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Eton's early mornings and ugly maids


Cold comfort at Eton
John Julius Norwich Writer
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I'm now reminded of another story, in parentheses. My godmother, Margot Asquith, who had been married to the Prime Minister in the First World War, and was my godmother – she must have died, I don't know, around when I was about 10 or something. She was a huge, old, magnificent character with a great beaky nose and this sort of thing. And she had a son called Anthony, who was always known as Puffin, and he became a very successful film director, Anthony Asquith. He was famous as a film director in the '40s and '50s, but he was always called Puffin. And my father met Margot in the street clearly in a terrible state and he said, 'Margot, what's wrong?' And she said, 'I've just taken Puffin to his new school. Do you know, they've put 11 other boys into Puffin's room!' So that was what normally happened but, as I say, at Eton you've got a room to yourself.

But it was extremely cold. We had no central heating, winter was coming on and we had a tiny little fireplace, I think about half the size of the one I'm looking at now. It must have been about nine inches across, I mean, tiny! And in that, we were allowed a coal fire every other night, the theory being that every other night you went in with your next door neighbour, but of course the rooms were so small and there was only one chair and your next door neighbour really hadn't got any room for you. But anyway, that was what it was and the cold was intense. I remember my old friend Martin Jacob who is now my oldest friend today, I see him all the time, actually coming down looking like something from Ancient Egypt with hands like that, both arms in slings from chilblains. And God, it was cold. The Thames Valley in winter is a killer.

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, Margot Asquith, Anthony Asquith

Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018