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My one great adventure


First rumblings of civil unrest in Beirut
John Julius Norwich Writer
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At Easter '58 I'd gone back for some Easter leave to see my mother in France, and one morning received a telegram there saying, 'Sorry to cut short your leave, but please return at once.' So I took the next plane back to Beirut, where what looked awfully like a civil war was breaking out. It didn't quite get to the civil war stage, though in the 1970s it did. At that time it was really a dress rehearsal for what... for the much, much worse things that happened in 1970. But for about five months the opposition, which was 90% Muslim, was really besieging the Christian President's palace. We lived immediately above the Christian President's palace, so we weren't actually in a terribly good place, and bullets were whizzing around. And for six months we couldn't go out on our lovely terrace at all. And at various moments the Embassy said, 'Do you really think you ought to go on living where you are living?' But I thought there was no real point in moving. It wasn't all that dangerous as long as you kept your head down, you know, and didn't sort of go out on the balcony and that sort of thing, it seemed all right.

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

Duration: 1 minute, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018