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Paris – my parents' new home


A futile mission in the Far East
John Julius Norwich Writer
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And they'd had an extremely alarming first half of the war themselves because my father had started... well, he'd resigned in a protest against Munich so he was out in the wilds until Churchill had got in in May 1940, and Churchill made him Minister of Information which was a new job that he'd just invented. My father was not the man for the job and was the first to say so. He was... for the beginning it was out of sympathy for him but it was all about censorship and things like that which he hated. And also dealing with the press and he didn't really have the common touch with the... certainly with the gutter press. And he wasn't happy doing it and I don't think he did it very well. Brendan Bracken, who succeeded him, did it infinitely better because he was a journalist born and bred. So my father, then in the summer of 1941 – by this time I'd been in America a year – was given the job of going and reporting, going to the Far East, based Singapore, travelling all over the Far East and reporting on the state of the British defences because we were beginning to get a little bit worried about Japan. And so he and my mother flew out to Singapore, and they took the westward route which enabled them to stop and see me for a day or two in America and then they went on to Hawaii and across the Pacific. And it was a completely useless trip as marvellously described by my mother in the letters which she wrote to me which I published a few years ago – it's called Darling Monster – and there are wonderful accounts of all that they did. My mother refused to leave my father ever, she was always at his side. The civil service... the officials hated it, they said, 'We really can't have ladies here', but it was no good. Once my mother had set her mind on it, there she was. And always at my father's side. They flew all over the Far East which was no fun in 1941 on those very, very slow planes and no proper schedules and no heating in the aeroplanes, no light in the aeroplanes, you couldn't even read half the time. It was pretty grim and extremely uncomfortable and, as it turned out, totally useless because by the time my father was half-way through the job, the Japs were in. He only arrived in Singapore in September, the Japs were there in January so I shouldn't think his report was ever read. It was sent to London but I shouldn't think they ever bothered to read it because, as I say, it was so completely out of date by then.

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: Singapore, Darling Monster

Duration: 3 minutes, 5 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018