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17 November 2019 18:34

The Crown Elizabeth II Olivia Colman

The Crown introduces a curious new figure in season three: a buttoned-up curator, well-practiced in the art of espionage. Anthony Blunt appears first as a courteous and knowledgeable professional, well-liked even by Queen Elizabeth, who readily admits her limited understanding of his chosen field. The Queen, with the audience, learns of Blunt's past as a Soviet spy—and she, like us, is bewildered. Like many of The Crown's storylines, this improbable ordeal is based in fact. Anthony Blunt was at once a Soviet spy and, for decades, the royal family's chief art curator.

A still of Anthony Blunt in The Crown season three. It was during his years in academia that Blunt joined the Soviet cause. Blunt attended Trinity College at Cambridge, and stayed on to continue his studies after graduation. In her biography,, Michelle Carter quotes Blunt's description of his fellow academics in January 1934, upon returning from abroad: "[I] found that the intellectuals whom I had known before I went away were all coming the influence of Communism." Soon, he too was persuaded—first incorporating Marxist theories into his art historical essays, before eventually deciding to support the Soviet cause. Some also believe that Blunt's homosexuality may have prepositioned him to rebel, as he was not accepted into the British social order of the time.

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Anthony Blunt (left), photographed in 1929 with his friends from Cambridge. Lytton Strachey Getty Images A close friend pulled Blunt into a circle of spies, later dubbed the "Cambridge Five." Regardless of the political climate at Cambridge or his sexuality, Blunt likely never would have engaged in espionage were it not for his close friend, Guy Burgess—after all, while many on the Cambridge campus had Marxist sympathies, a scant few would end up spying for the other side. Burgess was a famously larger-than-life character, often painted as a bumbling, amiable drunkard with a large sexual appetite. After all, he did variously work at the BBC, the Foreign Office, MI5, and MI6, and provided the Soviets with 4,604 documents—more than double Blunt's total. He also gets credit for bringing Blunt over to the Soviet side. "I think, absolutely, that Blunt would never have been recruited if he hadn't been so friendly with Burgess," Lownie says. "It was Burgess who recruited him," Lownie notes, adding that without Burgess, "Blunt would've just remained a sort of Marxist art professor at Cambridge." In addition to Burgess and Blunt, the "Five" included Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, and John Cairncross. During WWII, Blunt worked for MI5, making him a valuable Soviet asset. According to archives cited by Carter, Blunt provided Soviet intelligence officers with 1,771 documents between 1941 and 1945. In addition to the "deciphered diplomatic telegrams, the diplomatic telephone conversations, and the product of various agents in the embassies" that he got in "the ordinary course" of his job, Blunt managed to put himself in a position to do "a good deal of liaison with other departments," Blunt wrote, per Carter. He would pass all of this information along to the Soviets. Queen Elizabeth with Anthony Blunt in 1959. Meanwhile, he was earning professional accolades, and endearing himself to the royal family. Even during the war, Blunt was continuing to publish critical essays and academic papers, and further ingratiating himself with members of the art historical establishment. He began working for the Royal Collection during these years, writing a catalogue of the French old master drawings at Windsor Castle. When the top job at the Collection was vacated, Royal Librarian Owen Morshead, who'd forged a friendship with Blunt, recommended him for the position. Blunt served as the Surveyor of the King's (then the Queen's) Pictures from 1945 to 1972. During his time there, he encouraged the royal family to open up somewhat, and at times exhibit their private treasures publicly, among other projects. He endeared himself to the royal family, and would eventually be given a knighthood. His real passion, however, lay with the Courtauld Institute, a center for art historical studies. He worked his way up at the Institute, eventually guiding it as its director from 1947 to 1974. Blunt would guide the Courtauld in the transition from fledgling academy to well-respected institution. Burgess ended up going all the way with him, though; it's not clear whether Blunt knew he wasn't coming back. In the following days, Blunt tried to keep his friends quiet about the disappearance. Guy Burgess (left) and Donald Maclean (right). Getty