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  • Writer's pictureTony Herbert


This is a memoir, not an autobiography. It is inspired by things people often say: “Oh, I wish I’d asked my parents more about . . . (whatever)” – the War, their childhood, what they remember about their parents, what it was like in those dark forgotten days when there were no mobile phones? But on the whole we don’t ask enough of these questions. So memories get lost. Hence, this memoir. And maybe the process of writing it will bring back memories of things that I’ve almost forgotten myself.

As I say, it’s not an autobiography, so I won’t be writing it like one. It won’t be strictly chronological. I will pick on topics as they occur to me and see where we go.

I almost said that I wouldn’t start with my birth, remembering Holden Caulfield’s famous introduction to The Catcher in the Rye, where he says that he’s not going to talk about where he was born, what his parents were doing and “all that David Copperfield kind of crap”. But actually I am going to do just that, because of an uncanny coincidence.


I was born in a small house, then a nursing home, at the end of a terrace of houses overlooking Midsummer Common in Cambridge. Nothing particularly remarkable about that. But some 20 years later I went to Cambridge University and my college, King’s, had the policy of billeting its first-year students, not in college, but in so-called digs, rooms in private houses scattered around the town. And I was allotted a room – believe it or not – in the house next to the one I was born in. What kind of supernatural force was responsible for that?

Why was I born in Cambridge? (Here I go, despite Holden Caulfield’s wise words.) It was March 1940, some six months after the start of the War. My parents lived in London. My mother, Kathleen, financed by her father – who we’ll come back to – had bought a house in Kensington, near Notting Hill Gate, for the then princely sum of £2,000. But London was braced for Hitler’s bombs. Nearly two million women and children were evacuated from London and other cities into temporary homes in the countryside. And we went too. Not evacuated as such, because my parents were able to take a cottage owned by a friend in a tiny village near Huntingdon called Holywell, where we lived during most of the War. But the move there came a bit later. When I was born, my mother was staying at the Garden House Hotel in Cambridge: hence my being born in Cambridge.

James Robertson

I’m inclined at this point to pick up the thread and say more about my grandfather, James Robertson, who I’ve already mentioned in passing. He was very important in my life – and in the lives of my siblings and, I assume, his other grandchildren. This was mainly because he financed our education, although he was a lovely man and I wouldn’t want money to dominate what I say about him.

He was an old man when I knew him, retired from his long and successful career in the jute business that was centered in Dundee. He had been born in the 1860s, so was in his 70s and 80s when we visited him, living in his substantial house, Belsize, in Broughty Ferry on the outskirts of Dundee.

Jute and India

As I say, jute was his business. He had worked his way up from relatively humble beginnings, becoming a director (perhaps managing director – this is where I now wish that I’d asked more questions) of a major manufacturing company in Dundee. Dundee was then the centre of the jute industry in Scotland – and Bengal. Jute is less well known now that maybe it was then. Jute is a tough, robust fibre produced from plants that seem to grow most happily in Bengal. The fibre was used for making ropes and sacks, as well as the underlay for floor coverings like linoleum. This latter was big business in Dundee. My grandfather went to India presumably around the turn of the century, lived in Calcutta, and managed a jute mill in the Titaghur area just north of the city.

Kathleen and her brothers

My mother was born in Calcutta. She came back to Scotland when she was a few months old and I think her father’s term of duty came to an end shortly after that. But he must have been out there for some years.

Kathleen was brought up in Scotland, outside Dundee where her parents lived for the rest of their lives, although she went to school in England. We’ll come back to India, but first, a few words about her life before I came along. She was a seriously good tennis player, winning all sorts of championships in Scotland. She even played at Wimbledon – yes, the All England Club championships – although getting knocked out in the first round. Scrolling forward, she was a key performer after the War in the local tennis club in Kensington, only giving it up when she couldn’t win any more – she liked to win!

Continuing the diversion – and before we get back to India - Kathleen had two much older brothers, Frank and Wilfred.

Frank – Uncle Frank to me – married Joyce Wineberg, whose family had owned Belsize before my grandparents moved there. He went into the Army. He was in Singapore when the Japanese took over and spent time in Changi prison. He survived but, although a big man, came out weighing only eight stone (112 lbs or about 50 kg). Kathleen was never able to forgive the Japanese and, perhaps understandably, found it surprising that I was able, obviously many years later, to work happily with the Japanese, as I often did. Frank and Joyce had two children, George and Prue. Both were good friends of Kathleen throughout her life. Prue married Ian Seymour, a distinguished journalist who ran a specialist oil industry paper (MEES) initially from Beirut and then Nicosia.

Uncle Wilfred had a successful career in the Navy, having been – as Amanda recalls being told – a senior officer on HMS Prince of Wales when the Bismark was sunk towards the beginning of the War. Illness caused him to retire from the Navy somewhat early, probably preventing him getting the promotion that was his due. He subsequently became a director of Peek Freans, the biscuit makers. He married the beautiful Jean, but they had no children.


End of digression. And back to India, about which my information is sketchy, to say the least. But Mary and I did do some investigation in 2017. The jute industry fell into troubled times when confronted by the development of man-made fibers. I had always assumed that the jute mills of Bengal were no more, but was amazed and excited to hear that some young friends (the daughter of my old Cambridge friend, Anthony Figgis, and her then boyfriend now husband) had worked in a jute mill in Titaghur during their gap years. This encouraged us to go there. Investigation is perhaps too strong a word, but we did spend Christmas Day 2017 inspecting a jute mill. Could it have been one that my grandfather worked in? Who knows?

I do have some photographs of him and Calcutta during his time there in a tattered old album. One of them is of a grand house with various servants in front of it, presumably the house where he and the family lived. Under the photograph is written an address “Judges Court Road”. This encouraged us to see if we could find the house. It turned out that the road still exists, so we asked our guide to do a detour to see if we could find the house. It is now certainly all very different from what it must have been like then, but we managed to convince ourselves that a house that looked pretty like the one in the photo might possibly be the very one, much altered and partly hidden behind a wall.

India played a big part in the lives and memories of my grandparents. Much of the furniture in their house had an Indian origin, not particularly in style, more just in provenance. One chest of drawers, in distinctly English style, was bought by them from the estate of Lord Minto, a former Viceroy. It came down to us and was always referred to, rather familiarly, as “Lady Minto”. It now sits in our bedroom in London.

Another relic of those Indian times is a print of a wonderful Zoffany painting, Colonel Mordaunt’s Cockfight, depicting the curiously epicene colonel providing this naughty form of entertainment for a large crowd of colourfully clad spectators. The original came up for sale some thirty years ago and found its way to the Tate. When it was for sale it was possible to get Christies to make photographs of it. I am now looking at one as I write. My grandmother always used to say that the print she had (not of course the original) was very rare. She said that there were only three in existence, one of the others being in the Bengal Club in Calcutta. Whether this was ever the case I have no idea. My grandmother had a reputation in the family for embellishing the truth in somewhat imaginative ways.

Belsize, Dundee

At the end of the War (I’ll come back to what I remember about our life during the War), we stayed for a short time with my grandparents in Belsize, their house outside Dundee. I have no clear memory of this but I know that I went to my first school at that time. It was very much a nursery school and I do dimly recall doing some form of embroidery, a skill that I have sadly failed to keep up.

We also used to visit Belsize for summer holidays and of these my memories are more secure. I got to know the two employees: the gardener Mr Campbell, and the chauffeur (in his peaked cap) Mr Gould. Gould used to drive my grandfather’s large black Rolls-Royce. Typically we were driven by Gould in this perhaps inappropriate vehicle to the beach at nearby Barnhill.

But I probably spent much more time with Campbell. I used to follow him around the garden, watching him – and probably hindering him too – as he did all the tasks of maintaining what was quite a substantial garden. I still remember admiring the way he would tap the pots in the greenhouse with a stick and decide whether they needed watering. I must have learnt much about gardening from Campbell, again skills which I have sadly allowed to lapse.

My grandparents’ relationship was interesting. He had a great sense of humour, which involved a certain amount of teasing of his wife and could perhaps verge on the cruel. Some of his bons mots are part of our family memories: “Is this all we get?” at the end of a meal; “If he’d asked away sooner, he’d have got!” about an unwelcome visitor. Some of these witticisms – and also his surreptitious feeding of the dog under the dinner table – would be greeted with my grandmother’s scolding voice (in her English accent) at the other end of the table - “Jim!”. He spoke, of course, with a robust Scottish accent.

My mother and I visited the house many years later, towards the end of the 1980s. It had been sold long ago. The main house was then an office of an Edinburgh investment firm, Dunedin, one of the directors of which I knew from my City days. It was a curious sensation seeing the place in its new guise: it seemed completely sterile, though I do remember the smell of one of the rooms at the top of the house instantly taking me back to its former self. One’s memory for smells is extraordinary. The garden, incidentally, no longer exists, understandably: it’s now a small housing development.

Before leaving Belsize, I must record my fascination with the railway line that ran between the house and the Tay estuary. I would go down to the path that ran alongside the track and watch the steam-driven express trains go by on their way to Dundee and then over the famous Tay Bridge. The Tay Bridge, as we knew it then and as we know it now, had been rebuilt after the great Tay Bridge disaster. On 28 December 1879 (the date kindly supplied by my brother Mark) the bridge collapsed with a train on it falling into the river. That disaster was still part of folk memory in Dundee and my grandfather could actually remember hearing it fall down, when he was a boy.

The War

Perhaps I should move away from Dundee now and go back a bit in time to the War. I keep saying “the War” as though there has only been one war, but obviously I mean the Second World War, which really did change our lives both during it, obviously, and afterwards. I was born, as I’ve mentioned, right at the beginning, in 1940. We were a little peripatetic to start with, as I’ve also mentioned, staying with my grandparents and then, for a short while, with the Rev Lionel Powis-Maurice and his wife in Cottenham near Cambridge, where he was Rector. But for most of the time we were in the little village of Holywell.

