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In the Navy


On being an only child
John Julius Norwich Writer
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Being an only child, again, one has the problem that one doesn't really... one doesn't really know what it would have been like to have not been an only child. Obviously life would have been extremely different, but one doesn't quite know exactly how it would have felt. I was always perfectly delighted to be an only child; I never wanted brothers and sisters one little bit. Fortunately, I think I've always been able to amuse myself. I've never been bored for very long and I didn't think... I don't think I needed the company of siblings to keep me going. And at the same time, of course, being an only child I got a lot more of my mother's attention than I would have had and I think this made an enormous difference. I think that my mother was one of six and my grandmother was a great one for favouritism and there was one of her daughters she really didn't like and that went on to the next generation too. She didn't like the children of that daughter.

And then there was another daughter whom she loved, her eldest daughter, Marjorie, who again had six children, and one of those she absolutely worshipped, the other one she hated. Well, not hated, but just didn't like and took absolutely no trouble at all. So at Christmas, Caroline would be given a wonderful, beautiful necklace costing perhaps over £100. Liz would be given a wooden photograph frame, you know, and that is the sort of thing that warps people's characters, I think – seriously – feeling unloved when other people are being loved around you. And I didn't have that. I was the only one and I was very much loved. I've been incredibly lucky and I don't think I don't know it and aren't grateful.

[Q] It seems surprising that you mother was able to devote so much time and attention to you as you described...


[Q] ...when she was obviously so busy and so much in demand that...

Well, I think she gave me priority, you know. She seemed... in the afternoons, she seemed never too busy to take me to the theatre or take me to the National Gallery or take me to the zoo or do a lovely boat trip down the Thames. I don't know, I mean. She was up for anything and I think she frequently probably did that rather than doing smart things with her friends.

[Q] That's because you were her darling monster.

I was her darling monster, you see. And for some... and what I can't understand, because I'm very bad with children, I'm... I'm bored by the company of children after quite a short time. She, fortunately, was not. I seem to have been able to keep her entertained. I couldn't have kept me entertained for all the tea in China, but I did entertain her, I suppose.

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: only child, siblings, grandmother, favouritism, mother, children

Duration: 3 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018