Guy Liddell

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Guy Maynard Liddell
Born(1892-11-08)8 November 1892
London, England
Died3 December 1958(1958-12-03) (aged 66)
London, England
Resting placePutney Vale Cemetery, London

Guy Maynard Liddell, CB, CBE, MC (8 November 1892 – 3 December 1958) was a British intelligence officer.


Early life and career[edit]

Liddell was born on 8 November 1892 at 64 Victoria Street, London, the son of Capt. Augustus Frederick Liddell RA, a retired Royal Artillery officer, and his wife Emily Shinner, who died when Liddell was eight years old. He was the younger brother of Capt. Cecil Frederick Joseph Liddell, who served as Head of MI5's Irish section from 1939, and David Edward Liddell; and was a second cousin of Alice Pleasance Liddell, the child friend of Lewis Carroll who was the basis for the books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass.[1][2][3][notes 1]

He was a talented cellist in his youth, and was studying in Germany for a career as a professional musician when the First World War began. He joined the Honourable Artillery Company as a private, a unit his brothers David Liddell MC and Cecil served with.[5] During the conflict, he was commissioned and served with the Royal Field Artillery and was awarded the Military Cross.[2][3] After the war, Liddell joined Scotland Yard where, in liaison with Special Branch and the Foreign Office, he was involved in breaking a spy ring based around the All Russian Cooperative Society in London.[1][3]

He married the Hon. Calypso Baring, daughter of Cecil Baring, 3rd Baron Revelstoke of Membland and of Maude Louise Lorillard, on 7 April 1926. They had one son and three daughters; Peter Lorillard Liddell (1927–2004), Elizabeth Gay Liddell (born 1928), Juno Liddell (1930–1968) and Maude Liddell (baptised Anne Jennifer Liddell) (born 1931).[1][2][4]

He transferred to MI5 with his team in October 1931, where he became an expert on Soviet subversive activities within the UK and recruited agents, including his private secretary Dick Wright, and future head of B5(b) Maxwell Knight, in preparation for possible war with Germany.[1][3] In 1936, he traveled to Washington D.C. where information he provided to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover allowed the FBI to break a German spy-ring based around Gunther Rumrich.[3]

Second World War[edit]

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill sacked Director-General of MI5 Vernon Kell and in June 1940 Liddell was promoted to Director of B Division in charge of counter-espionage, where he appointed Dick Wright and Anthony Blunt to senior posts. Shortly after the new appointment, he was informed by Maxwell Knight of a suspected German spy-ring based around the Right Club of Archibald Ramsay and involving American cipher clerk Tyler Kent. Liddell met U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., who agreed to waive Kent's diplomatic immunity and he was successfully prosecuted, along with his handler Anna Wolkoff.[1][3]

His agent, Duško Popov, provided an Abwehr questionnaire suggesting that the Japanese Air Force planned to attack the United States at Pearl Harbor. Popov was sent to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who refused to take him seriously. Liddell was later criticized for not informing the Office of Naval Intelligence.[3]

His unhappy marriage to Calypso Baring was dissolved in 1943, after she left him and joined her half-brother, Lorillard Suffern Tailer, in the United States. He subsequently fought a long legal battle for custody of their children.[1][2][3]

Later career[edit]

Liddell was expected to succeed David Petrie as Director General of MI5, but was passed over when Home Secretary Herbert Morrison was informed by Ellen Wilkinson of rumours that he might be a double agent and was instead appointed Deputy-Director-General under Percy Sillitoe. These rumours were accentuated when his close friend Guy Burgess defected. He was also a known associate of Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt, other members of the Cambridge Five spy ring; and in 1953, following an MI5 internal investigation, he took early retirement and went to work as a security adviser to the Atomic Energy Authority. He died of heart failure aged 66 in 1958 at his home, 18 Richmond Court, Sloane Street, London, and was buried at Putney Vale Cemetery.

In 1979, Goronwy Rees confessed to having been a Soviet spy, and named Liddell as the Fifth Man. Papers released since have all but completely cleared him of the charge, with the general academic consensus being that he was naïve in his friendships with some of his colleagues.[1][3][6] In the words of Rupert Allason, 'his unwise friendships and his preference for homosexual company, posthumously wrecked his reputation as a shrewd intelligence professional.'[7] However, there are dissenting views. John Costello in Mask of Treachery contends that Liddell was recruited by the Soviets, and alleged that Liddell "... was the most successful mole of all."[8]

A 1988 article in The Atlantic also suggested that Liddell may have been the "Fifth Man" of the spy ring, due to his close relationship with Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and Kim Philby. In 1990, however, John Cairncross was shown to be that fifth individual, not Liddell.[9]

Rupert Allason (2018) (writing as "Nigel West")[10] made no suggestion that Liddell had been responsible for any treachery, and in fact, claimed that he "was betrayed by Burgess, Blunt, and Philby".[11]

Wartime diaries[edit]

Liddell kept an almost daily diary containing details of his work at MI5 throughout the Second World War, dictated to, typed up and indexed by his secretary, Margot Huggins. Military historian Rupert Allason, writing under the pen name of Nigel West, has edited Liddell's wartime diaries for publication in two volumes.

  • West, Nigel (4 February 2005). The Guy Liddell Diaries: 1939-1942 v. 1. Frank Cass Publishers (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-415-35213-0.
  • West, Nigel (9 June 2005). The Guy Liddell Diaries: 1942-1945 v. 2. Routledge (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-415-35215-4.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Liddell was portrayed by Angus Wright in the 2003 BBC Television drama Cambridge Spies.
  • Though the protagonist's name is never mentioned, in the novel The Last Temptation by David Mure, the character is clearly Liddell, as the character's history follows Liddell's exactly.


  1. ^ Guy Maynard Liddell and Alice Pleasance Liddell were second cousins once removed. Their common ancestors were Elizabeth (Steele) Liddell and her husband Henry George Liddell, who were parents of Sir Thomas Henry Liddell, 1st Lord Ravensworth of the second creation, great-grandfather of Guy, and of Rev. Henry George Liddell, Rector of Easington, grandfather of Alice.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Jenkins, Nicholas. "Guy Maynard Liddell MC CBE CB (I16150)". Stanford University. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d "Guy Maynard Liddell". Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Guy Liddell". Spartacus Educational. Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  4. ^ a b Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003). Burke's Peerage & Baronetage (107th ed.). Crans, Switzerland: Burke’s Peerage. p. 3290.
  5. ^ "National Archives Papers Release 2002" (PDF). National Archives. 25 November 2002. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  6. ^ Costello, John (1988). Mask of Treachery. Collins & William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-00-217536-3.
  7. ^ West, Nigel (2011). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ Costello 1988, pp. 596–599.
  9. ^ "The Fifth Man: A reflection, prompted by an obituary, on a famous episode in the annals of espionage". The Atlantic. 1 September 1988. Retrieved 31 December 2020. He, Burgess, and Blunt were friends, and Liddell was very much a part of the hothouse wartime circle revolving around Victor Rothschild's 5 Bentinck Street flat, in which Burgess and Blunt both lived. During the war Liddell ran MI5's counterespionage division, where Anthony Blunt was his personal assistant. Philby had a high regard for Liddell
  10. ^ West, Nigel (Rupert Allason) (2018). Cold War Spymaster: A legacy of Guy Liddell, deputy director of MI5.
  11. ^ Quote is from a 2019 summary of Allason's 2018 book: "Behind a bittersweet industry". Coldspur. 31 March 2019. Retrieved 31 December 2020.