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My mother's plan backfires


Mummy pulls some strings again
John Julius Norwich Writer
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[Q] You got in, was there any string pulling?

No, I think there was no string-pulling there, largely because my mother would've much preferred me to be a journalist anyway, and my father didn't really want me to go into the Foreign Office very much. I'd say he wanted to send me to the Harvard Business School, but I hated that idea, and so neither of my parents really were very much in favour of this Foreign Office thing, so no string-pulling there.

And I started off in the Foreign Office in Northern Department, which covered not only the whole of Scandinavia but all communist Eastern Europe. I mean, it included Bulgaria – so much for Northern. And it was extremely interesting and I did it... I hope, well, I did it as well as I could, but I was always longing to get sent abroad because that was the thing, you know, that was why I'd joined. And I was about three years before they... living in London before they let me go abroad. Then eventually I was posted, as they'd always say they were going to do, to Moscow and, you know, at last I was going to be able to polish up my Russian and get it fluent. And I was looking forward to it enormously, wrote to the Ambassador as you do, 'I'm so glad that I'm coming on your staff', and I got a very nice little letter back. I even went as far as buying myself a new umbrella and having my name and British Embassy Moscow in Russian written around the brass thing. Three weeks before I was due to leave, they switched – you're not going to Moscow after all, you're going to Belgrade. Mother, string-pulling. Again. I knew it.

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: string-pulling, Foreign Office, Moscow, umbrella

Duration: 2 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018