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Making documentaries for the BBC


Pulling rank
John Julius Norwich Writer
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There was a perfectly horrible man who was the sort of priest in charge of it called Monsignor Portino and Monsignor Portino said 'no' to every request we made. First of all, he hated us to be there anyway, obviously, but somebody above him had given permission, so he had to accept us, but he was going to make our stay as nasty as possible. Anyway, and so: no, we couldn't put any lights on the mosaic at all, because all the little bits would drop out of the wall if we put any lights on them. You know, I mean, we were only going to have lights on the 22nd, so they were 40 feet up on the wall, it was perfectly crazy, but anyway, nothing. Then we got out the tripod and he said, 'Oh no, no tripods, it scratches the ground.' We said, 'No, we've got nice little saucers into which we put the tripods, so it doesn't scratch.' Still, no tripod. At this time, hundreds of ladies in stiletto heels were going round every day, but no tripod, so the unfortunate camera man had to lie on his back, turn the camera on very, very, very slow and do what he could. I mean, he, you know, he achieved something, but we all hated Mr Portino and the director, Ken Shepheard, who was a darling, wonderful man, I loved, we made a couple of dozen films together, I think, over the years, he spoke quite good Italian and he... eventually he lost his temper with Mr Portino at the end, and to my horror, I heard him... I saw him pointing to me and saying, 'Do you know who that man is? He's a Viscount. He's a member of the House of Lords, and when he gets back to London he's going to report you to the House of Lords, and I'm here to tell you there's going to be big, big trouble, you know, you don't mess around with Viscounts.' Mr Portino turned and said, 'Io sono un marchese' – I am a Marquis. Game, set, and match.

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: Sicily, Ken Shepheard

Duration: 2 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018