Images When the authorities finally got around to confronting Blunt, he'd been inactive as a spy for years. Over the decades, Blunt became disillusioned with communism and the U.S.S.R. At his sole press conference in 1979, he would eventually say, "This was a gradual process and I find it very difficult to analyze. Blunt during his 1979 press conference. Hulton Deutsch Getty Images The intelligence community decided it was better to cover up Blunt's espionage—until Margaret Thatcher blew his cover in 1979. Queen Elizabeth was informed at the time—and this big reveal is what's depicted on The Crown. As on the show, the royals' hands were tied, even if they wanted to discipline Blunt; the Queen's private secretary asked what should be done, and was informed that no action should be taken, for fear of exposing Blunt as a spy. (The whole immunity deal was, of course, arranged to keep this secret.) He did continue to spend time occasionally with the Queen Mother, who presumably didn't know about his double life. Carter writes that between his confession in 1964 and his eventual exposure in 1979, Blunt did his best to avoid the Queen while carrying out his work for the royal family. They did, however, continue to see each other at events; she came to the opening of the Courtauld Institute's new galleries in 1968, and would congratulate him on his retirement in 1972. (He would still work as an advisor for the Queen's pictures for years—an honorary post offered by the Lord Chamberlain, who didn't know about Blunt's treason.) Later, as journalists neared the truth about Blunt, Margaret Thatcher outed him in speech to the House of Commons. Blunt would hold a single press conference, and then do his best to fade into the background. All 10 episodes of The Crown are available to watch on Netflix. Who Was Anthony Blunt And All The Other Real-Life Characters Portrayed In The Crown Season Three? The Crown is back for its third season, and with it there is a whole host of new characters to grace our screens. From double agents, new flames and horse racing managers (with an implied royal affair thrown in for good measure), we've covered the backstory of some of the key people whose lives intertwined with Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret. Sir Anthony Blunt The double agent Sir Anthony Blunt, played by Samuel West, was initially hired by Queen Elizabeth II as her official art advisor and surveyor of her pictures yet his real job was far removed from the world of galleries and auctions. It was uncovered in 1964 that Blunt was a member of the famed Cambridge Five Spy Ring and an undercover soviet agent passing information to the Russians during the war. The discovery was kept under wraps as he was given immunity from prosecution in return for details of the spy ring, but it was later revealed to the public after Margaret Thatcher outed him in 1979. Labour party politician Harold Wilson, played by Jason Watkins, was the youngest member of Cabinet in the 20th century and was eventually elected Prime Minister, initially holding the position from 1964-1970. Edward Heath, leader of the Conservatives, eventually succeeded Harold as PM, but he was later re-elected in 1974 for another two years before stepping down and letting Labour MP James Callaghan take his place. Known by his nickname Porchey, Lord Porchester – played by John Hollingworth – was hired as the racing manager for the Queen in 1969, but was in fact a long-time friend of Queen Elizabeth's. Porchey was later given the title of 7th Earl of Carnarvon following his father's death, and lived in his family estate at Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey). Princess Alice of Greece, Prince Philip's mother, will also have her story told this series, played by Jane Lapotaire. This season is set to touch upon her return to Philip after closing her Greek nunnery having been released from the sanatorium. You might be wondering why he appears this season, but Lyndon (played by Clancy Jones) met the Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon on their tour of the U.S. in 1965. The princess and the president reportedly danced together at a dinner hosted by the White House, but you'll have to tune in this season to find out more about how she made a distinct impression. Sir Roddy Llewellyn (who is now 72) was rumoured to have had an affair with Princess Margaret for eight years, after meeting in 1973. Roddy - played in the programme by Harry Treadaway - was just 25 when he met the 43-year-old Princess, though her husband was also reportedly having an affair during this time. The Crown returns to Netflix for season 3 on 17 November. READ MORE: See The Crown cast at the Season 3 premiere READ MORE: Watch the trailer for Season 3