Aileen Philby

Aileen Furse

Aileen Furse was born in India in 1910. Her father had been killed in the early states of the First World War. The Furse family were well-connected and several members had important jobs. One was the private secretary to Winston Churchill as colonial minister. Another had been director of the Women's Royal Naval Service and then of the World Bureau of Girl Guides. (1)

Aileen had an unhappy childhood and had left home and taken a job on the advice of her family doctor. Phillip Knightley, the author of Philby: KGB Masterspy, has pointed out: "She had shown signs of a self-destructive streak - her family said she sometimes deliberately injured herself to gain attention when she felt she had been neglected." (2)

Aileen Furse found work as a store detective in the Marble Arch branch of Marks and Spencer. It was here that she became friends with Flora Solomon, the daughter of a Jewish-Russian gold tycoon. Solomon later recalled: "Aileen belonged to that class, now out of fashion, called county. She was typically English, slim and attractive, fiercely patriotic, but awkward in her gestures and unsure of herself in company." (3)

Aileen Furse & Kim Philby

Solomon was a good friend of Kim Philby and she introduced him to Aileen at her home on 3rd September 1939. It was the day that Neville Chamberlain declared war on Nazi Germany. Philby later recalled: "So it was a date well remembered, because it was disastrous for the world and to myself." It has been argued that, "Philby found that she had an open manner, an easy laugh, and was a good companion. He treated her with sentimental affection, talking to her about his adventures, listening to her stories about her work... They were obviously in love." (4) Solomon commented that "Philby found an avid listener in Aileen and the next I heard they were sharing a flat." (5)

Anthony Cave Brown has suggested that Aileen was the ideal woman for Philby: "She knew little of politics, she was not well read, but she was intelligent, practical, and incapable of disloyalty, either personal or political... Aileen herself had association in the Somerset world of horses and point-to-points. She was just the mate for a progressive conservative, which was the political coloration Kim had assumed at The Times - but not convincingly enough for Aileen's mother; who disapproved of Kim on the grounds that she knew him to have been a communist." (6)

Aileen gave birth to Josephine (1941), John (1943) and Tom (1944). Kim Philby divorced Litzi Friedmann on 17th September 1946. He married Aileen Furse a week later. He was thirty-four; she was thirty-five and seven months pregnant with their fourth child, Miranda. The witnesses were Tomás Harris and Flora Solomon. It is claimed by Phillip Knightley that "Aileen had got over her suspicions at his long absences from the house, which he never explained except to say that they had to do with his work. She was ignorant even of the exact nature of his job; only that he it had something to do with the Foreign Office and the war effort. Her contribution to the marriage was to provide a relaxed domestic atmosphere, to bear Philby's children, and to accept his dictum that they should not receive any sort of religious education." (7)

Over the next few years her mental health deteriorated. Aileen Philby suffered from a psychiatric disorder, later known as Münchausen syndrome, that manifested itself in episodes of self-harm and bouts of pyromania in order to attract sympathy and attention. Aileen was described as "awkward in her gestures and unsure of herself in company". (8) Ben Macintyre has suggested that "perhaps Aileen's distress reflected the first stirrings of doubt; she may already have begun to wonder whether her husband was really the charming, uxorious, popular, straight-batting bureaucrat that he seemed." (9)


In 1949 Kim Philby became SIS representative in Washington, as top British Secret Service officer working in liaison with the CIA and FBI. Aileen and the children also moved to America and the Philby's took a spacious, ramshackle two-storeyed place at 4100 Nebraska Avenue. They gave a lot of parties. As Phillip Knightley pointed out: "As the months passed the drinking - not only Philby's but Aileen's too - seemed to get heavier, and the birth of a fifth child, Harry, who suffered from convulsions, produced tensions in the family that Aileen seemed to have difficulty in handling." (10)

In 1950 Stewart Menzies and John Sinclair discussed the possibility of Philby becoming the next Director General of the MI6. Dick White was asked to produce a report on Philby. He asked Arthur Martin and Jane Archer to carry out an investigation into his past. They became concerned about how quickly he changed from a communist sympathizer to a supporter of pro-fascist organizations. They also discovered that the description of the mole provided by Walter Krivitsky and Igor Gouzenko was close to that of Philby's time in Spain as a journalist. It was now decided that Philby could in fact be a double-agent. (11)

When Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean defected in 1951 Philby became the chief suspect as the man who had tipped them off that they were being investigated. Under pressure from Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison, Stewart Menzies agreed that Philby should be interrogated by MI6. However, they cleared him of being part of a spy ring. However, the CIA insisted that he should be recalled to London. In September 1951 Philby officially resigned from MI6 but continued to work for the organization on a part-time basis. He was also paid £4,000 to compensate him for losing his job. (12)

Aileen Philby
Aileen Philby in 1951

Ben Macintyre, the author of A Spy Among Friends (2014), points out that by 1952 Aileen Philby was convinced that her husband was a Soviet spy: "Aileen knew that her husband had lied to her, consistently and coldly, from the moment they first met, and throughout their marriage. The knowledge of his duplicity tipped her into a psychological abyss from which she would never fully emerge. She confronted Kim, who denied everything. The ensuing row, far from dissipating her fears, merely confirmed her conviction that he was lying." (13)

Kim Philby in Beirut

In 1956 Nicholas Elliott arranged for Kim Philby to work for MI6 in Beirut. His cover was as a journalist being employed by the Observer and the Economist: "The Observer and Economist would share Philby's services, and pay him £3,000 a year plus travel and expenses. At the same time, Elliott arranged that Philby would resume working for MI6, no longer as an officer, but as an agent, gathering information for British intelligence in one of the world's most sensitive areas. He would be paid a retainer through Godfrey Paulson, chief of the Beirut MI6 station." (14)

Aileen did not go with her husband to Beirut. Her friend, Flora Solomon, became increasingly concerned about her mental state and claimed that she had been "abandoned by her husband." (15) Solomon wrote to Philby complaining about the treatment of his wife. Philby replied that Aileen's claims were "hooey" and "that I had made a clear arrangement with her that she should pay the household bills and forward me the receipts, whereupon I would refund her." So far, he had not had a single receipt. "So, no receipts, no money." Philby added that if she could afford "the luxuries of risking her neck at point-to-points, she can damn well send me the receipts." He finished his attack on his wife with the comment that he was "fed up with her idleness". (16)

Kim Philby had become involved with Eleanor Brewer, the wife of Sam Pope Brewer, a journalist working for the New York Times. She later recalled: "What touched me first about Kim was his loneliness. A certain old-fashioned reserve set him apart from the easy familiarity of the other journalists. He was then forty-four, of medium height, very lean, with a handsome heavily-lined face. His eyes were an intense blue... He had a gift for creating an atmosphere of such intimacy that I found myself talking freely to him. I was very impressed by his beautiful manners. We took him under our wing. Kim soon became one of our closest friends." (17)

Anthony Cave Brown, the author of Treason of Blood (1995) has argued that within two weeks of meeting they became lovers, meeting secretly at little cafes, in the mountains, at the beaches, anywhere they would not be seen" by friends. "He showered her with little love notes written on paper from cigarette packages... Brewer had long since ceased to concern himself with his wife's fidelity and kept the marriage in place only for the sake of their daughter, Annie." Brown believes that there is evidence that Wilbur Crane Eveland, the CIA station chief in Beirut, had asked Eleanor to spy on Philby. "Certain letters shoe Eveland advising a CIA officer about the relationship, suggesting that she was his controlled informant in the Philby case." (18)

Death of Aileen Philby

On 12th December 1957, Aileen Philby was discovered dead in the bedroom of her house in Crowborough by her eldest daughter. Her friends believed she had killed herself, with drink and pills. However, her psychiatrist suspected, that she "might have been murdered" by Kim Philby because she knew too much. "The coroner ruled she had died from heart failure, myocardial degeneration, tuberculosis, and a respiratory infection having contracted influenza. Her alcoholism undoubtedly accelerated her death." (19) Flora Solomon blamed Philby for the death of Aileen. She wrote: "I endeavoured to strike him from my memory." (20)

Richard Beeston and his wife, Moyra, were shopping in Bierut's Bab Idriss, when they met Philby: "I have wonderful news darlings, I want you to come and celebrate." In a bar he produced a telegram from England informing him of Aileen's death. It was, he said, a "wonderful escape", as he was now free to marry "a wonderful girl." (21) However, Philby complained to another friend, that he was annoyed that she had died in a way that raised questions about his involvement: "She can't even die in an uncomplicated way, it has to be all crumbled up with problems." (22)

Primary Sources

(1) Flora Solomon, Baku to Baker Street (1984)

Another colleague with whom I was on terms of close friendship, Neil Furse, an accountant, approached me with the request that I find a position in my department for his cousin Aileen. Though not short of money, and highly intelligent, she was subject to depressions. Her doctors thought she should have a job. Aileen was appointed to our Marble Arch store as a staff manageress, and I undertook to keep an eye on her wellbeing.

