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My father's death


A lucky find
John Julius Norwich Writer
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[Q] Wasn't she quite keen on driving up drives or something? Is someone who...

She always did that. Well, that was... she was always terribly interested in houses, and if she saw an open drive-gate she would always swing in and go down the drive and have a look at the house. Probably not stop, just look at it and drive out again, you know; do a U-turn and drive out again. And she always had a fallback position if somebody... if challenged. She would always say, 'Does Mrs Fordyce live here?' And there was a terrible moment when a lady said, 'I am Mrs Fordyce', once! That was a very bad moment, the only time I think I've ever seen my mother at a loss for words. But she... driving was enormously important in her life, and it was actually doing that, swinging into the open driveway, she did that one day in France in 1940... when we were at the Embassy. It must have been in 1945. And she swung into this driveway. And there was a very pretty, small house with an American GI lounging on the steps. And she said, 'What is this house? Do you happen to know who owns it?' And he said, 'Well, I do, actually. It's owned by Bill Bullitt, who was the American ambassador in Paris just before the war.' And Bill Bullitt was actually still in Paris. He was by this time working in SHAEF, which was the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force in Versailles. So my mother rang him up and said, you know, 'Are you still using your house? And he said no, no, it's part of my life... and it doesn't belong to me, it belongs to the Institut de France, who'd been letting me have it at a peppercorn rent, but, I mean, if you want it you can take it. I don't want it anymore.' So that's what happened, and we got the peppercorn rent; we paid practically nothing for this perfectly beautiful house, in which my father stayed until he died in 1954, and my mother stayed on until 1960.

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: Bill Bullitt

Duration: 2 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018