Holywell is literally on the way to nowhere. It’s near St Ives, where Oliver Cromwell came from – not its better-known Cornish namesake. The village is on a loop at the end of a road that goes nowhere else. After the village you come to the River Ouse, or one of its numerous offshoots, which then leads downstream to the Fens. It seemed far away from civilization, although I had no idea obviously what it was far away from. Indeed my memory of the War is rather surreal. I knew it was happening, possibly on the other side of the river and the Fens. My father was in the army fighting the War. He came to see us from time to time and I remember that he seemed to spend a lot of time asleep. My father played only a small part in my early childhood, this necessarily being the experience of many of my generation.

We lived in a small cottage, Orchard Cottage, let to us by a friend of my parents. The family group consisted of my mother and me – to be followed in 1943 by the arrival of my sister Amanda – and my father’s mother, known to all of us then and thereafter as “Nunger”, presumably after some indistinct gurglings of mine. When I learnt to spell, I thought it should really be spelt “Ngunga”, but I was sensibly overruled on this.

We were in Holywell till I was about five years old, when the War came to an end. Life was pretty different from life for small children today: no nursery school, no swimming lessons, no music teaching, although we did have some home tuition. I think I learnt my multiplication tables and a bit of reading during those years. We also had a gramophone and a very basic supply of vinyl (or even pre-vinyl) records. Presumably neither my mother or Nunger knew how to operate it: I put the stylus in the wrong direction, so it slowly ate into the records, making an increasingly horrible noise. Such was my early musical education.

We had very few, if any, toys. But children, as we all know, can make toys out of anything. I had a fascination for a threshing machine in a local farmyard and I created my own threshing machine out of an upside down wheelbarrow. I had no idea what a threshing machine did.

Francis - FF

The presence of Nunger at this juncture needs explanation, and takes me to the other, non-Scottish, side of the family. My father’s father was always known as “FF”, he being Francis Falkner Herbert. He was the youngest of a long line of Herbert brothers and, in a way not untypical of the times, went into the Church. It never seemed to me that the Church could have been a suitable career for him. But I only knew of him from afar. I don’t remember ever meeting him. He was a figure in the background. The story, as I learnt it, was that Nunger was very unhappy in her marriage and that he was a terrible man to live with. How does one know the reality? Certainly Nunger was a loving and splendid person, not just in my estimation but I believe in that of everyone she met. One fact about FF I do know is that he was bad at managing his finances. He had to be bailed out by relatives. My suspicion is that he lived in the past, when a gentleman (as he would certainly have perceived himself to be) had to maintain a certain style of life, a style of life that couldn’t be financed on the earnings of a clergyman. In any event, the marriage certainly fell apart and my mother took it upon herself to help. She persuaded Nunger to leave FF and to come and live with her and me as a baby. I should add that I never detected any disagreement with this from my father. My parents’ relationship was already strained, but their attitude to FF appeared to be mutual, so my view of him was always bad. However, my brother Mark tells of a more recent experience. He and Shirani, his wife, went to Manea where he had been the vicar. It was on a Sunday and after attending the service in the parish church, he told people that he was FF’s grandson. An elderly parishioner said that FF got her her first job and she remembered him with warmth and affection. So he must have had some good qualities as a parish priest, which are in danger of being forgotten.

After the War, Nunger lived with her sister Muriel (Auntie Moo, to us) and her husband Archie, who were living in a curious ménage à trois that included a lady called Eve Stobart, who dressed like a man. Eve’s sister was an accomplished watercolourist and we have two or three of her paintings in our house. Eve, to Auntie Moo’s distress, eventually moved out to live with another woman. It must have been Ken (my father, who I haven’t yet introduced properly) who told the story of Auntie Moo emerging from church after listening to a fire-and-brimstone sermon about all the sins they must avoid, saying, “I don’t even know what half these sins are – I’m probably committing fornication every day of my life”.


This may be the point at which I should go more into the family background of my father, Ken – before reverting to how the War seemed from Holywell.

As I said, FF was the youngest of a line of brothers, the eldest of whom was a distinguished figure. He, Dennis, was a solicitor and became President of the Law Society (the body that regulates and represents solicitors). He was also a Member of Parliament and became Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, causing him to be made a Peer. He took the title of Lord Hemingford, after the village (near Huntingdon in what is now Cambridgeshire) in which he lived.

He – as Uncle Dennis – was important to Ken. He was a freemason (Amanda says, grand master of his lodge) and was, so the story goes, horrified to discover that Ken and one of his reprobate friends had read all the masonic secrets. As a result Uncle Dennis arranged for Ken to become a freemason – not that he would have been an unwilling recruit. Uncle Dennis was also Chairman of the Equity & Law Life Assurance Company and was instrumental in getting Ken a job there – Ken staying with them until he retired.

Hemingford the village played an important part in all our lives. Ken was born there in a house that we were subsequently to get to know well, Thorpe Cottage. FF became Rector of Hemingford Abbots and shortly after Ken was born they all moved to the Old Rectory in that village, also a house that we all got to know. But money troubles got in the way. FF got seriously in debt. Eventually he and the family had to leave Hemingford and take up a living in the parish of Manea, by all accounts a bleak place on the edge of the Fens.

At some point, the senior branch of the Herbert family moved into the Old Rectory. We often went down to Hemingford on family holidays. The eldest son of Uncle Dennis, also confusingly called Dennis, and his wife Elizabeth, were the occupants of the Old Rectory when we visited Hemingford. The latter Dennis had had a distinguished career as a teacher in Africa. I always thought we were slightly in awe of them.

We got to know their three children well: Nicholas (Nico), Celia and Cassie.

Nico became a journalist on The Times. He has written a brilliant history of the Herbert family and of his and our other ancestors called Successive Journeys. He takes it back to the 17th century, discovering that our ancestors at the beginning of that century were called Harbottle, not Herbert. It was in 1688, for reasons unknown, that Dennis Harbottle switched to being a Herbert. (Most of our ancestors were called Dennis, right through the 18th century, a habit picked up more recently.) The most entertaining reading relates to the Dennis that Nico refers to as Dennis III, whose life spanned most of the 18th century. Dennis III was an actor-manager of some considerable repute, performing “coarse comic characters” as well as consuming prodigious quantities of beer. Subsequent Dennises were more respectable.

Celia married William (Willie) Goodhart, a leading SDP member and then a Liberal Democrat, who became Lord Goodhart in 1997. Celia was much involved in Willie’s political life, but she was also Head of Queen’s College, London. Cassie married Hal Moggridge, an architect, who designed a remarkable house near Oxford, in distinctly modern style, for Willie and Celia.

When we went to Hemingford we tended to see more of another family, quite unrelated to the Herberts but occupying the house that I’ve already mentioned – Thorpe Cottage where my father was born. They were John and Phyl Winter. He was a solicitor in Huntingdon about whom my father used to tell rather naughty disrespectful stories, but his wife Phyl was the boss. She used to run tennis parties for the local teenagers, in which I happily participated. She had the most cheerfully bossy manner as she handed out tasks for anyone in shouting distance: “You with your hands in your pockets, go and help putting up the tennis net!” – that sort of thing. Her day job was running the local laundry, which I think she owned.

Our accommodation during our stays in Hemingford was varied. We seldom stayed with our friends or relations there. Once I remember we stayed in a caravan parked in a paddock by Thorpe Cottage – although on one occasion my father managed to wangle his way into a bedroom in the house, my mother having to stay, much to her dismay, in the caravan looking after us. More normally we stayed in a tiny terraced house (with outside lavatory) as paying guests of a Mrs Rathmell who lived in the neighboring Hemingford Grey. We referred to it as “Rathmell Towers”.

Edge Street

When the War ended, we lived at 24 Edge Street, in what seems now to be a minute house for a family consisting then of my parents plus me and sister Amanda, but to be joined in only a few years (in 1948 to be precise) by Mark. It consisted of small rooms, as was the pattern in those days, before we all got into the habit of knocking down walls and opening up the spaces. There was a drawing room, as we still called it then, at the front of the house; a back room where we ate; and a kitchen. Upstairs we had the luxury of three bedrooms; one for my parents; one for me and one for my sister. When Mark arrived, we divided my room by a curtain. Looking back, I am amazed that we didn’t go mad, but it lasted to accommodate us until I was about 25.

One of the characteristics of the house which is hard to imagine these days is that we had no fridge. Nor, I think, did many others. What we did have was a “larder”, in theory a bit cooler than the rest of the house, and in it there was a bucket of water to keep the milk in.

We acquired a television in 1953, as did multitudes of others (including Neil Kinnock, one was told), in order to watch the coronation of the Queen – in black and white, of course.

Edge Street had a village quality in that we tended to know the neighbours. This must have been partly because it was small and a dead-end, cut off at the end by the Fox Primary School. Our nearest neighbours were Marion and Bob Craske, he a stereotypical man from the Bank of England in his bowler hat and neatly trimmed moustache, she being an embodiment of Maudie Littlehampton, as created by Osbert Lancaster in his pocket cartoons in the Daily Express. A neighbour who we didn’t get to know had what was then a startling taste in clothes – blue trousers and even a blue shirt. Wow! My father always called him “Blue Boy”. And at the end of the street lived a delightful and lively couple of musicians, Manuel and Grace Frankel. He hailed from Russia, I think, and impressed me by greeting every woman he met with a passionate kiss planted firmly on her lips. I remember him talking, in his Russian accent, about our dairy in the next street run by a male couple – “It is not often one can say, ven I was in bed wiz my colleague!” Maybe it’s said more often these days.

