Roger Hollis

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Sir Roger Hollis
Allegiance United Kingdom Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Service MI5
Rank Director-General of MI5
Award(s) KBE, CB

Born 2 December 1905
Wells, Somerset
Died 26 October 1973(1973-10-26) (aged 67)
Catcott, Somerset
Nationality British
Occupation Intelligence officer
Alma mater Worcester College, Oxford

Sir Roger Henry Hollis, KBE, CB (2 December 1905 – 26 October 1973) was a British journalist and intelligence officer, who was Director General of MI5 from 1956 to 1965.

Early years[edit]

His father, George Hollis, was Bishop of Taunton. Hollis was educated at Clifton College, Bristol. From 1924 to the spring of 1926, he attended Worcester College, Oxford without completing his degree. From the spring of 1926 to 1927, he was a clerk for the Standard Chartered Bank in London.[1][page needed]

Early professional career[edit]

In 1927, he went to Hong Kong and got a job as a freelance journalist, then moved to Shanghai. From 1 April 1928, he worked for British American Tobacco. In 1930, he transferred to Beijing.[2][page needed] While in China, Hollis apparently associated frequently with the noted left-wing journalist Agnes Smedley.[3][page needed] Hollis developed tuberculosis, and returned to England in 1936 for a brief spell with the Ardath Tobacco Company, an associate of BAT.

In June 1938, he joined MI5 F Division (Countersubversion). From 1953 to 1956, he was MI5 deputy director general under Dick White. From 1956 to December 1965, when he retired, he was MI5 director general, succeeding White.

Mole suspicions[edit]

After Kim Philby's flight to Moscow in 1963, rumours began to circulate that Hollis had alerted him to his impending arrest.[citation needed] He was also criticised for not alerting John Profumo, the War Secretary in Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's government, that he might have become entangled with a Soviet spy ring through his friendship with Stephen Ward, and his affair with Christine Keeler.[citation needed]

During the 1950s and 1960s, a large number of MI5 operations failed in circumstances that suggested the Soviets had been tipped off.[citation needed] Although many such failures were subsequently blamed on the actions of the self-confessed or defected agents Guy Burgess, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt, a number of failures occurred after all three had lost their access to secret information. Thus, some in MI5 concluded that the Soviets must have an agent in a very senior position within the organisation. Peter Wright, Arthur S. Martin, Jane Sissmore and others became convinced that either Hollis or his deputy, Graham Mitchell, could be the only ones responsible, eventually confiding their suspicions to their former DG, Dick White, by now DG of MI6.[citation needed]

According to Nigel West,[4] White instructed Martin to inform Hollis that Mitchell was a suspect, and Hollis instructed Martin (after due consideration) to keep Mitchell under surveillance. Nigel West implies that this was a deliberate ploy to keep tabs on both Mitchell and Hollis.

Martin eventually became so disgruntled and outspoken about Hollis's attitude toward the investigation (Hollis had, for example, reduced the size of the department and had sent one of Martin's best men on an overseas assignment), that Hollis suspended Martin for a fortnight, and the case was turned over to Peter Wright. Much of the investigation was centred around the interviews with Anthony Blunt at that time, and Peter Wright had amassed a sizeable amount of taped evidence from Blunt when Martin returned from suspension. After 1964, Blunt gradually confessed his double-agent role in exchange for immunity from prosecution.[5][page needed]

Eventually the PETERS operation wound down. By then, some time after Hollis had retired, suspicion had lifted from Mitchell and focused solely on Hollis. However, the then-Director-General, Martin Furnival Jones, refused to sanction an investigation into Hollis.[6]

Under Furnival Jones, the higher management of MI5 expressed indignation and loss of morale about the Hollis affair. Hollis was asked to come in and clear up the allegations. Having been the director, Hollis was aware of the procedures of the interrogation and investigation. He remained calm and composed throughout, denying all allegations. He was a very secretive man and MI5 had very little information about many aspects of his past, particularly his years in China.[citation needed] Later, in the 1970s, the Trend Committee under Lord Trend was entrusted with the matter of investigating Hollis and Soviet penetration of MI5 in general. After a long enquiry, it reported the allegations inconclusive, neither denying nor confirming them.[citation needed]

