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Ping-pong and passion in Strasbourg


Eton then and now
John Julius Norwich Writer
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Well, that was Eton. I don't think I've got very much more to say about Eton. I was perfectly happy there, I mean, I wasn't bullied or anything like that, but I didn't really have any great affection for it. I didn't think it had done me very well. I don't think it had educated me all that well. Of course one never knows what it would have been like without so it's hard to say, but... Osbert Sitwell writing his entry in Who's Who under education wrote, 'In the holidays from Eton', and I feel a little bit like that myself. I wouldn't have gone that far but...

Anyway, I know that when my son, Jason, was born I was far from certain that I was going to send him there. For my father, it was unthinkable to send me anywhere else. He'd loved it, he thought it was wonderful and essential to the life of any English gentleman, etc. But I didn't feel that way and my wife and I looked at five or six schools including, one or two co-educational ones. We did plump for Eton in the end, though, because of the space. It's got so... and it's a different place to what it had been when I was there. It had a wonderful swimming pool, it had a wonderful theatre, it was doing all sorts of things that we never did in my day.

The prospective headmaster, I also liked, took me out to lunch to an Indian restaurant. I thought that's a good sign somehow. And anyway, we did send Jason there and it did him proud. He's by nature a mechanic and there's a very good school of mechanics who saw his point and even gave him the key so that he could use it in the holidays and things like that. A marvellous man called Mr Evans who really saw his point and helped him along. So I'm full of gratitude to Eton now in a way I never was – 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: Eton College

Duration: 2 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018