There are two friends of my father who became family friends at this time: Guy Eardley-Wilmot and Handy Buchanan.

Guy was a large, gentle, witty man, who in far off days had apparently been in the Navy. It was hard to imagine him in any other guise than that of an immaculately dressed clubman with his rolled umbrella. The umbrella had an engraved crest on the handle saying “Stolen from G Eardley-Wilmot”. He, like my father, was a member of the Naval and Military Club, the so-called “In and Out” because of the words on the entrance posts on Piccadilly. (It’s now in St James’s Square, but “In” and “Out” still survive on the porch.) He lived on his own – a genuine “confirmed bachelor” – in Kensington Close, then a block of flats that he always referred to as the Monastery (it’s now a hotel). It was Guy who commissioned a portrait of me and my siblings by Arnold Mason, an RA of the old school. Sadly, it makes us look very bored – doubtless an entirely accurate representation of how we were.

Handy Buchanan (actually Handasyde, a name that has strangely gone out of fashion) ran the famous Curzon Street bookshop, Heywood Hill – alongside the eponymous founder himself. Handy was a little man who peered at you through large steel-rimmed spectacles. My father got to know him, I assume, because the branch of the Equity & Law where he worked at that time was in Curzon Street. Handy was a character. The bookshop was famous for having employed Nancy Mitford during the War (as recorded on a blue plaque) and for having the most distinguished customer list imaginable, including Evelyn Waugh. He, Waugh, was his usual acerbic self in referring to Handy as “Handicrafts” and saying nasty things about him in his letters to Nancy Mitford. But for us Handy was always a delight, as was his wife Mollie, although she gets rough treatment in the diaries and letters of Handy’s successor John Saumarez Smith. Handy performed the useful service to me of taking Biggles books that I got as presents in exchange for books that were then more to my curious tastes.

We also became very friendly with Rolf Marenholtz and his wife Pamina. They were German (Pamina being Jewish); had escaped from Germany before the War; and had been interned as enemy aliens during the War. He was a brilliant photographer and she a sculptor. They both employed their respective skills for our benefit. Rolf took portrait photographs of all of us at various ages and on various occasions. Pamina did a lovely sculpted head of Amanda, which of course she still has. Rolf was always anxious to achieve the informal touch: he got Amanda to take off some of her clothes – maybe a coat or a jersey – and she asked in some alarm: “Is he going to take my dress off and my vest off?” Rolf never mastered the intricacies of English pronunciation: we once had a long conversation when he apparently asked whether we had “the race”. What race could he mean? Swimming race, boat race, what kind of race? “No,no, ze X-race”. Coming from Germany, the land of pumpernickel, he was perhaps rightly critical of English bread at the time: “It is like vet vool!”

Another friend was Denzil Batchelor, who had been a friend of both my parents from way back. He was something of a celebrity, having been on radio and television. I remember him on the TV show What’s My Line, hosted by Eamonn Andrews, in which to the horror of all of us Andrews seemed, almost deliberately, to forget Denzil’s name. Denzil was a funny and very friendly man. He also had the most enormous paunch. He was a writer, mainly a sports writer, on the glossy magazine of those days, Picture Post, as well as being the author of detective novels – one of which I have in front of me, inscribed “Kate with love from Denzil”. The blurb says it’s “stylishly entertaining” and “suitably mystifying”. I must read it. Before the War, they all used to go to a pub near Maida Vale, where Denzil referred to the barmaid as the “titless wonder” – part of family memory, for no very good reason.


I went to my first school at the age of six – a rather delayed entry because of the War. It was called Wagner’s (not pronounced like the composer), located in Queen’s Gate. My mother used to say that it was the best school I went to, which was reasonably high praise as Eton was also in the running for this accolade. Its merit in her eyes, and indeed mine, was that it concentrated on no-nonsense teaching.

The headmaster was Edward Lefroy (Teddie to my parents) whose son John was much my age and was a good friend. We developed a passion, which I should probably keep quiet about, for collecting bus numbers. London Transport produced a book (possibly not a best seller) listing all the numbers of the buses of each category. By the numbers, I mean the number painted on the side of the bonnet – “RT123” and the like. Our passion must, I suppose, be compared to train spotting, something I’m happy to say I never moved on to. But I can still feel the thrill of spotting a type of bus that we had never encountered before – often in Willesden. I am sure there are equivalent thrills in adult life.

I believe I was a fussy eater when very young. Nunger used to say that the only way to get me to eat was to make me laugh and then shove the food in quickly. The revolution in my eating habits took place when I was at Wagner’s. We had lunch at a so-called British Restaurant, an understandably basic place run by the Government. I’ve never heard anyone else speak highly of the food, but I thought it was perfect. I’ve never looked back, although my standards may have gone up.

Kathleen used to tell a story that Mark has reminded me of. Apparently at Wagner’s they offered us little Barnado’s collection boxes to take home. I reported this to my mother, but explained that they said we had to put money in, so I said No. Such was my early appreciation of economic truths.

Geoffrey Agnew of the leading Bond Street art auctioneers sent his sons Jonathan and Julian to Wagner’s. He established a cup, the Agnew Cup, to be awarded to the boy with the best all-round performance – in work and games. My mother thought, disparagingly, that it was intended to go to the boy most like Jonathan. But I’m sure she felt more relaxed about it when some years later my brother Mark won the Cup.

Another Wagnerian whose parents we got to know was Colin Seymour-Ure, who went on to become a distinguished professor at the University of Kent, as well as being a great expert on political cartoons. His father Philip was a journalist on The Times and the subject of some of my father’s jokes, all involving an image of him trudging down into the bowels of his house collecting coal in his “coal hods”, not an item that I ever heard of in another context. His wife Nancy became a long-standing friend of my mother, both of them being avid windowsill gardeners.

My sister Amanda went to a school just round the corner, Glendower House. And Mark followed me at Wagner’s. Queen’s Gate was quite a hothouse of young scholarship.


Our main holiday destination during these years was north Cornwall and the beaches near Bude. We stayed initially at a B&B in Kilkhampton. It must have been connected to a farm as I remember watching the top layer of cream being carefully removed from a large pan of milk to arrive at the famous Cornish clotted cream. Our activity was to drive down to the beach at Sandy Mouth. We called in, on the way, to a lugubrious man called Selina who equipped us with wooden surfboards. Our surfing was what we now call body surfing – we had never heard of the idea of trying to stand up on the board.

Amanda has a traumatic memory of Sandy Mouth and Selina, which I’ll record though I’ve erased it from my memory. Selina said that someone had asked him where he could swim and Selina had said, “Not now as it’s low tide”. To which the man had replied that he’d asked where not whether. His wife was then drowned. Actually, I do have a similar memory, but it happened at Widemouth Bay (referred to in a moment). There I remember a swimmer being drowned, having unwisely gone in at low tide. Are these two unconsciously edited versions of the same event? If so, it tells you what tricks memory plays. In any event, whichever was the truth, we were very cautious about swimming at low tide.

It was on one of the Kilkhampton visits that we acquired a kitten that transformed our lives. The kitten was one of a litter that we found on a bed composed of dead rats, so far as I remember. We took her home and, in recognition of her feral character, named her Prickles. She never entirely lost these characteristics and a neighbouring dog of ferocious appearance, possibly owned by Blue Boy, always sensibly gave Prickles a wide berth. She had a son who we named the Wart after the character in T H White’s The Sword in the Stone. We had Warty neutered in due course and Prickles took great exception to this, reverting to her feral origins.

In later years we deserted Kilkhampton and bestowed our favours on another B&B, this time near the longer, more wonderful beach at Widemouth Bay – the Upton Cross Hotel.

Our travel down to those parts was by car. Shortly after the War we acquired a little black Standard car – or was it a Standard Vanguard? Going to Cornwall involved getting up at about 4.00 am and driving on the pre-motorway Great West Road (now the A4) and on to the very slow A30/303. We timed it to arrive at Honiton where we had breakfast with the Tremletts. My father had served in the War in the Royal Artillery (the defense of London) under General Tremlett, known to all – but not to his face – as “Bing” Tremlett. He and his wife were very welcoming and it made a happy break from the tedium of pre-motorway driving. (We sometimes forget, particularly when sitting in a tail-back on the M25, how our lives have been changed immensely for the better by the construction of motorways – including the much-maligned M25.)

Some of the tedium was relieved by our invention of a simple game. In those days, the Automobile Association, of which we were proud members, had motorcyclists patrolling the roads. As members, we had an AA badge on the front of the car. When the AA man passed us, he saluted. This caused us to invent the game. One of us would salute certain of the oncoming cars. The challenge was for the others to work out what characteristic of the car it was that the salutor was saluting. It helped to pass the time – until we got to the traffic jams around the dreaded Countess Weir roundabout near Exeter.

St Peter’s School, Seaford

It was quite normal for boys being educated in the private sector to be sent away to boarding school at the age of eight, in a way that surprises, even shocks, people nowadays – and probably shocked foreigners even then. I went away to the south coast, Seaford - between Brighton and Newhaven. Actually, I didn’t go there till I was nine, possibly because Wagner’s was so good.

St Peter’s School, Seaford, was a classic, normal prep school, run on traditional lines – by which I do not mean that it retained any of the toughness and brutality of previous times: the reverse. It was a happy place, though I think my mother felt that it was a bit too happy and relaxed on the academic front. Looking back, I don’t think I go along with this, although I did find that, when I arrived, I was in advance of my age group in some scholastic areas. But this was just a reflection of the excellence of the teaching at Wagner’s and not, I stress, any particular precocity of mine. I soon fell into line with my contemporaries.