Martin and Wright and the team were unable to convince anyone else in MI5 or MI6 that they were right about Hollis. Wright retired in January 1976, upon reaching age 60, by his own account (in Spycatcher) enraged at being denied a pension for his 30 years of service, on highly legalistic and technical grounds. He emigrated to Tasmania, Australia, and there wrote an account of his work at MI5. Despite attempts by Margaret Thatcher and her government to suppress the publication and distribution of the book, Spycatcher, it was finally published in 1987, and eventually sold over two million copies around the world.

In the book Wright claimed that Hollis had been a Soviet agent. Amongst the evidence for this claim is the Igor Gouzenko defection. Hollis was sent to Canada to interview Gouzenko, a cipher clerk in the Soviet embassy in Ottawa. Wright wrote that Hollis justified his involvement in the case because it involved a communist defection in a Commonwealth nation, so it came under MI5's jurisdiction, and he (Hollis) was MI5's expert on communist matters. Gouzenko had provided Hollis with clear information about Alan Nunn May's meetings with his handlers; all these meetings were immediately cancelled. Alan Nunn May was a scientist and part of the Soviet spy ring which obtained the secrets of the Manhattan Project, which built the first atomic bomb for the United States. Gouzenko also noted that the man who met him seemed to be in disguise, not interested in his revelations, and discouraged him from further disclosures.[not in citation given] In view of this circumstantial evidence, Wright became convinced that Hollis was a traitor.

Wright alleges in Spycatcher that Gouzenko, who had worked for the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate, the Russian foreign military intelligence service), himself deduced later that his interviewer might have been a Soviet double agent, and was probably afraid that he might recognise him from case photos that Gouzenko might have seen in KGB or GRU files, hence the disguise. Gouzenko also admitted that he, being a lower level clerk, had no access to such files.[not in citation given] Peter Wright had given a televised interview during the dispute with Thatcher's government. Following Peter Wright's TV interview in 1984, Arthur Martin wrote a letter to the Times, and it was published 19 July 1984. Martin stated that while Wright exaggerated the certainty with which they regarded Hollis's guilt, Peter Wright was justified in saying that Hollis was the most likely candidate, for the reasons Wright had given.

In her 2001 autobiography, Christine Keeler (John Profumo's mistress), alleged, without supporting evidence, that Hollis and Ward were part of a spy ring with Sir Anthony Blunt.[citation needed] Ward committed suicide as the Profumo scandal progressed.

Hollis was also accused by Chapman Pincher (investigative journalist who produced several exposés of failures in British counter-intelligence) of being a Soviet agent, though entirely separate from the infamous Cambridge Five spy ring. Pincher claims Hollis was recruited by Richard Sorge in China in the early 1930s to spy for the GRU. Evidence has been advanced to support these assertions by Chapman Pincher in Treachery.[7][page needed]

The book Treachery by Chapman Pincher[8] is devoted to the case against Hollis as being "Elli", the highly placed mole within MI5 identified by the defector Gouzenko, and thus operating as a Soviet agent from the 1940s until Hollis' retirement from MI5.

