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The Hand of Fatima


Feodor Chaliapin
John Julius Norwich Writer
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And the other thing I remember is one night I'd just gone to bed and my mother came up and said, 'Wake up, put on your dressing gown. Come down because Chaliapin is going to sing in the garden.' The great Russian bass, Feodor Chaliapin who was also a great friend of my mother's and an admirer. Anyway, Chaliapin came down to sing and he suddenly said, 'I think I will sing' and telephoned his friend with a balalaika who came round and they sang in the garden. It was a hot summer night and he sang in the garden. And I remember looking up and every surrounding window had people looking out of it, but nobody said, 'For God's sake shut up, some people want to get some sleep.' They realised they got something... Chaliapin was something so special and they were applauding. They didn't want it to stop. I remember that very, very well.

Chaliapin was the sort of figure in my very, very early childhood... I think he must have died when I was about seven or something so I don't really... I remember this very, very big tall man with a great ruff of, as I remember, very, very white hair. And he loved my mother and he thought that the best way to my mother's heart was to me. He therefore gave me a large number of presents including a large woolly white dog on wheels which I called... we called Feodor after him, and also a large number of his gramophone records and I had a wind-up thing for 78 records. And we played, endlessly. I remember by the time I was five I could do the Death of Boris Godunov by heart.

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: Feodor Chaliapin

Duration: 2 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018