Jenifer Hart, the second of the four daughters of Sir John Fischer Williams, an international lawyer and Marjorie Hay Murray, was born on 29th January, 1914.
According to Nicola Lacey: "She was impatient with her mother and later wrote of her regrets about this blighted relationship. By contrast she admired her father, and this shaped her political commitments and intellectual ambitions." (1)
Jenifer was educated at Downe House, before winning a place to study history at Sommerville College in 1932. She later explained her choice "because I had a general idea that it stood for a tradition of free thought and progressive politics". She became part of a "radical set" that included Goronwy Rees, Bernard Floud, Phoebe Pool, Douglas Jay and Iris Murdoch. In 1933 she joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. (2)
According to The Daily Telegraph: "Her love life was uneventful until she met a working-class undergraduate... She was shocked when he undressed and suggested that they made love." She later recalled: "I had never seen a whole naked male body and thought it revolting." She overcame her initial aversion and became one of the femmes fatales of her generation. One of her lovers was Michael Oakeshott. (3)
In January 1934 Arnold Deutsch, one of NKVD's agents, was sent to London. As a cover for his spying activities he did post-graduate work at London University. In May he made contact with Litzi Friedmann and Edith Tudor Hart. They discussed the recruitment of Soviet spies. Litzi suggested her husband, Kim Philby. "According to her report on Philby's file, through her own contacts with the Austrian underground Tudor Hart ran a swift check and, when this proved positive, Deutsch immediately recommended... that he pre-empt the standard operating procedure by authorizing a preliminary personal sounding out of Philby." (4)
Deutsch asked Philby if he was willing to spy for the Soviet Union: "Otto spoke at great length, arguing that a person with my family background and possibilities could do far more for Communism than the run-of-the-mill Party member or sympathiser... I accepted. His first instructions were that both Lizzy and I should break off as quickly as possible all personal contact with our Communist friends." It is claimed by Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) that Philby became the first of "the ablest group of British agents ever recruited by a foreign intelligence service." (5)
Arnold Deutsch asked Kim Philby to make a list of potential recruits. Over the next few months Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross and Michael Straight joined the network. Deutsch reported to Moscow: "Given that the Communist movement in these universities is on a mass scale and that there is a constant turnover of students, it follows that individual Communists whom we pluck out of the Party will pass unnoticed, both by the Party itself and by the outside world. People forget about them. And if at some time they do remember that they were once Communists, this will be put down to a passing fancy of youth, especially as those concerned are scions of the bourgeoisie. It is up to us to give the individual recruit a new (non-Communist) political personality." (6)
During this period Jenifer Hart also agreed to become a spy. Her friend from university, Bernard Floud, introduced her to Deutsch (codename Otto). Peter Wright, the author of Spycatcher (1987) claims that Hart joined Floud in a network linked to Oxford University. Other members included Goronwy Rees and Phoebe Pool. "Otto (Deutsch) instructed her to go underground, and she used to meet him clandestinely at Kew Gardens." (7)
Jenifer graduated in history from Sommerville College with a first-class degree in 1935. "In the 1936 civil service exam she was placed third out of 493 candidates, the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman to that date. Her ambition to join the civil service itself marked her out: no woman had been successful in the exam between 1931 and 1934. But this was by no means her primary distinction. Even by the standards of the gifted group in which she moved, Jenifer was exceptional; fair-skinned, golden-red haired and slender, she exuded vitality, determination, intensity, intelligence. Strongly contrasting elements made up her personality: her high principles combined with a taste for gossip; her intellectual seriousness was juxtaposed with an irreverent wit; her rationalism combined with impulsiveness; her sophistication was counterpoised with an occasionally startling naivete; her politics were radical, but they sat alongside a residual hauteur." (8)
Jenifer was assigned to the Home Office, where, three years later, she became private secretary to the Permanent Under-secretary, Sir Alexander Maxwell. She later admitted in her autobiography, Ask Me No More (1998): "Student friends in the Party said I would be more effective by going into the Civil Service as a secret Party member... I was unclear what, if anything, I as a civil servant would do for the British Communist Party, but I think I supposed that I would occasionally pass them useful information." (9)
In 1936 she met Herbert Hart, an up-and-coming young barrister. The following year they began to live together. Although the Civil Service at that time required women who married to resign, an exception was made in her case, and they married in 1941. During the Second World War he worked for MI5. In 1945, Hart was elected to a fellowship in Philosophy at New College. In 1947 Jenifer resigned from the Civil Service and joined him in Oxford. (10)
As Tony Honoré pointed out: "She initially took charge of the programme of university extension lectures in adult education organized by Oxford's extramural department. The department was then a noted centre of socialist intellectuals and teachers opposed to British policy in the early stages of the cold war, and during the two years Hart was there it was the subject of a controversial university investigation into the conduct of certain tutors." (11)
