Brian Harrison interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 22nd June 2012
0:05:07 Born in 1937 in Belsize Park, London; my father was a buyer in the toy department in Peter Robinson, which was then an important London store; my mother had been a junior in the hat department before going to McCracken & Bowen, hat makers in Marylebone; when she left Peter Robinson they organized a whip-round for a leaving present, and my father contributed; they bought her a silver visiting card container, which I still have; she went round to all those who had subscribed and thanked them; I am here now because this was how she met my father; my father still worked at Peter Robinson after they married but my mother was a housewife, as was normal at that time; she had a terrible time with me because I cried all the time; at one point she just ran away; my father found her going down in the lift at Belsize Park; I was one or two at the time and my father was appalled; her mother had died in the 'flu epidemic at the end of the First World War and her father had died, allegedly of a broken heart, three years after when she was four or five; she never really had a mother and always felt the need for one; a mother would have advised her how to deal with a crying child; very fortunately there was a charming woman called Mrs Blackstock who lived in a nearby flat in Glenloch Court and took my mother in hand and told her how to cope; my father was a very interesting man in many ways; he had all sorts of theories, and one of them was that you don't do any washing-up at the weekend; my mother found herself on Monday mornings with a huge pile, and Mrs Blackstock helped her, giving advice on how to deal with her husband; not surprisingly, my father didn't like Mrs Blackstock's influence; this may have had an important effect on me as my mother told me that Mrs Blackstock's son, Ewart, had dropped me on my head when I was a baby; my father was furious and never let Ewart hold me again; the very first school report that I had said I positively revelled in work, and that has been so since; I enjoy working and am a workaholic; I have been very fortunate in being in a profession where work cumulates in some sense, and means that my life has a harmony about it which most people don't have; there is no distinction between weekends and week days, holidays or work days; it had already begun when I went to prep school, as my school reports testify.
5:55:22 I went to a good school because my mother was socially ambitious; she viewed education as a way of moving up, or at least not moving down; my father was very much in favour of a good education, but for the right reasons and felt that people should realize their full potential; between them they reached the same conclusion that I should be sent to Alcuin House School which was a little prep school with probably not more than a hundred pupils; I got a very good education there; Miss Dalgleish was very encouraging; I was a nervous child and had a term when I was completely off school altogether; I was then about six or seven; for some reason I was frightened of going, though I don't remember being bullied; they kept me at home and Miss Dalgleish wrote a letter saying they were looking forward to seeing me next term; I did go back and it was all right after that; my parents were very good in trying to understand what the problems were, but I got very good school reports; the school had a really outrageous system by present standards; when you came top of the class you were given what was called a ‘list’ which was a list of all the pupils in rank order of performance; I kept on getting all the lists; at the end of term you would walk up to receive your list from the headmaster - T. D’Arcy Yeo was his name - and I walked off with all the lists; my parents therefore knew I was bright and did everything they could to encourage it; that school got me to Merchant Taylors' School in Northwood; my performance in Latin peaked at Alcuin House at thirteen; I was never taught it as well at Merchant Taylors’; we were all being prepared for Common Entrance which was the way you got into a public school; you didn't do 11+, you took it at thirteen and you either got in or not; I got an Exhibition, not a Scholarship, to Merchant Taylors’, which was something like £40 a year; my mother had a brother who was quite affluent and he helped out a bit
9:13:12 Going back to my mother's history - the Savill family were the Shaw Savill shipping line, quite a big operation in the Edwardian period; they were also brewers in North-East London and Savills, the land agents; my grandfather, Martin Savill, was regarded as the "poor" branch of the family; when my grandfather died soon after my grandmother, possibly through drink rather than a broken heart, the wealthier sections of the family took an interest and really wanted to help; there were seven siblings, two had already gone to Australia and Canada, and both founded quite big clans there; the other five stayed in England; Meredith was seriously crippled and became the centre of the family; he was a charming person, very much loved by everybody; Margot and my mother couldn't earn very