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My father's military exploits


My grandfather – a rather special doctor
John Julius Norwich Writer
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Well, I'll tell you a little bit about my father. He was, socially speaking, several grades down, theoretically, from my mother. I mean, my mother was, at least in theory, a Duke's daughter. In fact, as we all know, she wasn't quite, but she was meant to be and very much the high English aristocracy. My father's father was a doctor in Norwich, but he was a rather special doctor because, first of all, his speciality was the slightly unusual one of venereal disease and piles, and he became the top man in London in these particular afflictions. And as the top man, he therefore got to know all the top of the English aristocracy, nearly all of whom suffered from one or the other or both, including Kind Edward VII, whose surgeon 'in Ordinary' he became and whom he accompanied to St Petersburg on a state visit, as a result of which he got a knighthood, but... and made a lot of money and was able to bring up my father as a gent and send him to Eton and all that sort of stuff.

But he'd married very much, again, what would've been or should've been very much above him. He'd... he'd married the daughter of an Earl, the daughter of the Earl of Fife, Lady Agnes Duff, she was called. But Lady Agnes Duff unfortunately, by the time she was 30, had clocked up two elopements and a divorce, which was not considered right for well-born young girls in the 1880s and she was cut off by her family more or less without a penny and had to go and make her living as best she could. And she was a good-spirited girl, so off she went to a local hospital – well, actually, I think it was St Thomas's – and learned to be a nurse and there it was that she caught the eye of young Dr Cooper who married her, very happily, and they had four children, the youngest of whom was my father, three girls and a boy, and the two of them were said to know more about the private parts of the English aristocracy than any other couple in the country.

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: doctor, venereal disease, piles, Lady Agnes Duff, hospital nurse

Duration: 2 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018