In the 1930s, three Cambridge University graduates--Maclean, Guy Burgess and Kim Philby–had been recruited as spies for the Soviet Union. It was Depression time and the failings of capitalism were all too obvious, while the brutality of the Stalin regime was not yet widely known. Maclean and Burgess became diplomats. Philby entered the British intelligence service.
In 1940, while serving at the British embassy in Paris, Maclean met Melinda Marling ("delicately good-looking and carefully groomed") in a Left Bank café. They were married the same year, and Maclean continued his double life.
In 1951, Philby, highly placed in British intelligence, found out that the authorities had become suspicious of Maclean and planned to question him. Tipped off by Philby, Maclean and Burgess drove to Southampton together, took the ferry to France and disappeared.
Left behind, Melinda seemed unaware of her husband’s secret life as a spy. Three weeks after he took off, she gave birth to their third child. According to The Guardian, leading British newspaper, she seemed to settle into "a directionless but comfortable life, wandering with her mother and children as the seasons changed from beach villa in Majorca to skiing holiday in the Alps."
Then, in 1953, Melinda told her mother she was taking the kids to visit friends for the weekend, drove off and disappeared. This was when the Express called me. I phoned the bank as requested and spoke to someone who freely confirmed that funds had been transferred but wouldn’t give his name. I passed on this information to the Express bureau. Then, less than an hour later, someone from the bank, who did give his name, called me to deny it all. My second call to the Express was not warmly received. Not long afterward, I was promoted to assistant feature editor at the Daily News and thought no more about helping the Express.
All this came to mind recently while I was reading a new book, My Paper Chase : True Stories of Vanished Times, by Harold Evans. As editor of the London Times, Evans led the charge to make the British government come clean about this humiliating lapse in security.
So I continue to speculate. Why did the Express call me? They could have called the bank themselves. Maybe they had seen The Front Page and thought old-time Chicago-style journalism was still practiced here. Our papers once did hide witnesses from police until the story was milked, and reporters did steal photos of crime victims from their houses. But I wasn’t about to sneak into the bank in disguise and rummage through the files on behalf of the Express.
Who was the nameless person who at first told me the funds had been transferred? If it were true, why would he so flagrantly snitch on a customer? If it weren’t true, why would he bother to make up the story?
The Macleans all turned up in Moscow along with Burgess. Philby escaped detection until 1963, when he too fled to the Soviet Union. Life in the Soviet workers’ paradise wasn’t all that agreeable for these upperclass Britons. Burgess committed suicide. Donald Maclean took to drinking more than ever. Melinda had an affair with Philby.
She eventually returned to the U.S. along with her grown children and their Russian families.
She has never spoken of those exciting times. In a 2003 article, The Guardian reported that in hindsight Melinda appears to have known all along about her husband’s spying and encouraged it, although never actively participating. The paper theorized that the western intelligence services have left her strictly alone because they did not want to call any further attention to her husband’s "amazingly successful" career as a spy right under their noses.
Subsequent to all this, I left the Daily News for a job in advertising at much better pay. In later years, I drifted back into journalism off and on as a magazine writer and editor, as well as a consultant. My wife, who in the beginning might not have married an adman, afterwards referred laughingly to my proposal as "bait and switch."
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