Eleanor Philby

Eleanor Philby

Eleanor Kearns was born in Seattle in 1914. After graduating from Washington University, she worked for the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson in San Francisco. She has been described as "tall and slim, sweet-natured, and restless". (1)

On the outbreak of the Second World War she joined the Office of War Information and was posted to Istanbul. She met and fell in love with the New York Times correspondent, Sam Pope Brewer. They married in Rome in 1948 and soon afterwards she gave birth to a daughter. She later accompanied her husband to posts in Madrid, New York City and Rio de Janeiro.

In 1956 Brewer was posted to Beirut. Another journalist, Richard Beeston suggested that "Eleanor was a rangy, steady-drinking American, who looked tough and sophisticated. Underneath she was a romantic, and politically naive." (2) Soon after arriving in the city she met MI6 agent, Kim Philby. 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." (3)

Kim Philby

Eleanor 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." (4)

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." (5)

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." (6) Flora Solomon blamed Philby for the death of Aileen. She wrote: "I endeavoured to strike him from my memory." (7)

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." (8) 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." (9)

Eleanor Philby

It took another seven months before Eleanor Brewer to obtain her divorce. She at once sent a telegram to Kim Philby who was still in Bierut. He immediately went out to find Sam Pope Brewer. According to Eleanor he told him: "I've come to tell you that I've had a cable from Eleanor. She has got her divorce and I want you to be the first person to know that I'm going to marry her." They married in Holban registry office in London on 24 January 1959. (10)

Philby was now aware that he was in danger of being arrested and therefore on 23rd January, 1963, Kim Philby fled to Moscow. Nicholas Elliott later claimed that he and MI6 were surprised by the defection. "It just didn't dawn on us." (11) Ben Macintyre, the author of A Spy Among Friends (2014) argues: "This defies belief. Burgess and Maclean had both defected... Philby knew he now faced sustained interrogation, over a long period, at the hands of Peter Lunn, a man he found unsympathetic. Elliott had made it quite clear that if he failed to cooperate fully, the immunity deal was off and the confession he had already signed would be used against him... There is another, very different way to read Elliott's actions. The prospect of prosecuting Philby in Britain was anathema to the intelligence services; another trial, so soon after the Blake fiasco, would be politically damaging and profoundly embarrassing." (12)

Desmond Bristow, MI6's head of station in Spain, agreed with this analysis: "Philby was allowed to escape. Perhaps he was even encouraged. To have him brought back to England and convicted as a traitor would have been even more embarrassing; and when they convicted him, could they really have hanged him?" (13) Yuri Modin, who was the man the KGB selected to talk to Philby before he defected, also believes this was the case: "To my mind the whole business was politically engineered. The British government had nothing to gain by prosecuting Philby. A major trial, to the inevitable accompaniment of spectacular revelation and scandal, would have shaken the British establishment to its foundations." (14)

Life in Moscow

Kim Philby was giving a luxury flat in Moscow and given a salary of £200 a month. Guy Burgess died from a heart attack following liver failure, in the Botin Hospital, Moscow, on 30th August 1963. Burgess left his 4,000 book library to Philby. Eleanor Philby joined Philby in the Soviet Union on 26th September 1963. A few weeks later Philby wrote to Nicholas Elliott: "I am more than thankful for your friendly interventions at all times. I would have got in touch with you earlier, but I thought it better to let time do its work on the case. It is invariably with pleasure that I remember our meetings and talks. They did much to help one get one's bearings in this complicated world! I deeply appreciate, now as ever, our old friendship, and I hope that rumours which have reached me about your having had some trouble on my account, are exaggerated. It would be bitter to feel that I might have been a source of trouble to you, but I am buoyed up by my confidence that you will have found a way out of any difficulties that may have beset you." (15) Philby suggested the two men should meet in East Berlin. Elliott wanted to go but Dick White rejected the idea.

Some of his old friends went public with their criticism of Philby. This upset Philby and he told Phillip Knightley: "Friendship is the most important thing of all... I have always operated on two levels, a personal level and a political one. When the two have come into conflict I have had to put politics first. The conflict can be very painful. I don't like deceiving people, especially friends, and contrary to what others think, I feel very badly about it." (16)

Melinda Maclean

Eleanor and Kim Philby spent a great deal of time with Donald Maclean and his wife, Melinda Maclean. They got on very well together and soon settled into a pattern of meeting two or three times a week to dine, play bridge or visit the theatre or ballet. In 1964, Eleanor returned to the United States to renew her passport and to see her daughter. She was away for five months and in her absence, Kim and Melinda started an affair. As Ben Macintyre pointed out: "It was a fitting liaison: Philby was secretly sleeping with the wife of an ideological comrade, and cheating on his own wife, repeating once again the strange cycle of friendship and betrayal that defined his world." (17) On her return she discovered the affair and decided to leave him. In May, 1965, Eleanor Philby left Moscow. She sent him a letter that she would be willing to return, but not to any city in which Melinda Maclean was also living. (18)

Eleanor Philby wrote a memoir of her relationship with Philby, entitled. Kim Philby: The Spy I Loved (1968): "He (Philby) betrayed many people, me included. Kim had the guts, or the weakness, to stand by a decision he made thirty years ago, whatever the cost to those who loved him most." Eleanor insisted that she was totally unaware that Kim was a Soviet spy and after her experiences she concluded: "No one can ever really know another human being." (19)

Eleanor Philby died in 1968. Her book, Kim Philby: The Spy I Loved (1968), was published after her death.

Primary Sources

(1) Natasha Walter, The Guardian (10th May, 2003)

In the late 1960s, Eleanor Philby, Kim's third wife, brought a rare glimpse of the Macleans back to the west. Melinda hadn't quite accepted the Soviet way of life: she and her children cut incongruously elegant figures in Moscow, dressed out of the parcels of American clothes sent by her mother and sister. But when the Philbys and Macleans sat in their Moscow apartments of an evening, getting toweringly drunk on Soviet champagne, Melinda joined in the dreaming. "In moments of nostalgia," Eleanor said, "Donald and Melinda would talk of the good times they would have in Italy and Paris 'when the revolution comes'. I found this world of fantasy slightly unnerving."

Melinda's marriage did not long survive the constraints of life in Moscow, and when it broke down she began a brief affair with Philby, who had arrived there in 1963. Given their practised secrecy, it's not surprising that their relationship remains rather obscure. After that relationship, too, broke down, it seems that the day-to-day reality of life in the Soviet Union told on Melinda. Finally, in 1979, she returned to the west, to be with her mother and sisters, and her children soon followed her. She is still alive in New York, but she has never said a single word to the press.


(1) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 208

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(10) Eleanor Philby, Kim Philby: The Spy I Loved (1968) page 39

(11) Tom Bower, The Perfect English Spy (1995) page 301

(12) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 255

(13) Desmond Bristow, A Game Of Moles: Deceptions of an MI6 Officer (1993) page 281

(14) Yuri Modin, My Five Cambridge Friends (1994) page 238

(15) Kim Philby, letter to Nicholas Elliott (October, 1963)

(16) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) page 278

(17) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 279

(18) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) page 229

(19) Eleanor Philby, Kim Philby: The Spy I Loved (1968) page 175