After the end of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, Philby began to suggest that he would like to work for the government in the fight against Hitler. In 1941 he was invited to join Section V of MI6, where he was tasked with providing false information to the Soviet Union, a British ally during the war. This position gave him free access to Soviet intelligence officers.

Philby kept his cover throughout the war, and was even awarded an Order of the British Empire for his service. Posing as the perfect British spy, he handed over top secret files to Soviet agents. How did he get hold of such files? Well, according to his Stasi speech, wartime MI6 was a proper mess, and all he had to do was befriend an archivist for a drink two or three times a week.

“Every evening I left the office with a large suitcase, full of reports I had written, archive files and real documents. I gave them to my Soviet contact in the evening. The next morning I would retrieve the files, photograph the contents and put them back in place early the next morning. I did that regularly, year after year,” explained Philby.

Over time, Kim Philby rose through the ranks at MI6 until he became the No. 2 boy in his section. He was then instructed to use bureaucratic intrigue to remove Felix Cowgill from his superior and take his place. According to Philby, he felt bad for Cowgill, whom he said he admired, but orders were orders. With Cowgill out, Philby moved up the chain of command, eventually becoming MI6’s liaison in Washington.

Kim Philby’s loyalty to his fellow spies was his downfall

Guy Pearce as Kim Philby in A Spy Among Friends.

During Philby’s time in Washington, two of his Cambridge friends and fellow Soviet spies were discovered, marking the beginning of the end of his career at MI6. It was Philby himself who warned them in the show starring Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean Thomas Arnold and Daniel Lapaine, respectively, about the intentions of the secret services to bring them in for questioning. Fearing that their cover would be blown, Burgess and Maclean fled to Moscow, and the alarm was raised. The British officers had only one question in their minds: who was it that warned them, the person who would become known as the “third man”?

Suspicion soon fell on Philby, who even held a press conference at his apartment to deny the allegations. “The last time I spoke to a Communist knowing that he was a Communist was in 1934,” he told reporters at the time. Questions were asked about him in the House of Commons, but they were quickly shut down then Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan. However, he was removed from office in 1955.

After nearly 30 years at MI6, Philby returned to journalism. Or did he? Some sources claim that he was re-admitted to MI6 and that his work as a journalist was merely a cover-up for the real work of spy work. In any case, Philby moved to Beirut, where he took up writing stories for the Observer. That’s where his cover was finally blown.

In 1963, Philby confronted an MI6 colleague, but again denied working for the Soviets. He was left in his apartment under the supervision of another MI6 agent, and ended up going on a ski trip, or so Philby told the Stasi men. Kim Philby then took the opportunity to contact Moscow. Soon after, he moved to the Soviet Union with the blessing of the KGB.

A villain in the UK, Philby died a hero in the Soviet Union

Philby lived a long and happy life in the USSR, where he was hailed as a hero. In 1965, the Soviets awarded the Red Banner of Honor for services to the KGB. He later received privileges granted only to KGB generals. In 1968, he published a memoir of the same title My Secret Warand, in 1971, he married for the fourth time to Rufina Pukhov, a KGB agent.

Kim Philby died on May 11, 1988, aged 76. The Soviet government never revealed the cause of his death. However, according to his obituary New York Times, in an interview with The Sunday Times of London, Philby admitted that he had been admitted to hospital due to an irregular heartbeat. A very ordinary ending for someone with such an incredible story.

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