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The dashing POW who saved a young Audrey Hepburn

Burn, raising the V for victory sign, and Hepburn. Hulton Archive/Getty

Last month, a sculpture of Audrey Hepburn was unveiled in her birthplace of Ixelles in Belgium, says Ben Macintyre in The Times. But the actress “would not have existed” without the intervention of Micky Burn, one of this newspaper’s “most notable foreign correspondents”. The son of George V’s solicitor, Burn was “spoiled, louche, witty and handsome”. He flunked out of Oxford in 1933 after a “year wholly devoid of study”, and breezed into a job at The Times. A “keen fascist”, he was introduced to Hitler by Unity Mitford and had the Führer sign a copy of Mein Kampf, which he promptly lost. When he met a Dutch noblewoman called Baroness Ella van Heemstra at a Nuremberg rally, they quickly struck up a romance. But Burn “did not stick to anything for long, and that included Van Heemstra”. He soon packed up, moved back to London and shed his Nazism overnight.

To compensate for this “flirtation with fascism”, the writer volunteered for the commandos. When he was captured in 1942, the Germans published a propaganda image of him being led away to a POW camp – failing to notice that his left hand was “surreptitiously raised in the V for victory sign”, a typical act that was both “courageous and extremely rash”. While at Colditz, he received a letter from his now-destitute former lover van Heemstra, whose family had been persecuted by the Nazis: her daughter, then known as Adriaantje, was desperately ill with jaundice. Burn somehow managed to send her thousands of cigarettes, which Van Heemstra traded on the black market for penicillin. “Adriaantje recovered, and went on to become Audrey Hepburn.”