Top of the form was always my friend George Steer, who went on to Winchester, and who I have come across recently through Mary’s cousin Christopher Cornell, another Wykehamist. His father had been killed in the War. His stepfather was a large jovial man called Kenyon-Jones (Isn’t it amazing that one can remember the name of the stepfather of a friend from 70 years ago, but have more difficulty with who one met last week?) On one occasion, Mr Kenyon-Jones very kindly took me along with George to have some lunch in a local restaurant. George and I gobbled down what we were given so rapidly that he said jokingly, “Wow, do you want to have the same again?” To which we said, in unison, certainly not picking up the joke, “Ooh, yes, please!”.

Recent events have caused me to remember another friend of mine at St Peter’s – Kenneth Whitty. He went on to Clifton College and I never kept up with him. (Sadly, I don’t think I was unusual. None of us seemed to keep up with each other after we left.) I discovered later that he worked for the British Council. In 1984, when in Athens where he was posted, he was murdered, apparently by Palestinian terrorists - possibly a case of mistaken identity. The reason that I am thinking of all this now is that I discover that the Chief Medical Officer battling (as I write this) with the coronavirus pandemic is my old friend’s son, Professor Chris Whitty.

Masters at St Peter’s

Perhaps the biggest influence on me from my days at St Peter’s was Mike Farebrother, one of the assistant masters when I arrived, but becoming a joint headmaster before I left. He was, in many ways, my mentor. I certainly liked him and, I think, followed him. One trivial piece of evidence of this is that my handwriting is very similar to his, presumably learnt from him unconsciously. Skipping forward a few years, he it was that caused me to go to Eton. He, himself having been at Eton, said to my parents that he knew Tom Brocklebank, a housemaster there, and thought he could get me in, despite my not having been put down at birth, as was the custom.

The headmaster was Pat Knox-Shaw, who played only a small part in my life. (There was also a deputy headmaster, Basil Talbot, who played an even smaller part.) Pat Knox-Shaw’s wife, Marjorie, took an interest in drama and directed the annual play, often an excerpt from a Shakespeare play, but sometimes something less demanding. The only one I appeared in was a modern farce called “Snobs”. The main snob was played “excellently”, in the opinion of the school magazine, by none other than George Steer. I played his “prim and peevish” wife, apparently portraying all the feminine moods and attitudes “most naturally”. Mrs Knox-Shaw was keen to encourage in us a serious interest in the theatre. It must have been she who took a group of us to Brighton to see the young Paul Scofield playing Richard II.

The teaching staff were not, on the whole, academic high flyers: not, I suspect, a problem when it came to teaching small boys like us. They mostly had military connections - it was, after all, only a few years after the end of the War. I remember Colonel Collins, Captain Norbury (with a black patch over one eye, making him look like a pirate), Commander Axtell (“ComAx” to us) and “the Major” who taught us shooting – that is, shooting on a rifle range (not killing things) for which we regularly won trophies.

Games and Sets

What about games and sport generally? Never one of my strong points. I was never any good at cricket; nor soccer or what we referred to as “rugger”. As for cricket, I was put in the pavilion and became a diligent scorer. But I did have one sporting success, early on in my time: I won the high jump at the summer Sports Day and still have somewhere a faded medal to prove it. And, somewhat to my surprise, looking back on it, I was captain of the successful shooting team in my last year.

Games, of course, and success in games, played an important part in school life. We were divided into “Sets”. There were three: Reds, Blues and Whites. I was a White. (Dan remarked the other day that having one called Whites wouldn’t do today.)

The way it worked was that, if you won a sporting event, this was recorded to the credit of the Set. But actually not just sport; classroom work counted too. If you did good work, you got a Gold. If you did badly, or otherwise stepped out of line, you got a Black (would that pass the political correctness test today?). Golds and Blacks were totted up (or down) for your Set. At the end of term, the winning Set was recorded – back to the military overtones – on a large, highly polished, brass Shell Case that lived in the main school hall. I have in front of me a bound volume of the school magazines for my years at St Peter’s and discover, with some pride, that the Whites were clear winners of the Shell Case competition for my last year.

School magazines

The school magazines make interesting reading today. (I’m not sure I ever read them much at the time.) All the reports of sporting events have somehow lost their fascination. But the magazines also contain thoughtful, elegantly written essays by some of the masters, particularly Pat Knox-Shaw. They also have amazingly clever pieces of imaginative writing by boys, particularly George Steer. The 1952 edition has a section headed “Staff Stew” with three humorous poems, one by each of the three headmasters, the one by PK-S being in Latin. It makes me want to qualify the slightly scathing comment I made earlier about the academic qualities of the teaching staff.

The bound volume I have says “in memory of his four happy years at St Peter’s 1949-1953”, in Mike Farebrother’s (to me) instantly recognizable handwriting, and signed by all three headmasters.


I feel that I should add my miniscule contribution to the unattractive topic of sexual abuse of young boys at prep schools like St Peter’s, particularly as a master who taught there after my time was convicted and sent to prison for it. But first let me quote what Sir Max Hastings wrote in a Times article on 21 March 2020:

“So unappealing was I, at nine or ten, that I blush to find myself today apparently the only prep schoolboy of my generation with no memory of sexual molestation by a master.”

Let me assure Sir Max that he is not alone. He and I share this shame! I can also record that the same goes for my time at Eton. Perhaps more of us should speak up, assuming that Sir Max and I are actually not alone. The record must be in danger of being overwhelmed by the bad experiences of those who were victims.

Writing English

At St Peter’s I was a slow starter when it came to writing English – which is ironic when you think that I have spent my life writing English, albeit in legal contracts and memos, and in my semi-retirement teaching others how to do it. But I didn’t excel back then. My mother got me some tuition from a good friend of ours, Molly Ure, a relation of the Seymour-Ures. I’ll be saying more about Molly later on, but her tuition had great effect. When George VI died, we were set the task of writing an essay about it. As far as I remember, I almost won the prize for the best effort. I didn’t - that honour went to my friend Kenneth Whitty, whose essay appeared in the school magazine, which I have in front of me and which is so remarkably good that I cannot imagine that mine would have come close to it. However, I think Molly’s efforts made me turn a corner.


A definite inadequacy of the teaching concerned religion – or was it my fault that I didn’t take it seriously? To my surprise, we were suddenly set an exam. I hadn’t been paying attention – I didn’t think I had to! And I suppose, it didn’t interest me. When the results came out, I scored almost no marks at all. One of my friends did actually score no marks. He got beaten by the head master, which I remember him being rather proud of. But it did make me realize that religion had to be treated as a serious subject.

Charles Wright

My mother took all this in hand. She arranged that we went to the Sunday School of St Mary Abbots, Kensington, run by the wonderful young clergyman there, Charles Wright, who not only taught me about the Bible, but also became a friend of the family – and subsequently married me and Lowell. He was a Wykehamist and spent time as a missionary in Portuguese East Africa, possibly after his stint at St Mary Abbots.

He married late in life. He and his wife retired to Winchester - where I saw him, and Amanda would have seen him more than I did. I remember him on one occasion surprising us by saying that he lived in such a way as to have absolutely no waste. They ate every item of food they bought (what did they do with the bones?); it was before the days of recycling, so they burnt any paper; and no plastic, of course, ever entered the house.

I have another memory of Charles, which has stayed with me over the years. We were driving him to see my mother. Amanda was in the party and wanted to bring along a friend who happened to live on the way. She had failed to make contact with the friend and concluded that she must be away. We were late, but as we passed where the friend lived (in a flat on an upper floor), she said, should we make a final effort to contact her? Charles said that no, he thought that would be a “work of supererogation”. He explained that this was a Christian concept – possibly Roman Catholic – indicating an action that is superfluous, and done just to store up needless brownie points (to use an expression which he certainly did not).


In 1953 when I was 13, I went to Eton. I’ve already mentioned the process of getting there, which didn’t have much to do with me. There was, of course, an exam, but it was the so-called Common Entrance, which all the public schools used – except I think Winchester. The Common Entrance wasn’t an enormous challenge and I don’t remember much about it. There were some historical dates that it was best to know – such as what happened in 1066. Also the Battle of Bannockburn featured – a date I still remember, 1314, despite it being a battle the English lost. Mostly the concentration was on the battles we won.

My housemaster was Tom Brocklebank and the House was Timbralls, the first you come to on the right as you approach Eton from Slough – or nowadays from the M4.

Tom Brocklebank had a distinguished past. He was a member of one of the early expeditions attempting to climb Everest. He was also an immensely successful rowing man. In the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, he stroked the Cambridge boat to victory three years running – an amazing, possibly unique, achievement. When I knew him, he was close to retirement in his role as a housemaster and teacher of modern languages. Frankly, he gave the impression of being bored by it all. At Eton, the first event of the day was Early School, a class that started at 7.30 in the morning, before breakfast. The system was that if the “beak” (to use the Eton lingo) failed to turn up after 15 minutes, his class took a “Run”. He was well known for having this happen to him more than it should have done.

Sir Robert Birley

There is no doubt in my mind that one of the best things about the school was the quality of the teaching staff – the “beaks”, although I am definitely going to avoid slipping into Eton jargon, not that doing so would come at all naturally to me now.

The headmaster during my time there was Robert Birley, later to be Sir Robert Birley. We called him “Red Robert”, presumably on account of our perception of his left-wing political views. He was indeed a man of strong liberal attitudes, which came to the fore after he left Eton and when he went to South Africa as Visiting Professor at Witwatersrand University and gave support to the struggles against apartheid. But to think of him as a socialist would have been ludicrous. I’ve read that the nickname arose because of a case of mistaken identity. The rumour was that his office in Germany where he worked after the War had a picture of Karl Marx on the wall. Wrong on both counts: (a) it wasn’t his office, and (b) it was a picture of Brahms.

