a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Family Christmas at Belvoir Castle


My mother the actress
John Julius Norwich Writer
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

And it was only a few years ago, when I was editing my father's diaries, that I discovered exactly when it was. It was in February 1933 and I was three years old, and I remember my nanny and Miss Wade, who was my mother's maid, was discussing it all before we went, saying we were going in a box. And I envisioned this enormous hat box, sort of cardboard and I couldn't think what we could see in that so I was very mystified. But I remember being led into this box and seeing – the thing had already started – seeing my mother, a statue with a green light on her and she had to hold this position for 45 minutes before she came to life – it was a tremendous strain, but she would do it night after night. And I... I panicked at the sight of my mother still and green. I had never seen her in either condition before and I remember shouting out, 'Is that real mummy?' And nanny shushing me down, 'Yes, darling, it is, so it's perfectly alright.' But I wasn't really happy until I got back to the dressing room in the interval and actually saw her and gave her a hug, then I was alright. I don't think I stayed for the whole of the play, it would have been too long.

But that was a very important part of my mother's life and it was indirectly an important part of mine because she made lots and lots of friends. This whole thing lasted 10 years on and off. And it wasn't just the theatre, you see. In those days, duke's daughters didn't do theatre so all her mother's contemporaries were frightfully shocked, with all this, you know – appearing on the stage, it wasn't the thing that nice girls did at all. And... but I don't know, somehow they got over that one and so my mother had the extraordinary experience, really, of, not... unlike any of her contemporaries and friends of having not only the experience of theatre, but experience of Austrian Jewish theatre which was something quite different again. And she had large numbers of Austrian Jewish friends who remained with her all her life and who were tremendous friends of ours too. And... I mean, one of them was actually my guardian when later, during the war, I was to go to America.

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: theatre box, statue, theatre play, Austrian Jewish theatre, mother, acting

Duration: 2 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018