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Only trying to please


The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Randolph Churchill
John Julius Norwich Writer
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We used to see a lot of Randolph. Again, like Evelyn Waugh, but in a very different way, he too, I think, was possessed by the devil and I think that the devil got him, first of all, it would get him very, very drunk sometimes and get him to say really horrible things, whereas, in fact, he was a very, very, very nice man. If you knew Randolph well, I think you loved him. I knew him quite well. I loved him. One example, he was a tremendous admirer of my father and when my father died, Randolph collected all the obituaries in all the papers about him and bound them in a beautiful, full red Morocco and gave it to me. I mean, that must have cost him £100 even in those days, in the '50s when £100 was a lot of money. And it was Randolph who did it, you know, and he knew that my father collected his father's works and he was able to produce one or two very, very rare volumes or little sort of shilling paperbacks, you know, that had gone completely out of circulation, which he managed to find somewhere. And... but he could be an absolute nightmare.

I remember when I lived... when we lived in Beirut, the telephone rang about nine o'clock at night. It was during what was known as les événements, the Troubles. I mean, it was a curfew, the whole political situation was extremely fluid and nobody quite knew what was happening. And there was a curfew from eight o'clock in the evening. And at about half past eight or nine, my telephone went and it was Randolph at the airport, saying, 'These buggers won't let me go out of the airport. Get me into Beirut!' I said, 'Randolph, it's jolly difficult, you know, there's a curfew on, and quite apart from everything else, there were all sorts of these police posts who don't get proper instructions and even if you get permission, they might easily shoot you when you went through them, so, really, frankly, I'd recommend you to stay at the airport. It won't be very comfortable, but it's only one night and you can come in the morning.' Randolph wasn't having any of that. An hour later he arrived at our house. I don't know how he'd done it, but he had. Anyway, there he was and we had to put him up for the night, and two nights, and, I think, three nights. And we said, 'Randolph, tomorrow night we've got to go out to dinner, so we'll fix you up with something', and I said to the Embassy Number Two, Ian Scott, I said, 'I've got Randolph on our hands, he's not in a terribly good mood, but we've got to look after him somehow.' And Ian said, 'That's all right, I'm having a dinner party this evening, he can come.' So, that seemed okay. The next day I went into the office, no sign of Randolph, he hadn't come back that night. He was staying with us, but he hadn't come back. And I looked at Ian and Ian looked at me and I said, 'Well, what's happened?' and Ian said it was an absolute nightmare. First of all, he started screaming at everybody, he was frightfully drunk, he started screaming at everybody and saying, 'God, if these are the Arabs, the sooner they give Israel back, the sooner they give the whole Middle East back to the Jews, the better.' And that sort of remark, which you just didn't make in the Arab world, you know, particularly if you were Winston Churchill's son. And then he rang up the airport and they heard him screaming down the telephone, 'When is the next plane out of this goddamned place?' And he then, somehow – again, it was at night, there was a curfew – but Randolph got to the airport and took the next plane out. I got a very nice letter of apology from him about three weeks later, but...

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: Randolph Churchill, Evelyn Waugh

Duration: 4 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018