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My astonishing mother


A blast from the past
John Julius Norwich Writer
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Anyway, there it was. Naturally, I left Strasbourg and we went out of each other's lives. And it was only about 10 years ago that she suddenly telephoned me as an old woman and she said, 'It's Betty Schmidt, do you remember?' And I said, 'Yes, of course I remember, Betty. How lovely to hear your voice again.' And she said, 'Well, you know, I'm getting old now, but I was French over 60s tennis champion, ladies' tennis champion in the over 60s the other day. And I'm very active and I play a lot of bridge and I play tennis and all that and it would be lovely to see you again.' I didn't think it would be lovely. I thought it would be too embarrassing, by then we'd be two completely different people, you know. And I'd love to... bring your wife for the weekend to Strasbourg, you know. I couldn't quite face it. He, I think, Mr Schmidt was by this time dead. But anyway, it never happened.

Then I found myself, a year later, writing my memoirs. And I got to Strasbourg and I thought, am I going to put this in? It may still be the story about my attempted devirginisation. Am I going to put it in? I don't think I can put it in, she may still be alive and it would be read by her friends, in the unlikely event of it being translated. Anyway, I wrote to her and I said, 'Dear Betty', I got the piece I'd written beautifully translated, professionally translated into French. I wanted to make absolutely certain that she was getting what I was giving and sent to her and said, 'I'm thinking of putting this in my memoirs, do you have any objection?' And back came a thing saying: publish and be damned, yes, sure, carry on, what-o. So she did and then I think at the same time she said that she was... she had a touch of pneumonia and I think that was it, I've never heard from her since. I think she's now been gathered, but fortunately not before she'd given me permission to tell a remarkably boring story. But still, there it is. Well, I mean it was sort of with no end. If it had all ended in the most marvellous, terrific affair, that would have been quite something but alas, it didn't so there it is.

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: Betty Schmidt

Duration: 2 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018