In 1951 Jenifer Hart published The British Police, an account of the history and organisation of the police service, and was elected to a research fellowship at Nuffield College. The following year she obtained a history fellowship at St Anne's College, tutoring and lecturing on 19th-century history and politics. It has been claimed by the The Daily Telegraph: Fierce, flamboyant and academically demanding, Jenifer Hart was a dazzling teacher of the gifted and self-confident. But she could be terrifyingly imperious and did not suffer fools." (12)
Jenifer Hart had an "open" marriage. According to Nicola Lacey: "Jenifer's partnership with Herbert was enduring, but also complicated. She liked a challenge, and in the passionate early period of their relationship this was how she regarded Herbert's ambivalence about his sexuality. But she later found it hard to distinguish from rejection, and this underpinned her need to form relationships with other intellectually powerful men such as Michael Oakeshott and, most importantly, Isaiah Berlin. For her, this was not a betrayal: she believed in the possibility of loving more than one person." (13) Herbert Hart told one of his daughters: "The trouble with this marriage, is that one of us doesn't like sex and the other doesn't like food." In her diary, Jenifer Hart recorded her husband's reaction to being told that she was pregnant with her fourth child: "His first question was, 'Was it his?' I assure him it is, but make him say whose he thinks it is if not." Hart suggested four candidates, two of whom - Isaiah Berlin and Stuart Hampshire - were among his closest friends. (14)
On 4th June 1963, Michael Straight was offered the post of the chairmanship of the Advisory Council on the Arts by President John F. Kennedy. Aware that he would be vetted - and his background investigated - he approached Arthur Schlesinger, one of Kennedy's advisers, and told him that Anthony Blunt had recruited him as a spy while an undergraduate at Trinity College. Schlesinger suggested that he told his story to the FBI. He spent the next couple of days being interviewed by William Sullivan. (15)
Straight's information was passed on to MI5 and Arthur Martin, the intelligence agency's principal molehunter, went to America to interview him. Michael Straight confirmed the story, and agreed to testify in a British court if necessary. Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) has argued that Straight's information was "the decisive breakthrough in MI5's investigation of Anthony Blunt". (16)
Peter Wright, who took part in the meetings about Anthony Blunt, argues in his book, Spycatcher (1987) that Roger Hollis decided to give Blunt immunity from prosecution because of his hostility towards the Labour Party and the damage it would do to the Conservative Party: "Hollis and many of his senior staff were acutely aware of the damage any public revelation of Blunt's activities might do themselves, to MI5, and to the incumbent Conservative Government. Harold Macmillan had finally resigned after a succession of security scandals, culminating in the Profumo affair. Hollis made little secret of his hostility to the Labour Party, then riding high in public opinion, and realized only too well that a scandal on the scale that would be provoked by Blunt's prosecution would surely bring the tottering Government down." (17)
Anthony Blunt was interviewed by Arthur Martin at the Courtauld Institute on 23rd April 1964. Martin later wrote that when he mentioned Straight's name he "noticed that by this time Blunt's right cheek was twitching a good deal". Martin offered Blunt "an absolute assurance that no action would be taken against him if he now told the truth". Martin recalled: "He went out of the room, got himself a drink, came back and stood at the tall window looking out on Portman Square. I gave him several minutes of silence and then appealed to him to get it off his chest. He came back to his chair and confessed." He admitted being a Soviet agent and named twelve other associates as spies including Jenifer Hart, Michael Straight, John Cairncross, Bernard Floud, Phoebe Pool, Leo Long and Peter Ashby. (18)
Peter Wright went to interview Jenifer Hart. He later recalled in Spycatcher (1987): "Jenifer Hart was a fussy, middle-class woman, too old, I thought, for the fashionably short skirt and white net stockings she was wearing. She told her story quite straightforwardly, but had a condescending, disapproving manner, as if she equated my interest in the left-wing politics of the 1930s with looking up ladies' skirts. To her, it was rather vulgar and ungentlemanly. She said she was an open Party member in the 1930s, and was approached by a Russian, who from her description was definitely Otto (Arnold Deutsch).... She told us that she was merely part of the Party underground, and that she gave up meeting Otto when she joined the Home Office in 1938, where she worked in a highly sensitive department which processed applications for telephone intercepts. She told us, too, that she had never passed on any secret information." (19) Jenifer Hart, like the others named by Anthony Blunt, were given immunity from prosecution. However, two of the members of the Oxford spy-ring, Bernard Floud and Phoebe Pool, committed suicide.
In 1983 Jenifer Hart agreed to talk about her membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain on the BBC Timewatch programme. According to Hart the programme was trailed by "extremely misleading press releases". The Sunday Times published an article headlined "I Was Russian Spy, Says MI5 Man's Wife". The newspaper claimed that she had been a spy, and suggesting that her husband might have passed her information during his wartime work with MI5. She took legal action, winning only a "very brief and wholly inadequate apology" from the paper. (20) Tony Honoré has argued that "the episode contributed to Herbert Hart's nervous breakdown". (21)
Jenifer Hart died, aged 91, on 19th March, 2005.
