Authors: Tim Milne
‘If in the end he still remains something of a mystery, we should not be surprised: for every human being is a mystery and nobody knows the truth about anybody else.’ –
A. A. Milne
his memoir is the previously unknown story of the long friendship between Kim Philby and Ian Innes ‘Tim’ Milne,
an association which lasted for thirty-seven years, from the time they first met at Westminster School in September 1925 until Philby’s defection to Moscow in January 1963. It is the only first-hand account of the Philby affair ever written from the inside by someone who served in the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and worked alongside the so-called KGB master spy. Philby’s own book was of course written in Moscow under KGB supervision and is therefore suspect.
From Westminster Milne and Philby proceeded to different universities – Philby to Trinity, Cambridge and Milne to Christ Church, Oxford – but they travelled together in central Europe during university holidays and remained close.
Philby joined SIS in September 1941. Milne followed him some weeks later, recruited by Philby as his deputy and serving alongside him in Section V for most of the war years. Like Philby, Milne stayed on in SIS after the war and they remained professional colleagues as well as friends until Philby’s dismissal from the service in 1951. Their friendship continued for a dozen years after this until Philby’s flight from Beirut.
When the Philby story first broke and became a hot news item
in 1967, largely as a result of a series of articles in the
written by me and two colleagues which subsequently became a bestselling book,
Tim Milne was identified in print as being a close friend of Kim Philby, and although Milne was then still a serving officer in SIS, press interest in him became intense. I was working on the Insight team at the
and the editor asked me to find Milne and try to persuade him to talk about his long association with Philby, particularly the holidays they had spent in Europe together. Was there a clue to be found there that explained Philby’s treachery? Milne politely sent me on my way, pleading the restrictions of the Official Secrets Act. He retired from SIS in October 1968, continuing in government service for another seven years, but he never spoke publicly on the subject of his friendship with Philby, although in later years he was invariably courteous to the various authors who approached him for information.
Tim Milne died at the age of ninety-seven in 2010 and his obituary in
stated in part that his ‘feelings on learning of his old friend’s sustained betrayal of his colleagues and his country can only be a matter of conjecture: he himself maintained great discretion on the subject for the rest of his life’. It was not widely known, outside his family and former service, that he had in fact written a very full and frank account of his association with Philby, nor that his memoir had been accepted for intended publication in 1979. However, before any such publication could happen, Milne was required to submit the manuscript to SIS and obtain their permission to publish, in view of the confidentiality obligations incumbent on him. In the event, permission was denied and Milne reluctantly had to abandon the project.
Free of these obligations today, Milne’s daughter has now given permission for her father’s memoir to be published, and this account of a friendship which lasted almost forty years and included a professional relationship for ten of those can now be related in full. Over the past forty-seven years, since the first articles on Philby were written, a considerable number of other articles, TV documentaries and drama treatments, as well as countless books, have appeared: none, however, have been written by someone who knew him as well, or for as long a period, as Tim Milne.
It comes as little surprise that this memoir is so elegantly and well written, given that Tim’s father, Kenneth John Milne, was a contributor to
magazine and a close literary collaborator with his brother (Tim’s uncle), Alan Alexander Milne, the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books among others.
Tim’s own inherited and natural writing excellence was also in demand after he left Oxford, as he worked for five years as a copywriter for a leading London advertising agency before war intervened.
Although Kim Philby’s treachery was to cause Milne personal distress and considerable professional difficulties, he writes about his long association with Philby without any hint of rancour or bitterness. When I interviewed Philby in Moscow in 1988, he told me, ‘I have always operated at two levels, a personal level and a political one. When the two have come into conflict I have had to put politics first. This conflict can be very painful. I don’t like deceiving people, especially friends, and contrary to what others think, I feel very badly about it.’
Philby’s widow said in an interview in 2003, ‘To the end of his days he openly talked about how the hardest and most painful thing for him had been the fact that he had lied to his friends. Until the very end it is what tortured him most.’
It is not known whether Milne knew of these statements, as undoubtedly he was one of the friends to whom Philby was referring. When the news came that Philby had died, in Moscow on 11 May 1988, Tim’s daughter asked, ‘I suppose you have mixed feelings?’ Milne replied, ‘No, for me he died many years ago.’
One recent author on the subject of Philby wrote, ‘Many individuals exert a fascination over the public, but rarely has one individual held such a fascination for so many years for a country that they betrayed.’
The year 2013 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Philby’s defection to Russia and twenty-five years since his death in Moscow: following these anniversaries, the publication of Tim Milne’s full account of his close friendship and association with this most unusual man may now provide readers and historians alike with the closing chapter on the story of Kim Philby.
These notes were compiled (not by the author) some time after the book was written.]
. From childhood and for the rest of his life, Milne was known to his family and friends as ‘Tim’.
. Phillip Knightley, Bruce Page and David Leitch,
Philby: The Spy Who Betrayed a Generation
, André Deutsch, London, 1968.
. A lengthy obituary was published in
on 8 April 2010.
. For an excellent account of the life of A. A. Milne and the close relationship with Kenneth (who died in 1929) and Kenneth’s widow and children, see Anne Thwaite,
A. A. Milne: His Life
, Faber, London, 1990.
. Phillip Knightley,
Philby: The Life and Views of the KGB Masterspy
, André Deutsch, London, 1988, p. 219.
. Rufina Philby, interview with the
. Gordon Corera,
The Art of Betrayal: Life and Death in the British Secret Service
, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2011, p. 92.
his book is dedicated to the memory of my parents. My father wrote his account in longhand, and my mother typed and retyped the manuscript many times. Though it is ostensibly my father’s book, in reality it was a joint project which involved them both for several years. I know how very pleased they would have been to see the publication of this memoir, even so long afterwards.
Most, if not all, of my father’s colleagues and contemporaries in SIS have now died, and Kim Philby himself died more than twenty-five years ago. However, this is one story which never seems to lose its fascination for many, despite the half-century which has passed since Philby’s defection to Russia.
The final version of my father’s manuscript was accepted for publication both in Britain and in America in 1979. I remember how disappointed and discouraged my father was when he was denied permission to publish. The manuscript was subsequently abandoned, and during his lifetime my father never revisited the possibility of publication.
Considerable thanks must now go to my collaborator, Richard Frost, who first encouraged me to proceed with this project, and then worked tirelessly on the editing and the source notes, before
acting as intermediary between me and Biteback Publishing. Without Richard, it is certain that the typescript of this book would still be languishing in a ring binder, unseen.
I should also like to thank Phillip Knightley, who contacted me after my father’s death to enquire whether a manuscript still existed, and if so whether he could read it to express an opinion on its suitability for publication today. I am very pleased that he has contributed the foreword to the book.
Finally, I must warmly thank my editor, Michael Smith, for all his advice and friendly help, Hayden Peake for his expert guidance, and the excellent team at Biteback, not least the copy-editor Jonathan Wadman, who is himself an ‘Old Westminster’.
mages in the plate section are reproduced with kind permission of the following:
Page 1 top and bottom, page 2 bottom left and right, page 8 bottom left and right © Catherine Milne
Page 1 middle © Adelphi – The Latin Play, 1928. Reproduced with kind assistance of the Governing Body of Westminster School.
Page 6 top and page 7 top © Press Association
All other images are supplied from a private collection.
any books have appeared on Kim Philby, including the chief character’s own account.
Much of the story has been laid bare. But from my long friendship with him I believed that, although I had no startling revelations to make, I could fill a few gaps in the published record and perhaps correct one or two misconceptions, as I saw them, and having now retired from government service I would like to contribute my recollections.