I was an admirer of Robert Birley. He was a large, rather ungainly figure, dressed in a long black cassock, but displaying an aura of power and benevolent authority. His job as headmaster didn’t involve routine teaching, obviously. But to his great credit, being a superb teacher, he did teach. His classes were very much extra-curricular. He was a historian, with an encyclopedic memory for the telling detail. I still remember some of the things he taught me and can hear his enthusiastic voice as he spoke. A typical introduction: “I’m now going to describe what must be the single most important event in . . . (whatever)”. Or sometimes: “the second most important event . . .” making you sit up wondering what the most important event was. Another apercu: “ He (a German General, I think) was said only to have laughed twice. The first was when his mother died. The second – even more sinister – was when someone described Stockholm as a fortress.”

His great love was the College Library, a historic collection, its most famous possession being one of the few surviving versions of the first printed Bible, a Gutenberg Bible. He was a scholar, not an administrator. Someone said of him that he was the greatest man ever to have been headmaster of Eton, but perhaps not the greatest headmaster.

Brian Rees

One of Birley’s appointments, typically from a distinctly non-Etonian background, was Brian Rees, who taught me history. Brian Rees was multi-talented: he played the piano and wrote lyrics with the comedian John Wells for a musical based on an Aristophanes comedy that was performed at the school. He married Robert Birley’s daughter, Julia. After Eton, he had a stellar career as Headmaster of Merchant Taylors’, then Charterhouse and finally Rugby. This was followed by tragedy. His wife Julia died young and he had a breakdown. He sought solace in drink and what his obituary called “discreet encounters with other men”. This got to the ears of the governors of Rugby and he was asked to resign. He had a daughter, Jessica, who became deaf as a young child. She was the first totally deaf person to go to Oxford and wrote a moving book about it, Sing a Song of Silence.

Brian Whitfield

Whitfield was important to me, as he was my so-called Classical Tutor. My Tutor – although not really a tutor at all – was Tom Brocklebank: hence the Etonian expression “M’Tutor’s”, meaning my House. The supervisor of work was the Classical Tutor, an expression that was a throw-back to the days when work was basically Latin and Greek. Whitfield was definitely a classicist, but his purview covered everything, including science, which he was dismissive of – only semi-jokingly.

As was the custom, he held extra-curricular sessions. He tended to have us read plays. One we did was Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, to this day the play of his that I know best. We also did Bernard Shaw’s Doctor’s Dilemma, which I know less well, but still remember the cure-all remedy of one of the doctors “stimulate the phagocytes!”.

He was an old man when I knew him, having been a housemaster in years gone by. He presided over his lessons, seated apparently somnolent at his desk. I remember one member of the class (I think it was Michael Beloff, later to become President of Trinity College, Oxford) fiddling around with something on the floor. Whitfield unexpectedly raised his head: “Is that a quick-scoring game you’re playing?”

If you did a particularly bad piece of work, it was torn at the top – a “rip” – and you had to show it to your tutors. My friend Merlin Sudeley shared Whitfield’s views about science. He had done a drawing of a broad bean, which was so ludicrously bad you couldn’t see what it could conceivably be. He got a rip. Whitfield wrote on it: “I have seen better and broader beans!”

After the then equivalent of O Level, we moved on – to be a Specialist. This meant deserting your classical tutor and getting a tutor in whatever specialist subject you’d selected. The system of reports was that each form master wrote a report that first went to the classical tutor; he then wrote his report in the form of an actual handwritten letter to the house tutor; the house tutor then sent the whole lot to your parents, under cover of another proper letter: “Dear Ken” – “Yours Tom”. The valedictory letter from Whitfield is a classic, as is Tom’s covering letter. Whitfield is essentially complimentary about me but says, perceptively, that I should try to be, perhaps less meticulous, and more bold and imaginative. He then goes on, slightly wildly, to say that I am the sort of person who might not get the thrill of driving a car for fear of running over a few pedestrians. Tom’s covering letter has a dry comment about not wanting to be a passenger in Whitfield’s car.

Before moving on, I should make a serious point. Whitfield – and I suppose Tom Brocklebank – guided me on what specialist subject I might select. I tended to score highest marks in Science subjects. But Whitfield definitely dissuaded me form Science. I chose to do history – by no means reluctantly – but I sometimes reflect on the curious way decisions that affect one’s future actually get resolved.

C R N Routh

As indicated, I chose to do History and I was allotted Mr Routh (Dick Routh to his colleagues, but not to me) as my Tutor.

He was an inspiration to me, not particularly in history as such, but in the Arts. Eton had a practice, which I think of as being one of the best things about the school, of having Tutors conduct regular sessions of “Private Business” – I think that was the expression, although it sounds faintly sinister nowadays. Routh chose to give lectures, accompanied by carefully selected photographic slides, on Italian Renaissance painting. He was an enthusiastic lover of the subject and a devotee of the art criticism of the great Bernard Berenson, whose Italian Painters of the Renaissance was our bible. I still remember which artists he covered and am much less familiar with those he didn’t. And I have a worn copy of Berenson’s book, which must have been given me as prize as it has a paper on the flyleaf saying this in Latin: to Antonio Jacobo Herbert (note the dative tense) signed by the Magister Informator, Robertus Birley.

Routh had been a good client of Geoffrey Agnew and once had a collection of English watercolours of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. When I knew him, he lived in a small apartment just opposite the Timbralls, so had sold all but one, a wonderful J R Cozens. He also inspired in me an admiration of that school of watercolourists.

Fairly shortly before I left Eton, he retired and became the curator of Charlecote Park near Stratford on Avon – the scene of various (I’m sure wholly fictitious) stories about William Shakespeare.


At various stages, I was taught German. My teachers included Martin Forrest, who with great enthusiasm took us through Hebbel’s drama of love, lust, jealousy and murder, Herodes und Mariamne (I still have my copy printed in the old Gothic script favoured by the Nazis). Another teacher was a certain Mr Cornwell. Mr Cornwell was a newly recruited master in the modern language team and dealt with us in a strict no-nonsense fashion. It was only many years later that I realized that the author, John Le Carre, was none other than our own Mr Cornwell. He taught us for a short while before joining the Secret Service and becoming a writer.

Drawing Schools

The Drawing Schools were what we called the art department, it not of course being limited to drawing. It was run by Wilfrid Blunt, brother of the Anthony Blunt who was revealed many years later as a spy.

I should digress here to describe my early ventures into painting. My mother had started me off on oil painting at a very tender age. She herself had been to Heatherley’s, then located somewhere in Bayswater, where she attended art classes, as did Evelyn Waugh (though not at the same time) and the then famous actor Michael Wilding. (Heatherley’s still survives in its present location on Lotts Road, conveniently near where I now live.) She taught me how to mix the colours, as well as the elements of composition, but most important encouraged me to do it. I needed a bit of encouragement, but looking back, I now realize how important it is to start these things – almost anything – young.

When I got to Eton, Wilfrid Blunt asked to see some of my work and I showed him a painting of our house in Edge Street. He was impressed with this and shuffled me off to join the oil painters, rather than having me do the poster colour painting that most boys were subjected to. Oil painting was largely the province of a Mr Thomas (we called him “Oily Thomas”) and he was much more of an influence on my painting than Blunt, who did paint but whose main interests were calligraphy and flower painting. Blunt was also a splendid, highly entertaining, writer: his autobiographies tell you things that I certainly didn’t know about him, in particular his homosexuality.

After Eton, he became curator of the little gallery in Compton, near Guildford, devoted to the Victorian painter and sculptor, G F Watts. Watts is now almost forgotten, but in his lifetime was famous. His best-known work must be the large sculpture in Kensington Gardens (and also Cape Town) Physical Energy. When he died in late Victorian times, he was hailed as England’s Michelangelo. Blunt wrote an amusing biography of him under that title, dealing – obviously among many other things – with his curious, short, and probably unconsummated, marriage to the teenage Ellen Terry, before she went on to become the greatest actress of her day. G F Watts is also the painter of the large mural of assorted lawyers (from Solon and Justinian onwards) that looks down on those dining in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, including my brother Mark, who is a Bencher of that Inn.

Life at Eton

I must try and pick out the kind of things about life at Eton in the 1950s that would have been peculiar to Eton and also those that seem to us peculiar, living 60-70 years later.

As indicated and as is well known, we all had individual rooms. A feature of times back then that has changed today is heating - or the lack thereof. There was no central heating. Each room had its coal fireplace and we were supplied with a daily allowance of coal – I rather think it was only once every two days to start with.

So there we were – to digress slightly - polluting the atmosphere. And we really were. They were the days of smog, a potentially lethal combination of smoke and fog. London was particularly affected and we remember what were known as “pea-soupers”, when you couldn’t see in front of you for more than a couple of yards. The result was the Clean Air Act of the mid-fifties, forbidding the burning of any smoke-generating fuel. It had a dramatic effect.

Back to Eton life. We had afternoon tea in our (non-centrally-heated) rooms: we called it “messing”. A few friends would join up and you could have whatever you were prepared to buy and, if necessary, cook. Does the “Eton Mess” very indirectly come from this?

Fagging was still a feature of life in the 1950s. Each junior boy was allotted a fagmaster, for whom he had to do menial tasks. I fagged for no less a figure than Jacob Rothschild. I can never quite see the present and immensely distinguished Lord Rothschild without recalling the socks that I had to tidy up for him all those years ago. I’m also ashamed to recall that we had a nickname for him, referring to his Jewish heritage, that I am too embarrassed to record.

