Adrian Hollis: Classics don and chess grandmaster

 

Once famously described in the press as one of this country's hidden chess assets, Adrian Hollis spent a long and distinguished academic career as a Classics Tutor and Fellow of Keble College, Oxford. There, amid research focussed largely on Hellenistic and Roman poetry, he bestrode the often narrow confines of his art with consummate ease.

Though originally hailing from the West Country, Adrian Hollis spent almost all his working life in Oxford. The only son of the former Director-General of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, and his first wife, Evelyn Swayne, he initially moved to the city during the Second World War when his father was based at Blenheim Palace. Winning a Classics Scholarship to Eton College, he then took a first in mods and greats at Christ Church.

It was while at university that he first made his mark in the world of competitive chess. Having won the West of England Chess Congress on his debut in 1961, he represented Oxford University Chess Club in four varsity matches, twice taking the top board. Becoming British Correspondence Chess Champion three times, in 1976 he became an English Correspondence Chess Grandmaster.

For five years (1982-87) he represented Britain in the Ninth Correspondence Olympiad, winning the world championship ahead of many distinguished competitors from Germany, Hungary, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. In 1998 he was a member of the British team that won the World Postal Chess Championship. Typically, during his years at Keble, Hollis did much to nurture a remarkable array of emerging chess talent that included David Goodman, David Norwood Dharshan Kumaran and Jonathan Rowson.

Having been an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Humanity at St Andrews University for three years between 1964 and 1967, that year he became yet another in a long line of Christ Church men who migrated to north Oxford to serve Keble College. It was there over the course of the next 40 years, that he not only created a noted centre of academic excellence but also exercised a most benign influence over generations of aspiring classicists. A quiet and courteous presence, his manner was invariably encouraging. But his disapproval could be bleak and his criticism devastatingly accurate.

Always precise, literate and stylish, Hollis proved to be an equally fine writer and editor. Alongside many significant contributions to specialist periodicals and journals, his early reputation was forged with two volumes of Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1 and Book VIII of his Metamorphoses. This was followed by an equally authoritative edition of the Greek poet Callimachus' poem, "Hecale".

Later scholarly editions, Hellenistic Colouring in Virgil's Aeneid, Attica in Hellenistic Poetry and The Nuptial Rite in Catullus 66 and Callimachus' Poetry for Berenice, were interspersed with definitive papers on Horace, Virgil, Propertius, Lycophron, Euphorion and Choerilus. No less impressive was his painstaking reconstruction of the many tiny slivers of verse that formed the basis of his final volume, Fragments of Roman Poetry c 60 BC-AD 20. Here again, his expertise and insights remain unsurpassed.

Throughout his time at Keble, Hollis threw himself wholeheartedly into the affairs of the college. He served as Tutor for Admissions, took on the role of Fellow Librarian, was Senior Tutor and, in later years, became Sub-Warden. As Editor of the College Record, amid a scrupulous attention to detail, he emerged as a man of wry but gentle observation to whom one warmed irresistibly. Following his retirement at the end of 2007, he was elected to an Emeritus Fellowship.

Within the wider academic world, he was valued not just for the depth of his knowledge but for the soundness of his judgement. While his scholastic credentials found a ready outlet as a keynote speaker at conferences and seminars worldwide, he also acted as a Research Consultant to the School of Classics at the University of Leeds. Hounded by the press for many years, Hollis always steadfastly rebutted any suggestion that his father had ever been an agent of the KGB.

Moving back to Somerset, while relishing both the cricket and the culture, he enjoyed a quiet but not entirely inactive retirement. Like Ovid before him he continued his academic studies, but now at a much gentler pace.

Kenneth Shenton

Adrian Swayne Hollis, classical scholar and correspondence chess grandmaster: born Bristol 2 August 1940; married 1967 Margaret Mair Cameron Edwards (one son, two daughters); died Wells, Somerset 26 February 2013.

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