Aileen Furse soon established herself as one of my principal assistants, all of whom dropped in at my home for the occasional drink. She was there one day when Kim Philby arrived, now separated but not divorced from his Litzi. Kim plonked himself in an easy chair and began talking about Spain. He found an avid listener in Aileen, and the two left together. The next I knew they were sharing a flat.

Kim appeared to me to be concentrating on making a reputation for himself in journalism. Aileen belonged to the class, now out of fashion, called 'county'. She was typically English, slim and attractive, fiercely patriotic, but awkward in her gestures and unsure of herself in company. I was pleased for her. As they left a party in my home - this must have been some time in 1938, just before Munich - Kim took me to one side, looking morose. "I want to tell you," he said, "I'm in great danger." It dawned on me then that he was still associated with the Communist Party, the cause he had espoused at Cambridge. The statement was extraordinary, perhaps, but the intimation of his affiliation provoked no suspicion. What was dangerous in Britain about being a Communist? In some circles of the intelligentsia it was the done thing.

(2) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988)

Keeping with his new image of a responsible peacetime professional SIS officer, Philby set about tidying up his private life. The problem was that he was still married to Litzi, and although Eileen had changed her name by deed poll to Philby, their three children had all been born out of wedlock. This was not a handicap for a young SIS officer in the relaxed moral atmosphere of wartime, but for a permanent civil servant who wanted to make his way to the top it could count against him. By now Litzi was living in East Berlin with her wartime lover, Georg Honigmann, a known communist. Philby was certain that she would agree to a divorce, but if he contacted her to arrange it all, and somehow or other M15 later got to hear of the contact, it could be made to look very suspicious: why had Philby, a British counter-intelligence officer in charge of the anti-Soviet desk, been in touch with a communist living in a communist bloc country? If he then told the reason, he could well be asked why he had not mentioned before that he had been married to a communist.

Philby took the bold way out. He asked Vivian for permission to contact Litzi so as to arrange a divorce that would enable him to marry Aileen. And he got in first by describing how he met Litzi during a youthful escapade in Vienna and had married her to save her from imprisonment or death at the hands of the fascists. Vivian listened sympathetically and instantly gave his permission. Nevertheless he got M15 to make a routine check of its records for anything it had on Litzi and must have been rather surprised to read the reply that Alice (Litzi) Kohlman... was a confirmed Soviet agent. Although Vivian must have pondered over this, he did nothing about it. To begin with, he was Philby's patron in the service and to make a fuss about Philby's marriage would end up reflecting badly on Vivian as well. It would not have been hard to convince himself that the M15 trace added little to what Philby had already told him. As well, the marriage had really ended ten years earlier, before Philby had joined SIS, so there appeared little point in resurrecting a brief indiscretion that might stain the career of such a promising and much-liked officer.

So Philby got in touch with Litzi, and it was agreed that she should petition for a divorce on the grounds of Philby's adultery with Aileen. The decree was made absolute on 17 September 1946 and Philby and Aileen were married a week later. He was thirty-four; she was thirty-five and seven months pregnant with their fourth child, Miranda. The witnesses were Tommy Harris and Flora Solomon, Aileen's former boss and a longtime friend of the Philby family. The reception, a noisy, hard-drinking affair, was held in the Philby house in Carlyle Square.


(1) Anthony Cave Brown, Treason of Blood (1995) page 208

(2) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) page 75

(3) Flora Solomon, Baku to Baker Street (1984) page 172

(4) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) page 75

(5) Flora Solomon, Baku to Baker Street (1984) page 172

(6) Anthony Cave Brown, Treason of Blood (1995) page 208

(7) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) page 120

(8) Flora Solomon, Baku to Baker Street (1984) page 172

(9) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) pages 94-95

(10) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) page 164

(11) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) pages 161

(12) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) page 175

(13) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 171

(14) Anthony Cave Brown, Treason of Blood (1995) pages 457-458

(15) Flora Solomon, Baku to Baker Street (1984) page 210

(16) Kim Philby, letter to Flora Solomon (2nd May, 1957)

(17) Eleanor Philby, Kim Philby: The Spy I Loved (1968) pages 31-33

(18) Anthony Cave Brown, Treason of Blood (1995) page 481

(19) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 212

(20) Flora Solomon, Baku to Baker Street (1984) page 211

(21) Richard Beeston, Looking for Trouble: The Life and Times of a Foreign Correspondent (2006) page 29

(22) Anthony Cave Brown, Treason of Blood (1995) page 482