Donald Maclean was tall and good-looking. His father had been a member of Parliament and Secretary of Education in the government of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. He studied modern languages at Trinity Hall, Cambridge (1931-34) where he was recruited by Soviet intelligence; Maclean joined the Foreign Office in 1935.
Maclean had had homosexual flings - Burgess claimed to have seduced him at Cambridge - but appeared to be a bisexual. He was a prodigious worker and a seriously tense alcoholic. After a drunken episode in Cairo, Maclean was sent home to London to "recover" from his "nervous condition." After a few months of medical leave, he was given the prestigious position of Chief of the American Desk of the Foreign Office.
Donald was a diplomat in the 1940s and 1950s, serving in France, the United States and Egypt. All the while he was an agent of the Soviet secret service, the KGB, as part of the infamous Cambridge spy ring that also included Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt.
In France, he met an American, Melinda Marling, and they were married as the Germans entered Paris - after which they had to flee for their lives. In 1944 the couple were sent to Washington, where Maclean was first secretary in the British embassy and served on the Combined Policy Committee, which dealt with atomic energy and the atomic bomb. He passed everything he could learn in this post on to Moscow.
By this time, however, the FBI had started breaking the coded cables between the Soviet Consulate in New York and the one in Moscow. One of these messages revealed that the KGB had a spy, code-named Homer, in the British embassy. Another mentioned that Homer was going to New York on a certain weekend to see his pregnant wife. These details pointed to Maclean, who was by this time back in Britain as head of the American desk in the Foreign Office.
The British Security Service MI5 decided to interrogate him. Kim Philby, however, who was intelligence liaison officer in Washington at this time, was able to follow the FBI's progress in the hunt for Homer and knew of the upcoming interrogation. Although the evidence against him in 1951 was slight, both Philby and Burgess knew that Maclean would crack and confess under MI5 interrogation. So he tipped off Maclean, and two days before the interrogation Maclean, escorted by Guy Burgess, fled to the Soviet Union.
His wife and children joined him there, but their marriage broke up and Melinda Maclean returned to live in the United States. Maclean, however, made strenuous efforts to integrate into Soviet society, believing that he could make a contribution to Communism. He learned Russian, and established himself as a leading expert on British foreign affairs.
Maclean retained his early idealism and lived a life fully in accord with his Communist principles, eschewing all privileges. He did not hesitate to speak out against Soviet leaders, interceding personally on behalf of dissidents and giving part of his income to a fund for families of those imprisoned. He died of a heart attack in 1983 and, in accordance with his wishes, after his cremation his ashes were returned to Britain.