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Nothing, not even the spy fiction of John le Carré, Len Deighton, or Charles McCarry, compares with the real-life story of the Ring of Five. Not only was the group made up of five members of the British establishment—Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross—who had signed up to serve communism as spies when they met at Trinity College, Cambridge, in the 1930s. But by virtue of their subsequent positions within the British government, they also succeeded in transferring thousands of the most sensitive military documents to their Russian handlers.

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Before it has even been screened, a new BBC drama series is under attack for turning the Cambridge spies into glamorous heroes. The spies– Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt–used their privileged positions in the British establishment to pass secrets to the Russians for thirty years. Hitherto they have been labelled sordid traitors but the BBC drama, due to hit our screens next month, treats them so sympathetically that one Russian defector, Oleg Gordievsky, says it might as well have been made in Moscow.

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