George Blake (born George Behar on 11 November 1922) was a British spy and was uncovered in 1961 as a double agent in the service of the Soviet Union. Sentenced to 42 years in prison, he escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison on this day in 1966 and fled to the USSR, as was.
Born in Rotterdam, Holland in 1922, George was the son of a Dutch mother from a Protestant background and an Egyptian Jewish father who was a naturalised British subject…. not too complicated a start in life! He was apparently named George after King George V. His father, Albert Behar, fought against the Ottoman Empire in the First World War despite his origins in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and received awards from the French and British for his gallantry. Albert died in the Netherlands in 1936 and George was sent to live with relatives in Egypt, where he continued his education at the English School, Cairo.
As a teenager, George was a runner for the anti-Nazi Dutch resistance under the nom de guerre of Max de Vries. He was interned but released temporarily because of his age. He would have been re-interned on his eighteenth birthday had he not escaped to London, disguised as a monk! In England, he anglicised his name and became George Blake, working for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). He intended to marry an MI6 secretary, Iris Peake, but her family did not allow their marriage because of Blake’s Jewish background.
For the duration of World War II, Blake’s work involved translating German documents captured by British agents and interrogating Germans captured in France following the D-Day landings. In 1955, he was sent by MI6 to work as a case officer in Berlin, where his task was to recruit Soviet officers as double agents. He made contact with the KGB and informed them of the details of British and American operations. In the course of almost a decade, he betrayed details of almost forty MI6 agents to the Soviets, destroying most of MI6’s operations in Eastern Europe.
In 1961, Polish defector Michael Goleniewski exposed him as a Soviet agent and George was arrested when he arrived in London from Lebanon. In May 1961, after a trial at the Old Bailey, he was sentenced to the maximum term of 14 years consecutively on each of three counts of spying for a potential enemy and 14 years concurrently on both the two remaining counts – a total of 42 years imprisonment – by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker of Waddington.
Five years later, on 22 October 1966, Blake escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison with the assistance of three men whom he met in jail: Sean Bourke and two anti-nuclear campaigners, Michael Randle and Pat Pottle. Blake fled to the USSR, divorced his wife – with whom he had three children – and started a new life. He is pictured, right, in Moscow in 1975.
As far as I can make out, he is still living in Moscow, Russia, on a KGB pension. He denies being a traitor, insisting that he never felt British: ‘To betray, you first have to belong. I never belonged.’ The question is: does George belong in the Blake surname study, Elizabeth?!