Ironically, Jenifer Fisher Williams was married to a former wartime time MI5 officer, Herbert Hart, by the time her name emerged, so I visited her husband at Oxford, where he was pursuing a distinguished academic career as Professor of Jurisprudence, and asked him if he would approach his wife on my behalf. He rang her up there and then, assured her there was no threat to her position, and she agreed to meet me.
Jenifer Hart was a fussy, middle-class woman, too old, I thought, for the fashionably short skirt and white net stockings she was wearing. She told her story quite straightforwardly, but had a condescending, disapproving manner, as if she equated my interest in the left-wing politics of the 1930s with looking up ladies' skirts. To her, it was rather vulgar and ungentlemanly.
She said she was an open Party member in the 1930s, and was approached by a Russian, who from her description was definitely Otto. Otto instructed her to go underground, and she used to meet him clandestinely at Kew Gardens. She told us that she was merely part of the Party underground, and that she gave up meeting Otto when she joined the Home Office in 1938, where she worked in a highly sensitive department which processed applications for telephone intercepts. She told us, too, that she had never passed on any secret information.
She had two other contacts, she said. One was Bernard Floud, who recruited her, and the other man who controlled her for a short time she identified from a photograph as Arthur Wynn, a close friend of Edith Tudor Hart and her husband, who was active in trade union circles before joining the Civil Service.
There was no doubt in my mind, listening to Jennifer Hart, that this was a separate Ring based exclusively at Oxford University, but investigating it proved enormously difficult. Almost at once, Sir Andrew Cohen (who was at Cambridge and became a diplomat) died from a heart attack, so he was crossed off the list. Peter Floud was already dead, but his brother looked more hopeful when the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, named him to a junior ministerial post in the Labor Government. MIS were asked to provide him with security clearance. We objected and requested permission to interrogate Floud about Jennifer Hart's allegation. Wilson had, at the time, a standing ban on any inquiries relating to MPs, but when he read the MI5 brief, he gave clearance for the interview.
Floud's attitude, when I began the interview, was extraordinary. He treated the matter as of little importance, and when I pressed him on Jennifer Hart's story he refused to either confirm or deny that he had recruited her.
"How can I deny it, if I can't remember anything about it?" he said repeatedly.
I was tough with him. I knew that his wife, an agoraphobic depressive, had recently committed suicide, but Floud was eager to conclude the interview, presumably lured by the scent of office. I explained to him in unmistakable terms that, since it was my responsibility to advise on his security clearance, I could not possibly clear him until he gave a satisfactory explanation for the Hart story. Still he fell back lamely on his lack of memory. The session ended inconclusively, and I asked for him to attend a further interview the following day. I did not make any progress with him, he maintaining that he had no recollection of recruiting Jennifer.
The next morning I got a message that Floud had committed suicide, apparently with a gas poker and a blanket. Not long after, Blunt telephoned me with more bad news.
"Phoebe's dead," he said.
"Good God, how?" I gasped.
"She threw herself under a tube..."
Three deaths, two of which were suicides, in such a small group of people, at a time when we were actively investigating them, seemed far more than bad luck. M15 was terrified that it would be linked publicly with the deaths, and all further work was suspended. Newspapers were already vigorously pursuing the story of Philby's role as the Third Man, and had discovered for the first time the seniority of his position in M16. Rumors of Blunt's involvement were also beginning to surface in Fleet Street. The entire scandalous tapestry was in danger of unraveling. That still left the problem of Arthur Wynn, who, by coincidence, was also due for promotion to the Deputy Secretary's job at the Board of Trade, which also required security clearance.
"What shall we do?" asked F. J. nervously.
"We should tell him we'll give him his clearance, if he tells the truth about the Ring. Otherwise no clearance ..."
"But that's blackmail," he said, doing his best to sound shocked I saw nothing unfair about my offer, but then, as I told F.J., I was never destined to be a diplomat or a politician.
"All these suicides," he said, "they'll ruin our image. We're just not that sort of Service."
The Oxford Ring completed my inquiries into the 1930s conspiracy. By the end of the 1960s the task was virtually complete, those involved nearing or well past retirement. We had identified every member of the Ring of Five and a number of others and their controllers. We knew how the Ring worked at various times, we knew what their communications were, whom they depended on, and where they went for help. We had also identified one major undiscovered spy, Watson, and another crucial source for the Russians during the period 1935-51, Proctor, as well as an important new Ring at Oxford. Altogether we had identified, dead or alive, nearly forty probable spies. Beyond that we had scrutinized carefully the records of dozens of people in every sphere of British public life. Most were given a clean bill of health, but some were found to be secret Communists or associates, and were removed from access or quietly encouraged to retire.
