Roger Hollis

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Sir Roger Hollis
Allegiance United Kingdom Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Service MI5
Active 1938-1965
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 an intelligence officer who served with MI5 from 1938 to 1965. He was Director General of MI5 from 1956-65.

Early years, family, and education[edit]

His father, the Right Reverend George Hollis, was Bishop of Taunton. His mother was a daughter of a Canon of Wells Cathedral.[1] Hollis was educated at Clifton College, Bristol. From 1924 to the spring of 1926, he attended Worcester College, Oxford, where he read English, but left without completing his degree.[1]

Early professional career[edit]

From the spring of 1926 into 1927, he was a clerk for the Standard Chartered Bank in London.;[2][3]

In early 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.[4]

While in China, he developed tuberculosis, and returned to England in 1936 for a brief spell with the Ardath Tobacco Company, an associate of BAT.

Marriages, family[edit]

Hollis married Evelyn Swayne on July 17, 1937 at Wells Cathedral, with his father performing the ceremony. She was the daughter of a prosperous solicitor from Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset. The couple had one son, Adrian Swayne Hollis. Hollis divorced his first wife in 1968 and married his MI5 secretary, with whom he had carried on a long-standing affair.[5]

Joins MI5[edit]

In June 1938, he joined MI5 F Division (Countersubversion). Many departments of MI5, including F Division, moved from London to Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, during World War II, due to threat of bombing.[6]

MI5 Director General[edit]

From 1953-56, he was MI5 deputy director general under Dick White. From 1956-65, when he retired, he was MI5 director general, succeeding White.[7]

Mole suspicions[edit]

After Kim Philby's flight from Beirut to Moscow in 1963, rumours began to circulate that Hollis had alerted him to his impending arrest.

Hollis was criticised for not alerting John Profumo, the War Secretary in Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's Conservative government, that he might have become entangled with a Soviet spy ring through his friendship with Stephen Ward, and his affair with call girl Christine Keeler, who was introduced by Ward to Profumo. Soviet Naval Attache Eugene Ivanov was also involved with Keeler at this time, in the early 1960s, and sought to learn the date of American plans to arm nuclear warheads in West Germany, from Profumo through Keeler. Profumo had to resign in mid-1963, and the resulting scandal did much to bring the Labour Party to power in the October 1964 General Election.[8]

During the 1950s and 1960s, a large number of MI5 operations failed in circumstances that suggested the Soviets had been tipped off. Although many such failures were subsequently blamed on the actions of such self-confessed or defected agents as Philby, Guy Burgess, and Anthony Blunt, a number of failures occurred after all three had lost their access to secret information. Some in MI5 concluded the Soviets had 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, who was, by that time, Director General of MI6. White instructed Martin to inform Hollis that Mitchell was a suspect, and Hollis instructed Martin (after due consideration) to keep Mitchell under surveillance. West implies that this was a deliberate ploy to keep tabs on both Mitchell and Hollis.[9]

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 Wright. Much of the investigation was centred around the interviews with Anthony Blunt at that time, and Peter Wright had amassed a sizable 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.[2]

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, then-Director-General Martin Furnival Jones refused to sanction an investigation into Hollis. Mole Hunt (Chapter 3, page 45) noted that the investigative team known as FLUENCY had been disbanded before any conclusions had been reached.[9]

In 1984, investigative journalist Chapman Pincher published "Too Secret Too Long", a book which examined the early life of Hollis and his MI5 career drawing upon new sources and upon many interviews with retired intelligence personnel. Pincher published an updated version of his book in 2009. Chapman Pincher also accused Hollis of being a Soviet agent, though entirely separate from the 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 Pincher in his book, Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders, and Cover-ups: Six Decades of Espionage Against America and Great Britain, which is devoted to positing that Hollis was "Elli", the highly placed mole within MI5 identified by Gouzenko, and operating as a Soviet agent from the 1940s until retiring from MI5.[4]

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. 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 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's government to suppress the publication and distribution of Spycatcher, it was finally published in 1987, and eventually sold over two million copies around the world.[2]

In the book Wright claimed that Hollis had been a Soviet agent. Among the evidence for this claim is the Igor Gouzenko defection, at Ottawa 1945. 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. 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 noted that the man who met him seemed to be in disguise, not interested in his revelations, and discouraged him from further disclosures. In view of this circumstantial evidence, Wright became convinced that Hollis was a traitor.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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, Wright was justified in saying that Hollis was the most likely candidate, for the reasons Wright had cited. In her 2001 autobiography, Christine Keeler (John Profumo's mistress), alleged, without supporting evidence, that Hollis and Stephen Ward were part of a spy ring with Sir Anthony Blunt. Ward committed suicide as the Profumo scandal progressed.[when?]

In his book, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5, a Cambridge professor, Dr 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.[10] 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 Andrew's book is provided by Paul Monk in Christopher Andrew and the Strange Case of Roger Hollis.

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."[11] But Chapman Pincher in Treachery states that Hollis was believed to be a GRU agent, the GRU being a different organisation to the KGB.[4]

On 21 April 2015, The Institute of World Politics held a panel debating whether or not Hollis was a mole. They published a report and chronology.[12]

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[13]

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. Hollis and Hammond were married after Hollis divorced his first wife, Eve, in 1968.[2]


Roger Hollis's 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 1945-55. His nephew, Rt Rev Crispian Hollis, is a Roman Catholic bishop, and his grand-nephew Charles Hollis (grandson of Christopher Hollis) joined the Foreign Office in 1984, serving in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran.


  1. ^ a b Pincher, 1984, p. 14
  2. ^ a b c d Wright, Peter (1987). Spycatcher. New York and London: Viking Penguin Inc. ISBN 978-0440201328. [pages needed]
  3. ^ Pincher, 1984, p. 17
  4. ^ a b c 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. 
  5. ^ Pincher, 1984
  6. ^ Pincher
  7. ^ Too Secret Too Long, by Chapman Pincher, 1984
  8. ^ Pincher"
  9. ^ a b West, Nigel (1987). Mole Hunt. London, UK: Guild Publishing. ASIN B001N3IV22. 
  10. ^ Andrew, Christoper (2009). The Defence of the Realm The Authorized History of MI5. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-102330-4. 
  11. ^ Inside MI5: The Real Spooks (ITV 2009),; accessed 3 April 2016.
  12. ^ "Was Roger Hollis a British patriot or Soviet spy?". The Institute of World Politics. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  13. ^ MI5 website; accessed 8 August 2014.

External links[edit]

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