In his book, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5, Cambridge professor Christopher Andrew used access to 400,000 MI5 files to compile an official history of the service. He claims he has proved conclusively that Hollis was not a double agent and that Wright was misguided at best. However, this view is again challenged in the revised edition of Chapman Pincher's book Treachery published in the UK in 2011. A critique of Christopher Andrew's book is also provided by Paul Monk in "Christopher Andrew and the Strange Case of Roger Hollis".[9]

In the 2009 ITV programme, Inside MI5: The Real Spooks, Oleg Gordievsky recounted how he saw the head of the British section of the KGB, expressing surprise at the allegations that he read in a British newspaper about Roger Hollis being a KGB agent, saying "Why is it they are speaking about Roger Hollis, such nonsense, can't understand it, it must be some special English trick directed against us."[10] But Chapman Pincher in Treachery states that Hollis was believed to be a GRU agent, the GRU being a different organisation to the KGB.[citation needed]

On 21 April 2015, The Institute of World Politics held a panel debating whether or not Roger Hollis was in fact a mole. They published a report and chronology.[11]

The official MI5 website denies that Hollis was a Soviet agent, adding:

Hollis' non-involvement with the Soviets was confirmed in the 1980s by a senior KGB defector, Oleg Gordievsky. He has described how the Soviets themselves were baffled by the allegations against Hollis[12]

Later life[edit]

Peter Wright in Spycatcher asserts that Hollis and his secretary Val Hammond were carrying on a long-standing affair while both were at MI5. Hammond, according to Wright, was eligible for promotion at many points during her long service, including non-clerical positions related to intelligence analysis, but she consistently refused the opportunity to move to higher positions in MI5 to stay close to Hollis.[not in citation given] It was also theorised that Hammond was a lesbian who was involved in a relationship with an attractive one quarter Russian clerical worker at the agency. Examination of Hammond's journal years later only gives the name of "Natalia," who, Hammond wrote, "was irresistibly insatiable, and kept me at the agency."[citation needed] Hollis and Hammond were married after Hollis divorced his first wife, Eve, in 1968.

His son, Adrian (1940–2013), was a classical scholar and Grandmaster of correspondence chess, and was British Correspondence Chess Champion in 1966, 1967 and 1971. Philosopher Martin Hollis (1938–1998) was his nephew. His elder brother, (Maurice) Christopher Hollis (1902–1977), was a Conservative MP for Devizes from 1945 to 1955. His nephew, Crispian Hollis, is a Catholic bishop and his grand-nephew Charles Hollis (the grandson of Christopher Hollis) joined the Foreign Office in 1984, serving in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran.[13]


  • Wright, Peter (1987). Spycatcher. New York and London: Viking Penguin Inc. 
  • West, Nigel (1987). Mole Hunt. London: Wiedenfeld and Nicolson. [14]
  • Pincher, Chapman (2009). Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders, and Cover-ups: Six Decades of Espionage Against America and Great Britain. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6807-4. 
  • Pincher, Chapman (2012). Treachery "Updated and uncensored UK edition". Mainstream Publishing Company, Edinburgh. ISBN 978-1-84596-769-7. 
  • Andrew, Christoper (2009). The Defence of the Realm The Authorized History of MI5. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-102330-4. 


  1. ^ Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, by Peter Wright, Toronto 1987, Stoddart Publishers.
  2. ^ "Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders, and Cover-ups," by Chapman Pincher, New York 2009, Random House.
  3. ^ Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, by Peter Wright, Toronto 1987, Stoddart Publishers.
  4. ^ (Mole Hunt, chapter 2, "Operation PETERS")
  5. ^ Spycatcher: The Memoirs of a Senior Intelligence Officer, by Peter Wright, 1987.
  6. ^ Mole Hunt, Chapter 3, page 45, noted that the investigative team known as FLUENCY had been disbanded before any conclusions had been reached.
  7. ^ Random House June 2009: revised edition, Mainstream May 2011
  8. ^ Random House June 2009: revised edition, Mainstream May 2011
  9. ^
  10. ^ Inside MI5: The Real Spooks (ITV 2009)
  11. ^ The Institute of World Politics. The Institute of World Politics Retrieved 2015-06-18.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ MI5 website, accessed 8 August 2014
  13. ^ Charles Hollis page on LinkedIn, accessed 8 August 2014
  14. ^ Nigel West is the pen-name of Rupert William Simon Allason.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Dick White
Director-General of MI5
Succeeded by
Sir Martin Furnival Jones