The fagging system also allowed a member of the Library (our term to describe the House prefects) calling out at the top of his voice “Boy!” All the juniors (I forget when you stopped being a junior) had to run towards the man with the loud voice. The last boy there had to perform whatever task he wanted done – normally taking a message round to a friend in another house. Not particularly onerous or disturbing – but fagging was (rightly) abolished fairly soon after I left.

Discipline was enforced substantially by the boys, subject to (mild) supervision by masters. At the house level, this involved corporal punishment meted out by the Library, although subject to approval by the housemaster. At the school level, members of Pop (the curious self-elected group of senior boys that were the closest to what would be school prefects in other schools) could beat an offender. Very serious offences were still punishable by birching at the hands of the headmaster. I never suffered any of these things. The successor to Robert Birley, a man called Anthony Chevenix-Trench allegedly abused his powers in this regard. This may have been one of the reasons for corporal punishment coming to an end within the next ten years or so.

What about snobbery? The first thing I would say is that there was no suggestion of snobbery as between aristocrats (of whom there were a few) and others like me from the ranks of the bourgeoisie – provided, of course, you spoke with the right accent. We treated peers of the realm like anyone else - and vice-versa.

When it came to boys from what we perceived to be lower class backgrounds, the situation wasn’t quite so rosy. In my house we had a boy who came under a scheme that was financed by his local authority in, I think, Hertfordshire. I didn’t think we treated him well. It didn’t, as far as I remember, amount to bullying – he was someone who could, in that sense, look after himself. (Bullying did happen – to an extent that would, I hope, be stopped and punished now. But that had nothing to do with class snobbery.) I later discovered something that, I think, Tom Brocklebank had written, perhaps in a report, which commended me for resisting the snobbery I’ve described. I have no memory of doing anything remotely heroic on the subject, but I’m pleased that I appeared, at least to someone, to be on the side of the angels.


As usual, I have almost forgotten to talk about what was probably the most important aspect of most people’s school days – sport. Sadly, I have no glories to recount.

One of the big decisions that Etonians faced was whether to play cricket or to row – in the Eton jargon, whether to be a Dry Bob or a Wet Bob. I had failed to make my mark as a cricketer, so the choice was pretty clear. I became a Wet Bob. In some ways I regret this. I have no regrets about not having played cricket, presumably badly. The regret I have is that I have never become immersed in the game as a spectator. I am by no means a keen follower of any sport, but I feel that I might have enjoyed the intricacies of cricket – for example in the way my brother Mark has.

As a Wet Bob, you reported to the boathouse, known as Rafts, run by the amiable Alf. Alf set you up with a single sculling boat. Eton rules insisted that you took exercise almost every day. I would, in the summer months, take my scull (we called it something else, I think) and rowed up to Boveney Lock and back. Longer expeditions were possible – and enjoyable - going through the lock, getting to Monkey Island near Bray, and even going further up-river. Monkey Island had a pub, which was within bounds, providing a reward for the effort involved in getting there.

I was small for my age, when I arrived at the school, so the nearest I got to proper rowing in a four or an eight was as a cox. But that obviously didn’t last long. I soon started to grow!

During the winter terms, we played the Field Game, as well as soccer. Rugger got pushed aside by the Field Game. It never seemed to me a good game. I never mastered the rules. If you think the rules of rugby hard to understand, you haven’t tried the Field Game.

Outside Eton, the Wall Game is probably better known. It is also unique to Eton – and famously can only be played in one particular place, against the wall near the old college buildings. I never played it. Essentially it was played between the Collegers (ie Tugs) and the Oppidans.

On a more positive note, I much enjoyed playing Fives – Eton Fives, of course (there are other versions). As its name indicates, it was invented at Eton. Originally it was played against the wall of College Chapel. Every Fives court is a representation of the curious, unique, structure you can find at the bottom of the stairs leading into the chapel.

Last years at Eton

Tom Brocklebank retired early, very shortly before I left the school. The house was taken over by Giles St Aubyn, who I never got to know well, despite the fact that I had by then become the House Captain.

Giles was very popular. I couldn’t quite see why, although he was certainly a nice man. He had various aristocratic connections, which may have had something to do with it, and he was known to be keen on motorcars – he was rich enough to be able to have expensive ones. He was always thought of as “a good man”.

So far as I was concerned, he was shy and hard to know. He was a good friend of Wilfrid Blunt and reading Blunt’s autobiography makes me realize that I somehow missed Giles’s humour and joie de vivre.

What are my more general reflections on Eton? Looking at it now, I find myself almost wholly positive. I enjoy whatever reunions come my way – and have enjoyed writing these pages about my days at the school, involving, as it has done, re-reading various memoirs and books about Birley, Blunt and others. Recently, we had a reunion at the school of all the leavers of my year – hugely enjoyable. And I hope some of the positive things come out of what I’ve written.

But there was another side to it. I think I was glad to move on. I hadn’t been unhappy there, but it was not, as it is with some, the “Happiest Days of Your Life”, to quote the title of the classic 1950 film. I was then more conscious than I am now of the negative aspects, particularly the snobbery, even though I have played down that aspect in what I’ve written. Certainly these feelings became more pronounced when I got to King’s, that hotbed of student radicalism. But now is the time to move away from school and talk about home life during that time.

Milly, Molly, Mandy

My mother Kathleen became ill during the 1950s with rheumatic fever, probably caused in part by the stress of family life in a small house with not much money and a difficult marriage. She and we relied on the help of various people, including Milly, our cleaning lady, and Molly Ure, who I’ve already mentioned in her capacity as English language tutor. It was Molly who referred to “Milly Molly Mandy” after the children’s books of that name and recognizing that Amanda (Mandy) played a role at the time.

First, Milly – Mrs Miller. She was a heroine of our times. She lived in Acton and had six children, which she brought up essentially alone, her husband having died when he was in his 30s. She became a close family friend and over the years was a great support to my mother.

Second, Molly. She was at that time a single lady and was a devoted friend and helper to Kathleen. She later married Paul Townsend who was a schoolmaster and ultimately headmaster of the junior school at Bedales, where Molly also had an important role.

Sheila Ogilvie

Sheila was one of the most important people in my early life. She was my godmother and took her duties seriously.

Sheila came from Broughty Ferry, so had been a close friend of my mother from childhood. She was an intellectual, fluent in French and German, and a career woman, working for the Colonial Office. She had been in Palestine in the late 1940s and, after that, visited colonial outposts of the Empire (as it still was) all around the world. I would be able, given the patience, to track these locations as she diligently sent me letters in envelopes bearing all the stamps of the countries concerned. The husband of (coincidentally) another godmother was a stamp collector and asked me about my collection: “Which countries do you collect?” “Oh, all countries’, I replied. “Ah, a very great mistake!”, he pompously advised. A piece of advice I wisely failed to take.

Sheila was keen to interest me in other things than stamp collecting, and was always a fund of views and information. I still remember her talking about Brahms symphonies: she thought that each of the four had one, but only one, really good movement; wasn’t it a pity they weren’t combined into one symphony? Regarding Beethoven, I must have expressed a wish to get a record of the Choral Symphony; but she said, no - she thought he had gone too far with that one. Her attention to me as her godson lasted until I was into my twenties: I see that my copy of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was a Christmas present when I was 24. Incidentally, she took me for a ride on the last tram to be seen in London.

Sheila was a devoted Scot. When she retired, she decided – much to our dismay – to live in Edinburgh. It resulted sadly in our losing contact during the rest of her life, although this was exacerbated by her decline into dementia.


We were not a musical family. I have already indicated that neither my mother nor Nunger seemed to be familiar with operating a gramophone. It went a bit further than that, although I later discovered that Numger was certainly fond of classical music. Also, music lessons at St Peter’s were very much a minority activity; Miss Daunt was the piano teacher and lived up to her name.

The result of this is that my early musical education was limited to Gilbert and Sullivan. I was taken to the D’Oyly Carte productions and loved them. Kathleen was something of an aficionado, having seen them in the glory days of Darrell Fancourt (playing the Mikado) and Henry Lytton (who did the comic parts like Ko-Ko). When I saw them, Martyn Green had taken over from Henry Lytton. Going back into ancient history, those comic parts (Ko-Ko, the Duke of Plaza-Toro, Bunthorne, etc) were created by George Grossmith, the very same man who, with his brother, wrote The Diary of a Nobody.

When I was at Eton, I took it upon myself to educate myself in classical music more generally. I was able to do this because the school had a record library. You went along to the Music Schools, selected a record and played it on their gramophones. In this way I introduced myself to the main composers. Robert Birley also encouraged musical appreciation. I don’t think he was a musician in any sense but I remember him recommending following a score while listening. He said reading music at that level was straightforward. You only need to know three things: First, if the note on the page goes up, so does the sound. Second, if the note is like an O, it is double the length of what it is if it isn’t. And third, Fagotti means bassoons!

In the holidays, I took myself off to concerts at the newly built Festival Hall and heard conductors such as Sir Thomas Beecham (who liked to end his concerts with short pieces he called his “lollipops”) and Otto Klemperer.


My parents may not have been musical, but my mother (more than Ken) was definitely keen on the theatre and introducing us to it, both the classics and the drawing room comedies that were popular at the time - and were soon to be derided by new playwrights like John Osborne. We were lucky. It was a golden age of a style of acting that has disappeared, with Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Paul Scofield, all of whom we saw mainly at the Old Vic but also at Stratford. One of my most thrilling memories in the theatre was seeing Olivier at Stratford in a Peter Hall production of Coriolanus. The climax involved a set with a balcony. Olivier stood on the balcony and suddenly fell towards us, others on the balcony catching his feet so that he swung lifelessly over the stage – typical Olivier!