much, neither could Tom who was too young to work, and there was Geoffrey who was apprenticed to CAV, an engineering firm in Acton; he was head of the family, and despite pressure from the rich members of the family to take over, they wanted to remain independent and were terrified of being separated from one another; my mother always said that she had a very happy childhood, brought up by her siblings, but never had a mother to guide her through the business of being a woman; I am always astonished that I ever appeared on the scene; as a young woman she did not know anything about sex, like a lot of women at that time; somehow I was conceived, but she remained very innocent in all sorts of ways; I think she was sort of in love with my father, but I don't really know; but throughout her life she gave misleading signals to men so they thought she was fond of them when really she was just trying to be nice; it lead to all sorts of misunderstanding, particularly when she separated from my father; she always said that the difference in their ages didn't matter, my father was about twenty years older, but that the cause of the dispute was that he was unreliable about money; when I was a teenager people used to knock at the door asking for their bills to be paid; my mother was quite terrified by that because her brothers had always paid their bills; they separated when I came back from the army after National Service so it did not have any traumatic effect on me, but I remember lying in bed upstairs and hearing them arguing when I was a teenager; my mother used to burst into tears, my father would get rather loud, and my mother would tell him not to shout; it's curious how children react; people would now say that it was lethal, but it wasn't at all; it was like a thunderstorm and I rather liked them, it didn't worry me but was just something that happened
14:51:17 When my mother was turning against my father she took me into consultation; it was a fatal thing to do, but I was rather flattered, and she talked to me about all sorts of confidential things; she told me that she was thinking of taking over the front bedroom, hitherto shared; I usually agreed with her but I did think it wrong to push my father into the back room; these consultations had the effect of putting me against my father which was a pity; I can't say much about him; he was a clever man, an accountant by training, and self-made; I don't really know anything about his parents; my mother used to, under duress, entertain her mother-in-law at home at Christmas, but didn't like her at all; I never went up to Yorkshire where they lived; my father came from Hull, but his father allegedly ran off to Canada; I don't go any further back on that side but can go much further on my mother's side; my father was a clever man, and he thought for himself; in the Second World War he resigned or was sacked from Peter Robinson and started up on his own as a toy manufacturer in Percy Street, just off Tottenham Court Road; I used to go there sometimes; they made a great fuss of me because his employees were refugees; Miss Rosenzweig was the woman who ran the workshop; she was a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia; very paradoxically as my father was anti-Jewish, even though he was making money out of them; he used to refer to Jews as "shonks" which is an insulting word; the frightful things that happened in the war didn't seem to affect that at all; this attitude carried over into my mother; by the 1950s it was not acceptable to say such things and I had to advise my mother not to; my father was a curious mixture; he tended to vote Liberal, but out of perverseness because nobody else did; he was disorganized; his study was a terrible mess; my mother used to tidy him up but without any success; behind all my card indexes lies a mother who said I must not be like my father; I used to love going to my Aunt Bim who lived in Chelsfield, Kent; I used to go with my Aunt Margot and she made gooseberry pie, which I loved and still do; after the pie I would clear out one of her cupboards which I loved, and that is what historians do, they tidy up things, make sense of chaos, they find buried treasure, and all that goes right the way back for me; the War also had a profound effect because when I was three we moved to Stanmore, to a half-finished suburban estate where building had stopped because of the War; there were lots of spaces between houses and they were full of rusting railway trucks left over from the builders; we had the most wonderful time on the building plots, there were trees and fields round about, and Bentley Priory where Bomber Command was, was nearby; it was a lovely place to spend one's childhood; it was highly suburban, and I've been suburban all my life, which is an ideal combination of privacy and companionship; it's an ideal mixture and I've never had any of this snobbish objection to being suburban; my mother used occasionally to use the word pejoratively but I never have; I had a gang of friends there and we roamed around on our own unsupervised, as was common among children then, and in those days you could play in the street, with cars rarely seen.
