British Espionage and Propaganda in WW2 Spain: the role of Tom Burns

Hosted by the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies

Cañada Blanch Seminar Room COW.1.11, Cowdray House, LSE


James Burns

James Burns

Journalist and author


Sebastian Balfour

Sebastian Balfour

London School of Economics

As part of our occasional series on espionage, Jimmy Burns investigates the role of his father in the murky secret world wherein the Allies struggled against the Axis to secure General Franco’s neutrality in the Second World War.

In 1940, Tom Burns, a young British Catholic publisher and friend of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, was recruited by the British wartime propaganda Ministry of Information and posted to the British Embassy in Madrid. Under the cover of his official post as press attaché, he used his considerable ingenuity and network of Spanish contacts to help organise and deliver the propaganda and intelligence war against the Nazis. The aim was to keep the Franco regime from siding militarily with Hitler and protect Allied interests in Gibraltar, the Western Mediterranean, and North Africa. In doing so he found himself at the heart of a web of intrigue, grappling not only against the Nazis but also drawn into internecine conflicts with which the secret services were riven. It is a dramatic story which evokes the shadow world of clandestine meetings and agent running, bribery, and betrayal. Among the extraordinary dramatis personae are Soviet spy Kim Philby, then head of MI6's Iberian section, the pro-German Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the British actor Lesley Howard, and  Burns' nemesis, the German press attaché Hans Lazar. 

Jimmy Burns, OBE, is a prize winning journalist and author. He was born in Madrid and educated in the UK (Stonyhurst College, University College London and the LSE). He has worked for the Financial Times 1976-2009 as correspondent in Lisbon, Madrid, and Buenos Aires, as security and political correspondent, and as a founding member of the newspaper's investigative team. His media work has also included  TV and radio in the UK, US, Spain and Latin America. His books include the winner of the Somerset Maughan prize for non-fiction, The Land that Lost its Heroes, biographies of Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pope Francis, and histories of FC Barcelona, Barca, A People's Passion, and Spanish national football, La Roja.

The Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies runs a series of lectures, seminars and debates in order to disseminate and encourage knowledge of contemporary Spain. It also sponsors the publication of an important series of books on contemporary Spain.


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