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A sudden change of destination


Ordering egg and chips in Harry's Bar
John Julius Norwich Writer
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I remember the last time, the last film, we were getting out of the vaporetto and I just... as we passed it, I pointed out to the boys, it was a very nice crew, that that's Harry's Bar, the famous Harry's Bar. And they were all rather impressed, excited about the thought of the real Harry's Bar where Hemingway drank and everything. So I said, 'Well all right' – in those days it wasn't so expensive as it is now – I said, 'when we've wrapped up the whole thing, I'll take us all out to dinner in Harry's Bar.' So, great excitement about that and, you know, everybody, they don't have best suits if you're a cameraman working away, but they all tried to sort of make themselves look as respectable as possible, except Les, the sound recordist, who looked exactly like Ken Dodd with his hair sticking absolutely straight up and a horrible, extremely smelly purple jersey, which he never took off, wore it every single day, and I suspect every single night as well, with holes in the corners, everywhere, deeply unshaven and really, I mean, looking a scarecrow. And I thought, my God, I've got to take this into Harry's Bar, the smartest place in Venice. Anyway, there was nothing to be done. I'd promised to do it, so in we went, and Harry's Bar behaved beautifully. They took one look at Les and they said, 'Yes sir, we've got you a very nice table upstairs', behind a rather large column in the sort of corner where nobody could see us at all. And that was fine, I was deeply relieved, so up we went there. And then I tried to explain what all the items on the menu were and everybody chose whatever it was, except Les who said, 'I'll have egg and chips.' And so it was an HM Bateman cartoon, the man who ordered egg and chips in Harry's Bar, you know, and everybody going, 'Aargh!' like this. Anyway, Harry's Bar behaved impeccably, 'Yes sir, certainly sir', noted it down. Brought these two beautiful fried eggs with lovely little matchstick things all around the edge. Les sent them back. So it was then the man who sent back the eggs and chips in Harry's Bar. They were insufficiently greasy and he wanted, you know, he wanted real, good old, lorry drivers' rest things, which, of course, Harry's Bar couldn't produce. I didn't think I was ever going to be allowed in there ever again in my life, but eventually I think I was forgiven.

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: Harry's Bar, dinner, Ken Dodd, egg and chips

Duration: 2 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018