21:50:00 I had lots of hobbies - cigarette packet covers which we would pick up out of the gutter; I was a great collector then and still am; I had a stamp collection; I had a room of my own and never wanted for anything, and if you haven't seen a banana you are not worried about not having one; I remember my father drawing a banana in about 1947, and eating one about a year or so after that and wishing it would never end; I remember where I was sitting when I ate it; the War had the effect of maximizing the companionship side of neighbourhood because the men were mostly away and the women got together; my mother and I had jaundice when I was nine and the neighbours weighed in and brought food; there was a great deal of fellow feeling, but that nourished the anti-Jewish feeling because the thing that really terrified everybody on the estate was whether the place would be taken over by Jews as they were moving out across North-West London towards us; they were doing well, had come out of the East End and got as far as Golders Green and Hendon, and were likely to move further out; that was thought to be appalling as it would drag the estate down; I remember my parents complaining about somebody shouting to her husband in the garden from an upstairs window; you just didn't do that sort of thing; it was a class thing partly, they were frightened of the estate going downhill and losing its cachet and its house-value; it's not so much social aspiration that drives them but the fear of social decline; my mother's family were at risk of going down, and her class-consciousness and desire for my education, aimed to stop that happening; they all clutched on to the one brother (Geoffrey) who had money and bailed them out; he never married, and to put it crudely, he allowed himself to be plundered; he was a very good-hearted man; my father was dragging my mother down; he was made aware that she had married beneath her; she used to refer to people as being ‘provincial’ which meant that they came from north of Watford, and my father was decidedly provincial coming from Hull; he used to get awfully cross when she used that expression; my father was a very kind man and he subsidized his brother Eddie in getting through university; my uncle eventually became a university registrar and did quite well; but it is typical of my father that when I went to Malta on National Service he used to send parcels of chocolate, which I was extremely fond of, but they had gone white; he hadn't noticed that in the shop that he kept by that time, they had passed their prime and were largely uneatable, even by me; he had an accountancy business and both it and the toy business drained down to nothing, so he was sinking and that is why the bills were not paid; my mother was determined he should not sink any further so she went out to work in a part-time job which was something middle-class women didn't do in those days; it was brave of her, and was in fact the making of her because she discovered that she was a very good manager; in the early 1950s her brother Geoffrey set them both up in a shop in North Kensington, a working-class area with black immigrants beginning to come in; they ran this sub-post office, corner shop, very well - so much so, that they got a second shop in the Harrow Road; the way things were going, my mother continued to run the old shop and my father ran the Harrow Road shop; when I came back from the army at twenty-one, I found that the marriage was breaking up, so it was not a happy home-coming; I volunteered to open the Harrow Road shop on Sundays to test the market, as my father had ceased opening it then; I had worked behind the counter as a teenager for them in the other shop, and rather enjoyed doing so, and I am a natural entrepreneur probably as a result of that; I only did one Sunday and thought my father really ought to know what his stock was like and why people were not buying it; his response was that there was nothing wrong with the stock; you couldn't tell my father anything really, he was never wrong, but I did my best. At that time I needed to get some money together as I was coming up to Oxford; I went by bicycle to Kilburn because my mother insisted that I should get a job, to an employment agency; I filled in a form and was rather shocked to see how little I could offer because the only thing I could do was to type; that was one of the reasons why I made myself a proficient touch-typist thereafter, because I thought that at the very least I would be able to do that; in fact, no job was offered me, and my father knew one of the buyers in Selfridges with whom he spoke, and I got a job in the gramophone department through no merit of my own but just through my father putting in a word for me; I was extremely good at it; we were paid on commission so it was financially rather important to do it well; I had two techniques; one was to fix customers through eye contact as they were approaching the counter, and the other assistants couldn't understand why they all came to me and not to them; secondly, I had a little notebook in which I put useful record numbers so that when asked, I could find it quickly, and sold quickly; I suspect I earned more commission than anybody else there; I was asked to see the personnel manager before I left for Oxford, and he invited me to come back afterwards; I enjoyed selling records as I'm very fond of music; that is one thing I owed to my mother; she played Debussy a lot and she was trained during the Second World War at the Wigmore Hall; I still think of her when I hear certain Chopin nocturnes as she used to play them and Schubert intermezzos
