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Roger Hollis

Sir Roger Hollis
Allegiance United Kingdom
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 1
  • Early professional career 2
  • Mole suspicions 3
  • Later life 4
  • Publications 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early years

His father, 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]

Early professional career

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] While in China, Hollis apparently associated frequently with the noted left-wing journalist Agnes Smedley.[3] 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

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

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 the self-confessed or defected agents 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.

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]

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 his successor Sir Martin 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. Ward committed suicide as the Profumo scandal progressed.

Hollis was also accused by

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Dick White
Director-General of MI5
Succeeded by
Sir Martin Furnival Jones
  • battle'"Spycatcher"BBC '1988: Government loses
  • "Spycatcher trial prompted much needed intelligence reforms interview with Christopher Andrew, PM"ABC Radio National

External links

  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 Insititue of World Politics. The Institue of World Poltics Retrieved 2015-06-18. 
  12. ^ MI5 website, accessed 8 August 2014
  13. ^ Charles Hollis page on LinkedIn, accessed 8 August 2014
  14. ^ Ron Morgan's author page on Amazon, accessed 8 August 2014
  15. ^ Ron Morgans blog, accessed 8 August 2014
  16. ^ Nigel West is the pen-name of Rupert William Simon Allason.


  • Wright, Peter (1987). Spycatcher. New York and London: Viking Penguin Inc. 
  • [16] 
  • Pincher, Chapman (2012). Treachery "Updated and uncensored UK edition". Mainstream Publishing Company, Edinburgh.  
  • Andrew, Christoper (2009). The Defence of the Realm The Authorized History of MI5. Penguin.  


Hollis's grave is notable. According to journalist and author Ron Morgans,[14] who researched the matter for the national press in the 1970s, Hollis's ashes are buried in an unmarked grave, inside the wall of his local churchyard at Establishment's sign for a traitor.[15]

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]

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. 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." Hollis and Hammond were married after Hollis divorced his first wife, Eve, in 1968.

Later life

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]

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

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]

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.

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]

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.


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