Philby’s Expenses

Toby Harnden’s column for Foreign Policy reminded me just how much I love a good expenses claim story. Some of the best come from history, such as Stanley’s rather extravagant quest (just click through the password dialogue box) to find Livingston.

Another nice one comes from Philby: The Spy who Betrayed a Generation, which suggests that the late nineteenth century excesses of Stanley had given way to pennypinching by newspaper executives during World War Two. Forgivable, I suppose. There was after all a war on. But you can imagine Kim Philby’s irritation when he was putting his life on the line writing for The Times in France during 1940 at accountants constantly querying his claims. After losing all his kit during the chaotic retreat from Amiens, he could barely contain his increasing exasperation as the bean counters demanded a detailed inventory – with prices — of his gear.

“I fear certain misapprehensions exist in London about the conditions of life here…” his letter begins, before going on to list his rather threadbare  accessories:

  • Camelhair overcoat (2 years wear) fifteen guineas
  • Dunhill pipe (2 years old and all the better for it) one pound ten shilling

And so on. In future, I think all my expenses claims shall be sent with a note starting: “I fear certain misapprehensions…” Marvelous.


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