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Evelyn who?


The less than pleasant Evelyn Waugh
John Julius Norwich Writer
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Evelyn Waugh was always part of our lives. He used to come down from Bognor when I was about five, I suppose, and we used to call him Bo in those days. And my mother was very fond of him, but she was always a little bit frightened of him too, I think. He fell in love with her, again, no conceivable sex. Apart from anything else, he was far too religious. He wouldn't have dreamed of cheating on his wife or anything like that, but he did, he loved my mother as company. Rather more, really, I think, than my mother loved his, because she always, as I said, a little frightened of him. And he did have tremendous rows with my father. My father actually loved having rows, but didn't have, had very few, because very few people could take it, but he knew that Evelyn could. And I remember, I think Evelyn used, deliberately, to needle him in order to get him really going, into... into a good temper, and, or a bad temper, I should say, and I remember one evening, in the middle of the war at Bognor, and Evelyn said, 'I'd rather the Germans won this war than we won it on the backs of the Americans.' That did it to my father. He went absolutely puce in the face. I've never seen him so angry, great veins throbbing, you know. Evelyn loved it too, I think. My father enjoyed it enormously. But he was... he was not a nice man.

My mother... when he died, my mother was asked if she would do a little broadcast of her memories of him and she thought about it for some time and then she said no, she wouldn't, because everything she could remember about him was to his discredit. She couldn't remember any nice things, really, about him, and she had one particular story. She'd been acting in, I think it was  Glasgow or, no, Manchester, Manchester, and Evelyn had come up to see the play, greatly disapproved of the play on religious grounds to start with, but then after he'd seen it a few times he grew to love it. And he went to see it in Manchester and took my mother out to dinner afterwards and they were walking home to the hotel when they were accosted by, clearly, a very, very panicky little man with two, obviously rather heavy, suitcases, running in the opposite direction, terribly out of breath. 'Oh please, can you tell me the way to the railway station?' And Evelyn, without any hesitation said, 'Yes, just go up to the second lot of traffic lights, there left, first set of traffic lights, right, and you're there.' The man said thank you so much, and charged off. Evelyn had absolutely no idea where the station was at all. I mean, that's not a nice story and you remember the story which his son Auberon told, when the first bananas arrived in England after the war, and the children were allowed one banana each, the first ration, and there were seven children. Evelyn had them all round and watched while he ate all seven bananas.

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: Evelyn Waugh

Duration: 3 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018