Burns. Tom Burns.

Papa Spy
Love, Faith, and Betrayal in Wartime Spain
Jimmy Burns
Walker, $26, 396 pp.

I am looking at a letter from Tom Burns dated November 4, 1969, offering me an editorial position at the Tablet. My salary was £1000 a year; I worked there for the next two years. I remember Tom, then in his second year as editor of the London-based Catholic magazine, as affable, somewhat remote, seemingly always on his way to or from the Garrick Club, that haven for writers, barristers, and actors founded in 1831 “to tend to the regeneration of the Drama.”

Life was certainly dramatic for my new boss, who took over the editorship in 1967 and almost immediately found himself caught up in the controversy following Humanae vitae, of which he was a vociferous critic, despite intense pressure from church authorities and from many Tablet readers and his own very conservative views on most other issues. I soon learned of his courage and firm convictions, but most of my time was spent working under the assistant editor, John Wilkins, and we would joke that when Tom returned from one of his Garrick lunches, an article by some right-wing friend in hand, John would take it with a gruff “thanks,” then surreptitiously stuff it into one of his desk drawers. A week or two would pass, during which Tom would wander into the small, somewhat chaotic office John and I shared and inquire where the article had got to. General mystification. More often than not, when at last John “found” the missing piece, it was no longer topical, and was formally spiked. As...

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About the Author

Richard Cohen is the author of By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions (Modern Library) and Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life. His new book, How To Write like Tolstoy, is due out next May from Random House.