Of course, there were still loose ends. Klugman took his secrets with him, Otto was never identified, and the British end of the Rote Kapelle we never found. But we knew the most important thing of all-we knew how far the conspiracy extended. We knew our history, and we had no need to be afraid again. The vetting of a generation had been painful, certainly, more painful probably than it need have been had the inquiries been conducted at the right time, when the trails were still fresh. But we had exorcised the past, and we could at last return to the present again, not forgetting that there might be descendants from the people of the 1930s.
Jenifer Hart, who died on March 19 aged 91, was a pioneering woman civil servant and Oxford don; she was accused in later life of having been a Soviet spy, a charge which she denied.
In 1936, having passed the Civil Service entrance examination third from the top of the list (the first woman to do so well), Jenifer Hart was assigned to the Home Office, where, three years later, she became private secretary to the Permanent Under-secretary, Sir Alexander Maxwell.
In her autobiography, Ask Me No More (1998), Jenifer Hart admitted to having joined the Communist Party in the summer of 1933 and revealed that, before she moved to Whitehall, she had been advised to drop her official membership and go underground as a "sleeper". "Student friends in the Party said I would be more effective by going into the Civil Service as a secret Party member," she recalled. "I was unclear what, if anything, I as a civil servant would do for the British Communist Party, but I think I supposed that I would occasionally pass them useful information." There were then no security checks on candidates for the Civil Service; so her politics were not vetted, a fact which, she felt, justified her claim that she had not been "involved in any deception".
During her "first year or so" in the Civil Service, she admitted to having had "about six" clandestine meetings with anonymous party members, one an Englishman, one a foreigner who was, she suggested, trying to recruit her. The foreigner, code-named "Otto", is now known to have been Arnold Deutsch, the Soviet intelligence officer who handled Burgess and MacLean.
In the 1960s Jenifer Hart was interviewed twice by MI5 about her contacts while in the Home Office, one of her interrogators being Peter Wright. It was the start of what she called "a long and rather nasty affair" which reached its climax when she agreed to talk about her Communist past on the BBC Timewatch programme in 1983.
By her account, the programme was trailed by "extremely misleading press releases", and by a piece in the Sunday Times headlined "I Was Russian Spy, Says MI5 Man's Wife". She took legal action, winning only a "very brief and wholly inadequate apology" from the paper. In his book Spycatcher (1987), however, Wright revealed that Jenifer Hart had been identified as a member of the "Oxford Ring", a covert Communist cell, by fellow member Phoebe Pool, who had been named by the Soviet spy and art historian Anthony Blunt as his courier during the 1930s. Both Phoebe Pool and her fellow cell member, the Labour MP Bernard Floud, committed suicide in 1967 shortly after MI5 had interrogated Floud about his KGB connections.
Jenifer Hart denied passing any information to the Soviets, claiming that she had never been required to do so. If so, it seems the Soviets were somewhat remiss for, as Wright noted, she had "worked in a highly sensitive department which processed applications for telephone intercepts". Documents available at the Public Record Office show that she was directly involved in handling numerous MI5 applications for Home Office warrants for mail intercepts and telephone taps - information which would have been of enormous interest to the Russians, since the main targets were political extremists, including Communists. It is evident from other PRO documents, for example, that she played a key role in the surveillance of Aleksei Doschenko, a Soviet spy who was expelled from London in 1940.
Her solidarity with the proletariat was not unconditional. A London charlady, she recalled in her autobiography, had "such a pronounced accent that we never knew if her name was Mrs Day or Mrs Doy". Her husband's parents inhabited "a house where pretentious ornaments took the place of books and where non-U words abounded". When, after the death of her own parents, Jenifer Hart inherited Lamledra, their large cliff-top house in Cornwall, "my socialist principles as regards inheritance… evaporated", and the house became a holiday home for a shifting community of family, students and friends.
Although she had many friends and admirers, Jenifer Hart was not an easy colleague. When the principal of St Anne's retired in 1966, Jenifer had hoped to succeed her, but was "disappointed by the almost total lack of support for me among my colleagues".
She was, for some years, one of the University members on Oxford City Council, where she merited the gratitude of future generations of amorous and tipsy undergraduates by being the only councillor to vote against a proposal (abortive, as it turned out) to build a road across Christ Church Meadow....
The Harts' retirement was overshadowed by the spying allegations, a controversy which probably contributed to Herbert Hart's suffering a nervous breakdown. From then on Jenifer Hart found herself coping with the competing needs of her youngest child, who had been born handicapped, and her increasingly frail husband, who died in 1992.
Jenifer Hart's second book, Proportional Representation: Critics of the British electoral system 1820-1945, was published in 1992.