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Mount Athos then and now


When is Mount Athos like Eton?
John Julius Norwich Writer
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And we were there, I'd say, nearly, we were there, I think, two-and a-half weeks or something like that. It gets quite tiring by the end, but the beauty sets you up so, I mean, it's so marvellous and so completely, completely unspoiled, you know. And it's really a wonderful walking holiday through this ravishingly beautiful country and, I'd say, a sort of minimum of hospitality extended at the end of the day. So it was great fun and I... we said as we tramped along, we said, 'We must write a book about this', and I said, 'Well, we'll split it. I'll write half and you, Reresby, write half.' Costa, as a Greek, wasn't going to write anything. He was a beautiful photographer, he provided a lot of photographs. Well, we all took photographs for it. And then the only trouble was that Reresby said, 'It's no good, I can't write.' And I said, 'Don't be silly, you're a Sitwell, you've only been told by your family you can't write, because they never stop banging away at you. You're the only male member of this generation.' He had a younger brother, actually. And they never stopped telling him that he was unworthy to carry the name of Sitwell. I mean, they were all absolutely beastly to him, so he had a walloping inferiority complex and I said, 'I'm perfectly sure, you know, this is just the sort of thing, you write this, Reresby, you'll do it beautifully.' And the terrible thing was, of course, that he was right and I was wrong – he couldn't write. And his piece is really, I think, rather embarrassing. He's dead now, so I can say this. He actually compared the individual monasteries on Mount Athos to houses at Eton, which was a bad one, and I read it and my heart sank, but anyway, there is it. The book was published and, and it had quite a good... it quite a success. He wrote the sort of itinerary, where we went and what days we went, and I wrote a sort of historical essay on the Holy Mountain, and it turned out all right. That was actually the first book I ever wrote between two covers. The first time I saw my name on the cover of a book. I'd already started writing my big book on the Normans, but I hadn't got very far on it by then. And that was the first of my sort of major expeditions.

John Julius Norwich (1929-2018) was an English popular historian, travel writer and television personality. He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, at Eton, at the University of Strasbourg and on the lower deck of the Royal Navy before taking a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. He then spent twelve years in H.M. Foreign Service, with posts at the Embassies in Belgrade and Beirut and at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1964 he resigned to become a writer. He is the author of histories of Norman Sicily, the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire and, most recently, 'The Popes: A History'. He also wrote on architecture, music and the history plays of Shakespeare, and presented some thirty historical documentaries on BBC Television.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Mount Athos

Duration: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018