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Cold comfort at Eton


My introduction to Eton
John Julius Norwich Writer
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And then that was in, I suppose in April or May and I went to Eton in September. And during that summer, I crammed – or the first half of the summer anyway – I crammed for the Common Entrance for about two months. I used to go every day carrying my little gas mask on the bus to Chichester where there was a man called Mr May in the... who lived in the close of Chichester Cathedral who brushed me up on all the subjects necessary and who was so good on geometry that he really got me excited about it, I remember. You know, I've often thought I might, even now in my old age, try and take it up again. I just love the cool classical, logical perfection of it. It was wonderful. And the only thing Mr May couldn't teach me was Latin verses which, believe it or not, was a requirement for 11-year-olds going to Eton, the ability to write Latin verse. That was instilled into me by Mr May's next-door neighbour, the Reverend Mr Hazelhurst, who at least told me what it was all about. I understood at least what I was being asked to do.

Anyway, I got through Common Entrance without any difficulty. That was all right. I took Upper Fourth which wasn't the best. The best was taking a Remove but Upper Fourth was better than Middle Fourth or Lower Fourth or Third Form which was just terrible. So I was B grade and I was pretty terrified, as everybody is going off to a new school, particularly if you have no close friends going with you at the same time, which I didn't. And I remember going down to Eton and meeting my housemaster and we had a little problem with my housemaster because he looked exactly like Neville Chamberlain. My father actually couldn't look him in the face at all. The resemblance was astonishing. But anyway, he was a perfectly nice man, a mathematician called Jack Herbert who built the floating Mulberry harbours in the war, he invented those. And I remember first of all, more than anything else, the sheer discomfort. The cold. Eton does have one tremendous advantage which is every boy has his own room. It may be the size of a wagon-lit, but even from the very beginning, there were no dormitories. You always got a tiny room to yourself which gets bigger as you go up the school; you end up in quite nice ones.

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: Eton College, Chichester

Duration: 3 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018