33:55:14 I have a vague memory of sitting with my back against a pillar in an upstairs classroom in Alcuin House School, aged about seven, singing; I had a very good voice and a good sense of tune; both my parents used to sing to me as a very small child, and I can remember what they sang; I was not taught the piano, I wish I had been, but my parents were very sensible and didn't force it on me; when I was about fourteen I expressed an interest in learning, and my Uncle Geoffrey paid for me to have a year's lessons at Merchant Taylors’; I didn't make much progress, not because I didn't enjoy it but I was very busy with 'O' levels and didn't have the time to practice; I did develop a love of music at the time when long-playing records were coming out; I initially started off buying 78s and used to run between bus stops to save enough money to buy a record at the end of the week, as I was allowed to keep any travel money that I saved; I liked obvious things like 'Greensleeves'; we had neighbours called Frank and Nellie Robinson who were extremely good to me; my mother used to go and chat with them in the evening and eventually I was allowed to go with her; they had a long-playing gramophone where I first heard Grieg's Piano Concerto, and I fell in love with that; we had concerts at Merchant Taylors’ which were held at Watford Town Hall for which we could get free tickets; I picked up most of what I know then; later I went to the Proms and I am going to six of them this year
37:10:10 I never work to music as I find it too much of a distraction; I am very interested in the history of music but it's not well written about; neither it nor the history of painting is set into context; the Robinsons were very influential; he was a self-made man which was a term of abuse for my mother, but he did very well; he worked in Kodak which had a huge factory in Wealdstone at that time, and made a lot of money; he epitomised prudence and success in my mother's eyes even though he was a self-made man; he was financially secure, and that is what she admired; I think he was in love with her - in fact he made one or two propositions to her which she rejected; she was giving the wrong signals as usual; I think that Mrs Robinson, a very nice woman, once caught her husband with his hand on my mother's knee; my mother went to see her next day and apologised, and offered to stop visiting; Mrs Robinson was secure enough to reject that suggestion, so my mother continued to go there; my father, when he was not being successful when I was about fourteen, had a dream of going to New Zealand and starting a new life; we were all set to go and Frank Robinson came to the house and told my mother not to go, and she agreed and refused to go; it was probably wise as it would have been a disaster; when my mother went out to work she needed to drive; she had taken lessons before the War but she nearly drove a hole in the back end of our garage, and my father discouraged her from driving thereafter. However, when she began going out to work she decided to learn to drive properly; she had a driving instructor, Roy, who was about ten years younger than her; the inevitable happened, she had an affair with him and separated from my father; at that stage I stayed with my father, though a bit torn, and she went off with the man; later on, her sister, Margot, noticed that my mother had marks on her face; she asked what had happened and my mother said it was caused by fat spitting up from the frying pan, but it fact he was knocking her about; by that time she wanted to leave him and went to live with her sister. Generous as usual, she had lent the car, a Morris Minor, to Roy, and the strategy was to get this car back; he lived in North Harrow; my father loved this sort of thing and had a huge collection of detective novels, and we devised a way of getting the car back; it was parked outside Roy’s parents' house where he was living and we had a duplicate key; we drove up together, I got into my mother's car, and we both drove away; I saw Roy in the front room astonished at what was happening, but he was too late, we had gone; Roy was a reasonable enough chap and for a time I used to go up to Selfridges with them; eventually he made it clear to my mother that he didn't want me in the car, so I then went to Selfridges with my father; after my mother left him she got a flat in North Kensington near her shop; eventually, Uncle Geoffrey bought her a little cottage in the same area; she was happy living on her own and became enthusiastic for encouraging discontented wives to leave their husbands, saying she had never been so happy as when she became independent.
45:37:09 Because of the instability at home, Oxford was a refuge for me and I used to stay up in the vacations a lot rather than go to one or other home; in another sense, I had the same fear that my mother had of slipping socially; I had seen them both slipping and I was determined not to; the only way out of that was passing examinations; for a time I lived with my father who eventually married one of his assistants, Doris, a very nice woman; they were living in a low-grade suburb of North London and I thought I am never going to sink any lower than this; you will obviously realize that I have absorbed all the class-consciousness that my mother had, but British society at that time was very class-conscious, particularly in the suburbs; yet work was not an escape for me, as it had been important for me at the age of five, as shown in the school report; my parents were perfectly happy for the first ten years, so I did not need to escape into work. Enthusiasm was, for whatever reason, built into my temperament from a very early age.
