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Swapping Eton for Strasbourg


Sadists and sport at Eton
John Julius Norwich Writer
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I'd say the whole thing, really, I didn't feel it had got on much in the last 100 years. It was still very much the same sort of place, I felt, as it would have been in 1840. There were regular beatings by the Captain of the house with a cane. The first time, my first half – 'half' is what we used to call terms – and my first half, there was a beating probably four or five nights a week. Almost every night after prayers there was a beating by the captain of the house who I now realise was a sadist. He subsequently became very distinguished in the fine art business, but he was a sadist because when he left at the end of my first half – everybody hated him, he was very, very unpopular among his contemporaries as well as among all the young who he'd beat to a jelly – but after he'd gone, we perhaps had one beating a term, one beating a half. And it all sort of went down to normal and it wasn't anything like so bad. But this was a reign of terror but as I had nothing to compare it with... I was beaten twice myself, once for failing to put my air-raid clothes... to put my air-raid clothes on a hook outside the door and once for playing football 'insufficiently keenly'. Those were my two faults for which I was swiped.

But anyway, I wasn't mad about Eton. It did pay enormous attention to your sports prowess, which in my case was nil. There were about 40 different sort of caps you could get for various sporting abilities. I never got any. I wore what was called a skug cap which means you had no colours at all all my days. And I never got to the sixth form, I was a pretty good flop. Considered talented but a little bit lazy and, you know, not in any conceivable sense of style, I was a never a member of Pop, I was never anything like that.

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

Duration: 2 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018