Charlotte Philby: ‘We visited Kim in Moscow’

The spy novelist, whose latest book tells the story of her grandfather Kim Philby and the Soviet agent Edith Tudor-Hart, talks about the perils of writing about family, and why female spies get overlooked

Charlotte Philby, 39, is a former investigative reporter and the author of three critically acclaimed spy novels. She is also the granddaughter of Kim Philby, the notorious double-agent known as “the third man” in the Cambridge spy ring. Her fourth novel, Edith and Kim, tells the linked stories of her grandfather and Edith Tudor-Hart, a Jewish photojournalist born in Vienna, who studied at the Bauhaus, married an Englishman, worked as a Soviet agent in London and introduced Kim to his Russian handler. Philby lives in Bristol with her husband and three children.

Putting real historical characters into a novel is a minefield, especially those who existed within living memory. How much more so when it’s your own family?
My relationship to my grandfather is complex and constantly evolving. I’m conscious that his story belongs to different people in different ways, within our family and also more widely. I think part of the appeal of writing this book was trying to reconcile the ways in which I’ve come to understand him: as a grandfather; a father; a friend; a traitor; an idealist. But I had to find the right way to approach it. When I happened upon the story of Edith Tudor-Hart, I knew that she was the person I had to write about. She’s always cast as a bit player if she’s mentioned at all, but she was a remarkable woman. Anthony Blunt referred to her as “the grandmother of the Cambridge spies”.

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