47:46:06 On teachers, I should start with Miss Dalgleish at prep school, who was a very good teacher; then there was Miss Keast, who was a fascinating woman; initially she terrified me as she had a disability which caused her to quiver; this was probably one reason why I had a term off from school as Miss Dalgleish was ill and Miss Keast was taking over the form temporarily; she also had money spiders in her piled up hair, and children are very frightened of things like this; however, they were both very good teachers, as a lot of unmarried women were in those days; D’Arcy Yeo, the Headmaster, was also very good though a bit of a sadist; he used to pull pupils' hair and hit them on the back of the head, though he never did this to me; I got into Merchant Taylors’ and was then on the science side, perhaps because I was quite good at maths; after slipping in rank-order in science subjects, and hating physics, especially science practicals, also being no good at geometry. I had never been accustomed to moving towards the bottom of the class, and felt I must do something about it. After three years I realized that another boy by the name of Harrison had moved from the science side to arts; I asked him how he did it as it was rarely done and the school didn't like such late transitions. He didn’t discourage me, but my parents were against me switching as they thought it was a bad career move. However, I managed to persuade everyone and did switch; I was immediately in my element, I was good at Latin still, as I had inherited that from the prep school; I went first into the Classical Lower Sixth, and then into the first year of the Classical Sixth, and thence into the History Sixth and the master who ran that was Alex Jeffries, an avuncular, very kind man, who was really a father figure for me; in fact, long before I came under his tutelage I had got lost in the school, and couldn't find where I should be and at what time; I stood outside the masters' common room and looked for somebody who looked friendly, and he was the one I asked for help; he was a good teacher, not high-powered intellectually, but inspirational and encouraging; he encouraged us to give talks to the class, which I did; he was also extremely tolerant, which my father was not, and I admired that; he was a veteran of the First World War; I remember him describing what it was like to be an army officer at that time, and he described the guns; he banged on his desk to show us what gunfire was like; he described how at one point he was trying to lead on his troop and couldn’t understand why nobody moved: they were all dead; it was very vivid and he was a brilliant teacher in that way; another good teacher I had in history Guy Wilson, who is still alive; he was very fresh from Cambridge, self-critical, and he started by giving us notes which we wrote down; at the end of the first term he realized that the method was not working and I think he changed to talks; it was he that made me into a Victorian; we read Monypenny and Buckle on Disraeli and Morley on Gladstone and I got hooked; I was the only person in the class who liked Carlyle's 'French Revolution'; I had a brilliant English teacher called John Steane and he was an opera buff as well; he was a homosexual I now realize and was very empathetic, totally inspirational, and a devotee of F.R. Leavis; in 'A' level English you had a piece unseen to criticize and I remember a piece of poetry from D.H. Lawrence about a child sitting under a piano on a Sunday evening and hearing the humming of the strings; we would see this blind and be asked to comment on it; in my comments it suddenly became apparent to me that I could have ideas of my own that weren’t derived from reading what others had written. Steane was very good in that way; in another episode where I still think that I was right, we had a passage from Nashe the Elizabethan author, describing the disembowelling of a man who had committed treason, and the heart was taken out "like a plum from a porringe pot" I remember; I said in comment that this was a terrible image for us but would have probably been less so at the time because in those days they’d have been more accustomed to brutalities of that kind. Steane said that mine was not a legitimate comment because my point was historical and not critical; it was that sort of discussion that we had and was very inspirational; I had another very good English teacher called R.B. Hunter who taught me for Wordsworth which was one of the set books; we read 'The Prelude', and again I got quite hooked on it and I wrote what he thought was a good essay; he wrote at the bottom that I could actually go to Oxford or Cambridge, and that was the first time that anybody had said that to me; eventually I got a scholarship to St John's - the Sir Thomas White Scholarship for History; with the other candidates I went up to the Merchant Taylors' Hall for the interview and remember it as a funny occasion; someone on the interviewing panel mentioned me writing such and such in my essay and I said "Did I say that?", and they all laughed because I was incredulous that I could say such a silly thing; we eventually went as scholars for a dinner at the Merchant Taylors' Hall, the first time I had ever been to a grand dinner, but I did not then realize that you have to be careful on such occasions about what you say; it was at the time when the British were having trouble in Cyprus and some government minister had said we would never leave it; I said to the man sitting opposite that I thought it a silly thing to say, only to be told that the Minister was his brother-in-law; I suppose I was pretty opinionated at that time, perhaps insufferable to some. Anyway, that got me to St John's, after doing my two year's National Service, and my friends were there; we sat together at the Scholars' table and I had a set of friends ready-made
59:11:24 I was hopeless at sport at school because of myopia I couldn't see; I had glasses from the age of eight; I remember coming back from the optician with the glasses and my mother saying that I looked funny wearing them; I was terribly upset and I hated wearing glasses; it took me years to get used to them, and it meant I was hopeless on the sports field even if I had any aptitude, which I didn't. For that reason I went in for life-saving (i.e. swimming) instead of cricket; if you didn't like cricket you could do life-saving; I had no enthusiasm for saving lives but every enthusiasm for getting out of cricket; I still have a friend (Nigel Williams) where the bond between us is a mutual hatred of rugby football on Saturday afternoons in mid-winter; I remember when I changed from the science to the classical side of the school, one rather patronizing young man called Willoughby, now deceased, said that everybody in the form (Classical Lower Sixth) did something distinctive; I took up calligraphy and produced a huge piece which I still have but didn't do anything else; I worked very hard academically because I had to justify having moved across the school from science to arts.
