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Micky Burn  

Michael 'Micky' Clive Burn was born on 11th December 1912 into a well-to-do home in Mayfair, London. He was the son of Sir Clive Burn, a solicitor employed as secretary to the Duchy of Cornwall and confidante of King George V. Burn’s mother was Phyllis, whose family was central to the Le Touquet resort, a golf and gambling attraction in northern France. The boy was sent to Winchester College, where he discovered homosexuality, and spent his holidays with grandparents in a villa near Le Touquet.  

 

Though he does not ever seem to have formally joined the Communist Party, during the war years and even into the cold war, he was certainly openly sympathetic and supportive. Burns’ extraordinary life story propels him into a collection of Communist biographies! Seemingly, even a movie about his life is underway.

 

In his youth, Burns rebelled against the class he had been born into. When he attended New College, Oxford, where he did no work whatsoever, leaving after his first year, intent on becoming a journalist. In 1933, drawn by his love of Wagner, he took flight for Germany, where he moved from castle to castle as the guest of aristocrats deeply implicated in the rise of National Socialism. He admired what the Nazis seemed to be doing about reviving the German economy and abolishing the class system.

 

Back in London by 1934, Burn found a reporter's job with the Gloucester Citizen, owned by Lord Rothermere, the pro-Nazi owner of the Daily Mail. Still preoccupied with mass unemployment, he took up the cause of Forest of Dean miners while, at the same time, enjoying the hospitality of the Earl of Berkeley.

 

On holiday in Germany in 1935, he went to a Nazi rally at Nuremberg, met Adolf Hitler, who signed a copy of Mein Kampf for him, and visited the Dachau concentration camp with Unity Mitford and her sister Diana Guinness, soon to be married to Oswald Mosley.

 

By the time he had returned to London, he had fundamentally changed his mind about Hitler. In retrospect, he was clear about his regret over being attracted to Nazism but made no such comments about Communism.

 

The catalyst for his big change was a week spent as a paying guest in the home of a Barnsley miner, where he saw the effects of economic depression and social deprivation at their most poisonous. He remained in contact with the family for the rest of his life. Soon afterwards, in 1937, he "was received into the Times", whose policy of appeasement had held sway throughout the 30s.

His lovers in the 1930s included Guy Burgess, a British intelligence officer later revealed as a Soviet spy. It is possible that Burns was being groomed by Burgess as a possible agent, which would account for his not joining the Party, but whatever the position was the war intervened.

Burn enlisted in the army reserve in 1937 and was placed during the Second World War, in a commando unit. After the most basic training, he saw guerrilla action in German-occupied Norway. In 1942, he was captured while taking part in a commando raid at St Nazaire in France. Though typically modest about his role in blowing up installations, Burn was awarded the Military Cross for his part in the assault.

 

He was captured twice in 24 hours, the first time talking his way out of it in fluent German. As captors led him away, Burn put up his hands with fingers in a V for victory sign, defying cameras that were recording the surrender for Goebbels. The shot appeared in his autobiography, Turned Towards the Sun (2003).

                                                                                                                                                                                                           At the time, it was seen in a cinema newsreel in the occupied Netherlands by a friend, Ella van Heemstra. She sent him a Red Cross food parcel in Colditz, where he had been imprisoned, and after his release, he sent back cigarettes for her to sell in order to buy penicillin for her seriously ill daughter, the eventual film star Audrey Hepburn.

 

By now "slightly to the left of Major [Clement] Attlee", Burn moved rapidly to become a Marxist under the tutelage of a fellow officer, leading to the bizarre spectacle of him delivering lectures in Marxism to Royal Air Force officers whilst in Colditz.

 

After the war, he was sent by the Times to Vienna and then to central Europe with special responsibility for the Balkans.

Burn's conversion to Catholicism lasted from about 1940 to 1994, when he left on account of its views on homosexuality, which he practised intermittently. His wife knew of his homosexuality but their marriage, which lasted from 1947 until her death in 1974, was extremely happy.

He began a writing career from 1951 until the early 1970s, although an autobiography and some poems came in his later years.  Burn died on 3rd September 2010 aged 97. 

 

Sources: Guardian 23rd September 2010; http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/09/13/

http://news.scotsman.com/obituaries/

                                                                         pic: the film poster featuring Micky Burn