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Mummy pulls some strings


Secretary to the Captain's secretary
John Julius Norwich Writer
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My job was always, as secretary to the Captain's secretary, in the Captain's office, which was nowhere near where the Captain worked. I mean, it was way down below in the Captain secretary's office, really. But that was the best decision I ever took, because quite apart from it obviously being a much nicer job and one that I like much more, it also had an enormous advantage, which I hadn't realised, coming as I did into the Navy without really knowing anything, that any hardened, seasoned, experienced sailor joining the Navy, getting onto a ship, the first thing he does is find a little place where he can sling his hammock with maximum privacy.

I had, when I got eventually to my sea-going ship, I got the Captain's office, so I could sling it in there, which was absolutely wonderful, instead of having a mess deck with 200 men smoking all night and probably all the portholes shut. This was absolutely wonderful, but, of course, I hadn't got to my ship yet. I had seven weeks on HMS Royal Arthur and then, as I was going to be a writer, I went up to what was called the supply and secretarial training, which was at HMS Ceres, Wetherby, Yorkshire. C-E-R-E-S, like the Greek Goddess.

[Q] Still on land?

Still on land, very much on land. Wetherby, Yorkshire, I mean, you could hardly get further from the sea, you know. But anyway, that was where we... where I learned to be a writer and alas, of course, what I would really have liked was if they'd taught me proper touch-typing. Again, no time to do that. I've always been able to type very, very quickly, but always with the wrong fingers on the wrong notes, and that's as far as we ever got in the Navy.

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: secretary, hammock, privacy, training, typing

Duration: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018