Our theatrical expeditions definitely included other than Shakespeare. We saw the original production of The Mousetrap with Richard Attenborough in the lead. (I may be one of the few non-Thespians who have seen The Mousetrap three times: once then; another time with my children; and more recently with our friend Peter Cartwright in it.) We were also devotees (and this did include Ken) of the Crazy Gang, with a memorable sketch based on the mechanicals in Midsummer Night’s Dream - billed as “by Bud Flanagan and William Shakespeare”, with Flanagan raising two fingers at the audience, a grin on his face, intoning: “O sweet and lovely wall, show me thy chink!”


For me, films started at St Peter’s. It was probably on Saturday evenings that we had film shows. The ones I remember were the Marx Brothers. Some may say that you need to start early to acquire a true addiction to the Marx Brothers, and there may be something in this. The first one I saw – and it’s still my favourite – was A Day at the Races. For a while after seeing it, we could be found walking around like Dr Hackenbush. I still like him taking Harpo’s pulse and saying: “Either you’re dead or my watch has stopped!”

This was followed by regular attendance at the Embassy Cinema, as it was then called, on Notting Hill Gate. It’s now the Gate Cinema. We rudely called it the Flea Pit.

Holidays abroad

It may be hard now to believe, but Ken had never set foot outside Britain until we went as a family to Paris when I was a teenager and he was in his 40s. My mother had been abroad, as she’d accompanied her parents as a young girl in one or more of their expeditions to Monte Carlo and the French Riviera. She, with her (not bad) school French, acted as interpreter in their contact with the natives.

We went to Paris by train and stayed for about a week to see the sights and enjoy the novel delights of French cuisine. We were regular customers of a small restaurant round the corner from our hotel. I thought their champignons à la grecque was the height of French gastronomy. Ken tended to walk with a stick, as a matter of style, not because he needed to. This was perhaps not the French custom: it caused passengers on the Metro to jump to their feet crying, “Ah, mutilé de guerre!”, thus challenging Ken’s command of the French language..

Sheila Ogilvie, with her experience of foreign parts, was helpful in extending our holiday options. She identified the beach resort of Canet Plage, near Perpignan in the south of France. Again, we went by train – air travel was then much in the future. We were packed into a sleeping compartment with six bunks, so – there being five of us – we shared it with another passenger. The one I remember was a grubby individual who Ken christened Baron Rabbit – a name that seemed to suit him, although I struggle to think what Ken must have implied by it.

Later on, we went to Italy. The destination was Florence and the hotel the Villa Belvedere, again possibly recommended by Sheila. We got to know the hotel well, including the delightful Mr Ceschi and his son-in-law Vittorio. Our first visit demonstrated our ignorance of the logistics of foreign travel. We put our car on the train to Nice; then unwisely spent a leisurely morning sightseeing. We calculated the time it would take to drive to Florence on the assumption that we would go at the same sort of speed that we were familiar with along the long straight roads in France. We hadn’t spotted the fact that the roads along the Ligurian coast were anything but straight. We arrived at about 3.00 in the morning – I have to say, to a warm friendly welcome from Mr Ceschi or, perhaps, Vittorio in person.

Gap Year

I had a Gap Year - before they were invented. It arose because, when I was accepted for Cambridge, I was told I had to wait until the following year.

The process of my admission appeared curious to me, even then. I still don’t know really how it worked, but it must have been a function of contacts between Tom Brocklebank and the Senior Tutor at King’s and, possibly, the old historic relationship between Eton and King’s, both having been founded in the 1440s by the saintly King Henry VI.

I was invited for an interview with John Raven, the Senior Tutor at King’s, and had to sit an exam. The exam was the easiest I have ever endured. After the exam I remember going into the great chapel for the first time. They were doing evensong and the magical impression it made I still vividly remember.

One of the curiosities is that I hadn’t yet taken any A Levels. The interview happened while I was still at Eton, so Eton suggested that I take one A Level (in history), basically to give me something to do. (Eton was still in the process of adapting its curriculum to the state system of O and A Levels, the latter replacing their July Examination, which they, of course, thought much superior.)

As regards my Gap Year, I wish I could record the kind of experiences that are common now, such as crossing Siberia on the Trans-Siberian railway (son Dominic), teaching in Western Australia (his brother Dan), working in a remote village in Nepal (my daughter Julie), or befriending wild animals in Africa (as Mary’s granddaughter Tory has done). No, my foreign travel was Germany and France. How exotic is that?

Before Germany or France, I did a job teaching somewhat unwilling boys in a school in Hampstead.

The German expedition was more exciting. It was – unsurprisingly – fixed through various contacts of Sheila Ogilvie, who knew Germany well, having spent time there before the War. The ultimate destination was Munich, where I was to stay with a family.

Getting to Munich involved taking a train to Brussels and then Cologne. There I stayed with another of Sheila’s contacts in Köln-Marienburg. The cathedral was still standing, but the many Romanesque churches were in a sadly bombed state – hopefully now restored, as has been done for so much of Germany’s rich heritage.

After Cologne I went on the Rhine steamer past the Lorelei and on to Koblenz and possibly further. My next proper destination was Würzburg where I stayed at least long enough to admire the greatest ceiling painting in the world, namely the Tiepolo over the grand staircase in the Residence, miraculously saved from the bombing.

From there I went to Munich to meet the kind family, Helmuth Beckert and his wife and four children, who were to be my hosts for the next few weeks. The idea was to improve my German from the rather basic level achieved for me by John Le Carré and others. This was only partially successful, although any communication with any of the family had certainly to be in German – other than with their son Bernhard, who had picked up English with an American accent through contact with the American forces then still stationed in southern post-war Germany.

Bernhard had three sisters, Heidi, Monika and Barbara. I have stayed in touch with Monika over the years. She then had a boyfriend who they all referred to as the Penguin (der Pinguin) – for no better reason than that they met him when he was wearing a dinner jacket. Monika subsequently married the Penguin (Armin) and had a son, Florian. When we lived in Chiswick, we had Florian to stay and I re-met Monika and, indeed the Penguin, who had flown to England in his own airplane. Dominic and Dan were able to inspect and climb into the plane. (Was this where Dan’s attraction for flying started?) The story has a nasty sequel. Some years ago now, Armin was tragically killed in a flying accident. Monika still lives in Munich and Mary and I saw her and Florian for dinner on one of our recent German expeditions. The other sisters are still with us, although Bernhard died some years ago.

My month in Munich was quiet and, perhaps, unexciting. But I was able diligently to explore the various sights and museums of the city. Bernhard took me to the famous Hofbräuhaus, where we had beer and Weisswürst, the white sausages that you aren’t meant to eat after midday. On one of the weekends, we all went on a trip into the countryside south of Munich and saw the tiny jewel of Rococo architecture, the Wieskirche.

I think the French episode was again arranged through Sheila. I stayed for a week, maybe more, in Paris or, more precisely the suburb of Sceaux, south of the Périférique. There were about six of us, all Brits, staying with a French lady who ran a very traditional household. We all sat formally round the dinner table and conversed in the French language – or not at all. I don’t think this did anything much for my French. Needless to say, we spent most of the time with our compatriots. I befriended a man called Peter Sharp, who was doing a trainee slot with K Shoes in Kendal; they had sent him to the lady in Sceaux for a longer period, presumably so that he could better negotiate the sale of shoes to the French. He and I, at his suggestion, drove to the Vosges mountains in eastern France. He used to say to the locals when we were looking for somewhere to sleep, that we were happy to sleep “sous les belles étoiles”, which I thought a very poetic way of putting it, but he assured me it was the normal French for out of doors. We slept rough, often in barns, where I found it hard to sleep, hearing the rustling of the little creatures we were sharing our accommodation with. We also sampled the local Alsace wine, direct from the barrel. We took it away in large plastic containers. It put me right off Alsace wine almost to this day – whether because of the wine or the plastic containers, I will never know.


On to King’s College, Cambridge. I’ve been hesitant about going this far in my journey through the past. My intention has been to write about my youth. I’m not sure that I think of undergraduate life as part of youth. But I’ve been encouraged by everyone I’ve told about my project to fire ahead and to go at least that far. However, I do think that I’ll draw it to a close when I say goodbye to King’s.

I was very lucky to land up at King’s. My years there were, I’m sure, formative years – more so than Eton – and hugely enjoyable. The reason has a lot to do with the particular characteristics of King’s, certainly as it was then. The one I think of most was the diversity of the student population. There were people like me, obviously: people from public schools. There was a higher proportion of Etonians probably than elsewhere, I suppose because of the historic links that I’ve already mentioned, but they were mostly from College – Tugs, as we rudely called them when at school. But King’s was keen to have students from other schools and walks of life, and from overseas. The college not only succeeded in doing this, but also getting a real mix of people. My contemporaries included: the son of the former leader of the British Communist Party; a scion of the Sainsbury family (destined to be no less than the Chancellor of the University); a member of a family of white settlers in Kenya (whose views seemed so right wing as to be out of sight to us lefties); a member of a Ugandan royal family; a Sikh from northern India; and the man who was to become a distinguished journalist and to go into politics as the Man in the White Suit.

There was also another element of diversity. Many of us (not including me) had done National Service for two years, so had been exposed to the real world in a way we hadn’t. National Service had been abolished for those born in 1940, making me one of the first not to do it. My mother had rung me up whenever it happened and said, to my initial horror, that I was referred to in the main headline of The Times: “Men born in 1940 not to do National Service”.


Tuition at Cambridge was part lectures, part tutorials; and we were given much freedom to pursue our studies – or not - as we wanted. I read History – following up on what I’d been introduced to at Eton. In so far as we were given directions, this was down to one’s supervisor. In my case, it was initially John Saltmarsh.

