Love and Deception: Philby in Beirut

Written by James Hanning
Review by Mike Ashworth

Beirut in the 1950s is a hotbed of politics, where capitalist and communist interests clash in a struggle for influence throughout the region. The atmosphere is charged, exciting and vibrant. In 1951 Philby had resigned from MI6 after the American secret services had strongly expressed their opinion that he was a Soviet spy and refused to work with him. However, in November 1955 Philby was cleared of all charges by the then British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. In the summer of 1956 Kim Philby is sent to Beirut as a reporter for both The Economist magazine and the Observer newspaper. He leaves his wife and family behind in England. In September 1956 he meets Eleanor Brewer who also is married. They begin an affair. After the death of his wife in 1957, she divorces her husband and they marry in 1959. The rest, as they say, is history.

There have been many books written about the Cold War in general and the “Philby Affair” specifically, but this book looks specifically at the relationship between Philby and Eleanor Brewer. It is a fascinating read, as it describes their lives together and provides a great deal of detail about the Cold War and the prevailing attitudes both political and social, which allowed a suspected spy not only to operate, but to thrive, while maintaining a façade which fooled so many. Did he love Eleanor? Did she love him? Read the book and find out. Recommended.