Peter Avery interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 8th June 2008

0:09:07 Arrived at King's January 1958 and Noel Annan was Provost; Gabriel Horn became a Fellow about the same time; Noel Annan was a good Provost and it was a good introduction for me to a King's which has now, alas, faded; remember after the memorial service for Dadie (George) Rylands that Noel Annan said it was the end of the King's that we had known and loved; Annan himself died a few months later; I was an undergraduate at Liverpool University and then went to S.O.A.S. in 1946, but King's was the College to which I was most attached; I had a number of friends here, including Dadie Rylands and Noel Annan; when I arrived in Cambridge as a lecturer it was a delight that within about twenty-four hours I was invited to meet with Annan who asked me if I would like to become a member of King's; it was not in his hands but with the Vice-Provost, John Saltmarsh; received a letter subsequently informing me that I was now a member of the College; some years later the University decided to encourage Colleges to give lecturers fellowships and I became a Fellow in 1964; Max Walters and I were chosen at the same time, largely through the agency of Dadie, Christopher Morris and Tim Munby, friends of mine; now the College lacks the leavening of older and devoted senior Fellows who understood the conventions and traditions of the College and drove it as a community; Gabriel and Dan Brown were my contemporaries; Jasper Rose was important to me as he had been encouraged to befriend me by Noel Annan; an example of the communal spirit and kindness of the College then; we started a conversation walking across to my Faculty room which is still going on by letter; at first we were talking so loudly in my room that the archaeologist who had the next room, thought we were having a terrible row; he and Jean, his wife, became very important elements in my life; early on Michael Jaffe was also good to me; he came to my lodging and we drank pot after pot of tea while we talked; this was the almost cosy King's I first knew, with high intellectual and cultural standards, a wonderful community to belong to; I now find it difficult to cope with an increasingly bureaucratic college weighed down by too large a fellowship, many of whom just regard it as a postal address and a place to have lunch whereas we regarded it as home; some, like Michael Jaffe, lived in College; Donald Beves was good to me when I first became a member; at that time Fellows lunched at a table down the side of the hall with another for B.A.'s; we were encouraged to go and eat with the undergraduates; remember Noel chiding me for not doing so; I told him I was shy; Donald Beves and I both came from Staffordshire though my father came from Norfolk and Derbyshire; Beves always used to serve gin and tonic in Regency bumpers; Beves a close friend of Pop Prior, widow of the Professor of French, who had the privilege of using his wine account; she lived in a house in Scoop Terrace where she gave marvellous parties, where she had rather aristocratic Danish female lodgers; she and Donald invented the madrigal singing on the river; we used to watch it from his room which was in Bodley's Court; Donald had a large suite, a man of great hospitality, lovable, loving and decent; the camaraderie I remember seems more or less to have disappeared

17:53:16 Dadie was a great fried whom I had known before coming here; remember when his friend Anthony Blunt was exposed as a double-agent he aged ten years; I never actually saw him act but did see actors that he trained; he always celebrated my birthday with champagne; Jasper Rose was rather unconventional; as a sixth-form boy had been taken by a friend of his father's to dinner at All Souls where they sat next to A.L. Rouse; Rouse's snobbery; Hugh Trevor-Roper and his effect on Peterhouse; Maurice Cowling; Steven Runciman; Jack Plumb; Princess Margaret and the Batesons; responsibility for the College silver

34:59:05 I am very religious; interested in the dignity of the Anglican service; converted to Catholicism in Baghdad, but go to Chapel now; remember a terrible row with Couve de Murville when he was Presbyter, Catholic Chaplain to the University, who said I had no right to go there; asked Monsignor Gilbey when I first came to King's if it would be all right if I went to Chapel; reminiscences of characters in Cambridge; John Saltmarsh, as Vice-Provost would bring every College staff appointee to meet the Fellows; not done now; Christopher Morris and wife, Helen, used to entertain Fellows and students to supper every Sunday; John Saltmarsh; George Salt; Arthur Hibbert; Christopher Morris; Richard Braithwaite; Morgan Forster; Francis Crick; Dan Brown,  Hal Dixon and Kendall Dixon

55:11:00 Sufism is a very great influence in my life; the medieval Persian poetry that I specialize in is Sufi; Sufism with its tolerance and accent above the material could be one of the last hopes of a religious synthesis that would help us to a better life; its essence is love which there seems to be very little of nowadays; chief concern today is with materialism and sex not leavened by love; Sufism rises above this; an important repository of religious aspiration and hope; never been tempted to convert; it is part of Islam but tries to introduce something that is lacking in Semitic religion which is arid, legalistic; theology in Islam doesn't exist, it is law; Sufism is the ameliorative factor; reactionary Muslim regimes are against Sufism; the present regime in Iran has arrested several Sufi leaders and broken up Sufi gatherings, a pattern with any totalitarian-type regime; very attracted by the mysticism of Sufism; is a religious reaction to a cruel world so appropriate that people should be turning to it; it flourished after the Mongol invasion of North-East Iran, an appalling destruction; it was the Sufis who started to revive life; we live in times where these horrible events can be understood in terms of what is happening today

[It had been intended to continue talking on another occasion but sadly Peter Avery died on 6th October 2008 without it being possible to find the time to do so.]