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First rumblings of civil unrest in Beirut


High society in Beirut
John Julius Norwich Writer
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The other wonderful thing about it, of course, was as a jumping-off place for everywhere else around the Middle East. You could be in Damascus in two hours, you could be in Jerusalem in four, and, really, the Middle East was your oyster. So that was enormous fun. Sadly, when we arrived, we couldn't go to Damascus, because we'd broken off... after Suez – I arrived in '57. Suez was '56 – and we'd broken off relations with what was called the United Arab Republic, which was combined Egypt and Syria. It was meant to be... at one stage. It didn't last long, but it did for a bit, and so we couldn't go there. But then that was all fixed by the following year, and then we would nip backwards and forwards to Damascus, you know, as easily as we'd now go to Oxford or somewhere. And so that was lovely.

And lots of very, very nice friends, nearly all of them much richer than us. In Yugoslavia we'd been much richer than everybody else, but in Beirut, you know, I mean, there were lots of very, very, very rich people, and, oh, I mean, three or four cocktail parties every night. By the time you got to dinner you were absolutely speechless. And you never sat down to dinner till about 10:30. It was very often a buffet dinner, anyway. But then the good news was that the moment you knocked down your coffee you went back to bed. You didn't sort of linger on after dinner at all. And that went on perfectly fine, until the spring of 1958. I'd arrived in July '57, so I had very nearly a year.

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: Beirut, Middle East, Suez, Damascus

Duration: 2 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018