John Saltmarsh was, in the words of his long-time friend and colleague Patrick Wilkinson, “everyone’s idea of the eccentric bachelor don”. His appearance definitely supported this description: unruly grey hair, mostly sticking upright, and impressive side-whiskers. His speciality was economic history. He lectured on this subject with great enthusiasm in his distinctive high-pitched voice. I still remember, partly because we joked about it, his analysis of the “beaker people”, who lived some 4,000 years ago. However, he failed to inspire me with his enthusiasm for that particular subject.

By contrast, he was at his inspiring best on the subject of King’s College Chapel. He was, without question, the greatest expert on the history and structure of the chapel that there has ever been. His tours of the chapel were famous. They lasted over two hours, starting outside and finishing up in the space between the vault and the roof, before going on to the roof itself. He showed you the way in which the stonework changed when the chapel was left unfinished for decades after the murder of Henry VI and before work was taken up again under the Tudors. He spoke, with suitable admiration, about John Wastell, the mason from Bury St Edmunds who was responsible for the miraculous fan vaulting (almost as if he knew him). He was able to point out the marks made by the builders on the wooden beams over the vault – their numbers being closer to the original Arabic numbers than modern ones. His immense knowledge is preserved in what amounts to a memorial volume of his (sadly unfinished) history of the chapel, based on his notes and typescripts. It is in front of me now, all its many hundreds of densely printed scholarly pages, not many of which, frankly, I have managed to read. But his tour is still with me, in memory – and still makes me perhaps unduly critical and impatient if I go on a tour given by a tour guide who doesn’t have his level of knowledge (and who does?).

There were two charismatic lecturers in the history faculty: Geoffrey Elton and Moses Finlay, both from other colleges.

Elton was the great expert on Tudor history and had written the books on the subject that were required reading. He was the man who rescued the reputation of Thomas Cromwell. He explained how it was he who, as well as dealing with Henry VIII’s marital troubles (which Elton did not focus on), created the constitution of King-in-Parliament that is still basic to the way our country works. I feel sure he must also have inspired Hilary Mantel, perhaps indirectly. He had the incidental skill of keeping the attention of his audience by naughty references to other historians. He was a popular lecturer.

Moses Finlay was American, having left the States as a result of his politics being too leftwing in the era of McCarthyism. He lectured on the history of ancient Greece and Rome. Writing these words makes me want to revisit his books: in doing so I hear his dry, clear, American tones as he explains who Homer might have been: “Homer was a man’s name . . . and that is the one certain fact about him”.

One of the features of the way lectures worked was that you could – were encouraged – to go to whatever lectures you wanted to, in whatever subject. I even went to the lectures of F R Levis, as he delivered his snarling and uncompromising verdicts on the novels of any writer who didn’t feature on his approved list – and, in particular, his contempt for critics in the Sunday newspapers. D H Lawrence was one of his heroes, but he refused to defend Lady Chatterley’s Lover against charges of obscenity in the famous trial.

Before leaving the subject of Dons and King’s, I must mention the fact that there were eminent figures of the past still living in the college.

The best known was E M Forster, who became an honorary fellow after the War and was to be seen in the college for most of the rest of his life.

More important in the history of King’s was Sir John Shepherd who had been Provost since 1933 until shortly before I got there and was still a benign figure to be seen in the college. Mary tells how, when she was visiting her boyfriend (later husband) and they were walking in great court, Sir John passed by and said, “What a very charming hat, my dear!”.

Finally, there was George (“Dadie”) Rylands, who had been in the college since the 1920s, originally as a student, then as a Fellow. He had been vastly influential in theatrical circles, having directed John Gielgud and others and having been a key figure in Shakespearean productions in Cambridge, London and Stratford. I have in front of me an ancient copy of his anthology of Shakespearean verse, The Ages of Man, that formed the basis of a one-man show put on by Gielgud in the 1950s.

King’s always had a reputation for being a college where homosexuals were accepted and welcome. In the classic phrase used by obituary writers in their day, none of the above three ever married.

Part II History

The History Tripos was divided into two, with exams at the end of the second year. Part II was different and some switched to other subjects. I stayed for Part II, mainly because it offered opportunities to do other related things. I chose to do Political Philosophy from Plato onwards. It worked well for me. I think, indirectly, it pointed me in the direction of the law. It also involved a special subject, the Scottish Enlightenment, which involved study of a fascinating group of Scottish thinkers in the late 18th century, including David Hume and Adam Smith, but deliberately not getting into Economics.

An aspect that I enjoyed was the opportunity during the vacations to work in the famous Reading Room in the British Museum. You had to get a letter from a tutor to say that you needed to do this. Armed with the letter, I could enter the hallowed space. I sat down at one of the long desks in the magnificent circular room and filled out a form asking for whatever ancient book I wanted – say something published in 1750. Amazingly, it was delivered in minutes.

Apparently, Karl Marx availed himself of this facility some 100 years before me. As he would have been studying much the same subject, I sometimes had the spooky feeling that the very book I was reading had been read by Karl Marx. Lenin may have also used the Reading Room, possibly under his real name Ulyanov. One of the lecturers at Cambridge told the story that someone went to the Reading Room and asked the attendant whether he remembered Mr Ulyanov: “Oh yes, indeed - Mr Ulyanov. I wonder what happened to him”.

(The Reading Room no longer exists. The space is now completely rebuilt for temporary exhibitions.)

Long Vacations - Work

We had vacations of three to four months each summer. Many of my contemporaries undertook major expeditions, but mine involved travel in Europe, financed in part by working for a firm called Undergraduate Tours.

Undergraduate Tours was set up and operated by Oxbridge students. All we needed was a car. My mother amazingly generously lent me her Morris Traveller. We gave tourists guided tours, mainly in London but basically anywhere. Knowledge of where we were taking them was a benefit, but frankly not essential. Actually I exaggerate. We got tested on our basic knowledge of the sights of London. I became a regular guide and latterly gave some of the tests. They weren’t onerous. We were keen to have workers, and the customers were forgiving. The attraction to them – you may think surprisingly – was to meet a real live student.

Advertising was done through certain friendly hotel concierges – who were generously rewarded. I seem to remember that we charged £3 for a morning tour, probably a fiver if they wanted the afternoon too. Riches, back in the day!

My best job was taking a nice American family (most of our customers were American) to Scotland, stopping at various places on the way. One of my biggest challenges was taking people to Oxford, which I’d never been to in my life. I had to pretend I knew my way around – it’s remarkable what preliminary research in a guidebook can do, helped by being one or two jumps ahead of the average American in knowledge of English history and the various styles of architecture.

One job (not on our routine menu of tours) involved a group of us taking about a dozen American college girls to a nightclub. We went to the Royal Court where there was a cabaret (hardly a nightclub) above the theatre. I think it was run by Clement Freud; certainly he did the cabaret. He had a joke about a man buying a toothbrush. The shop assistant asked if he wanted ordinary bristles or alligator hair. “Oh, I didn’t know alligators had hair”. “They don’t. It’s just a trade name. Like moth balls”. The American girls thought this very risqué.

I have a confession to make. A regular tour was Eton and Windsor. I had an illicit arrangement – as did others – with the lady who ran the silver shop just outside Windsor Castle. Point an American in the direction of that shop and she (it was normally a she) would be a serious buyer. After the visit, I snuck round to the shop and collected my reward. Better than the fare I earned for the tour! Nowadays I get annoyed with any guide in, say, Morocco who wants me to see some very good carpets, until I remember that I was once an enthusiastic member of his trade.


I spent the earnings on travel in Italy and Greece. The best trip was to Greece with my King’s friend Shane McNeice. It started at the Villa Belvedere in Florence. Again my mother was amazingly generous – we borrowed her little

Morris Traveller. How ever did she get back from Florence? Another Kingsman, Ian Barnet, was also part of the team.

We drove down to Brindisi and took the ferry to Patras. I tend to suffer from seasickness, but the seas were friendly and I remember it as a wonderful day. Then we drove around Greece, armed with the scholarly Blue Guide, to admire the various ancient sights – and some not so ancient.

One of the highlights was certainly the island of Hydra, where Shane’s mother (who looked about 25 years old) had rented a house. It must have been much the same time as Leonard Cohen was making friends with his muse Marianne. But our thrill was to watch Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri making the film Phaedra, also staring Anthony Perkins. Not such a good film as the famous Never on Sunday, despite our appearing in some of the scenes as extras (particularly Shane).

Another highlight – of a different kind – was a visit to one of the monasteries on the Meteora. Ian was a classicist. He was able to talk to a monk in ancient Greek. The monk thought he was witnessing the Second Coming.


I am now drawing these memories to a close. My youth was coming to an end – perhaps had already done so. I was soon to start with Allen & Overy as an articled clerk, as trainees were then called. No more three month holidays.

But King’s was not forgotten. A group of us, all from my year, those who went up to King’s in 1959, started to have reunion dinners every year, which dinners have continued to this day. These dinners were first organized by Dick Little, but he was tragically killed on his way back from one of them. There was obviously a gap, but the task was taken up by Tom Rivers until a few years ago. Our dinners, under Tom’s regime, tended to be in a Soho restaurant. Our current leader is Michael St John Parker, a member of the Atheneum, no less, where we have been going, at his kind invitation, in recent years.

The group tends to comprise about 15-20 of us. It very often includes the Man in the White Suit (Martin Bell), and sometimes, particularly recently, no less a figure than David Sainsbury, the Chancellor of the University; and again, recently, Professor John Dunn, a fellow of the college, who was introduced to his subject, political philosophy, alongside me all those years ago.

Our latest plan is to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our matriculation (the year we went up). That should have been at the beginning of the academic year - that is, the autumn of 2019. But we thought, how nice it would be to have the dinner at King’s in the spring, so we delayed it to May 2020 - only to be hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. It is of course only postponed. We will be there, when life returns to normal.

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