1:01:26:02 On religion - I was confirmed and am rather ashamed of that fact now; the whole family were anti-intellectual and anti-religious, they didn't like anything involving pretentiousness or falseness; they thought people who went to church were hypocrites. My father’s greatest fear was that I might become a ballet dancer or a Roman Catholic. None the less, being confirmed was a rite of passage in your upward move in British society, or at least in your attempt to stay in the same position socially; I went through a fairly religious phase as teenagers tended to do at that time as actually the Church of England was quite powerful as an influence in Public schools then; I struggled for some sort of faith but never found it; I greatly admire Cormac Rigby who was a contemporary at St John's, who would go off to mass regularly and took David McLellan with him; David became a Roman Catholic as a result of his influence I think; at one stage I asked Cormac how I could learn more about Catholicism and he told me of the Catholic Truth Society; they sent me leaflets among which was a booklet titled 'The Pope is Infallible', and that finished me off; my parents, of course, were terrified of my becoming a Catholic, but fortunately the C.T.S. sent its propaganda in plain envelopes; the only thing that was worse was becoming a ballet dancer; they were very worried that I might have become that as I got enthusiastic about ballet at about fourteen, when the Robinsons used to take my mother and me to the Royal Festival Hall to watch ballet; I loved it, and still do; I have always remained an agnostic, not an atheist as not militant about it, but I've never seen evidence for religious belief, and if anything, being an historian has turned me the other way; one small episode at school is relevant; in the Classical Lower Sixth where I was for a year they made a clepsydra, a water clock; in the Great Hall at school there were apertures in the ceiling which could be opened in the fencing loft above it; there was a plot at the end of the Summer term in 1954 for putting a clepsydra above one of these holes and attaching to the arm that tilted when a certain amount of water had gone out, a toilet roll, which then plunged down, much to everyone's excitement, into the Hall in assembly after prayers; we organised this and it worked like a dream; we meet every year to celebrate this event and I was appointed historian of this group about twenty years ago - they call themselves 'The Rollers' - so I wrote a history of the event; there were many contradictory accounts from the people involved; some said the toilet roll had fallen on the Headmaster's head, which it didn't, others said that one of the monitors tried to tear off a strip from it and failed to bring it down, so a memorable event; at the end of the piece I wrote on it I said that after twenty years, with all the people present, we don't remember exactly what happened, or even what day it was; noting this, I asked what credence could one give to anything that was written even 20 years after the event; one of my contemporaries in that group, a non-conformist, objected to this, so I removed the direct reference to the Bible that I had given as an example; I have never felt any temptation towards religion, and when I listen to religious broadcasts on the radio wonder how anyone can believe that junk, it doesn't influence me in the slightest; I'm attracted, of course, to the buildings and the cultural significance of it, as is Richard Dawkins; my only reason for having accumulated a large collection of biographies of Bishops is that they are valuable for understanding the Victorians, not because I am interested in religion as such
1:07:53:11 On National Service - I was eighteen when I went to Malta; I was in the Royal Signals; I do wish my parents had kept my letters as I would love to read them now, I wrote back at least once a week to them, but my mother threw away everything once she had read them; I do still have the letters I received from them; it was a most extraordinary experience; for the first six weeks we were simply treated as irks, as they called ordinary soldiers, and were pushed around the drill square; it was like a nightmare, a most peculiar experience, but also at times extremely funny; it was like being a schoolboy again, laughing at masters behind their backs; we had a Corporal and a Lance-Corporal running our particular section, and I remember we were required to clean out the lavatories with our hands - "cleaning out the bleeding shit", crude language that I had never heard before; Keith Thomas says the same about language heard when doing National Service; I remember thinking that it was a ghastly situation that I would have to get through somehow; there was a lot of talk at night after the lights were out, some of it extremely funny; after that six weeks we went on to OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit) where we were trained to become an army officer; that was quite a memorable experience because when we went from one side of Catterick to the other for this training it was absolute hell; we were told we had to get the barracks, called 'spiders', in order over the first weekend, absolutely spic and span; we were driven from pillar to post; I remember seeing one chap cleaning a window with the cloth in one hand, and an Officer coming and saying "Both hands, both hands"; we were told that if we felt we couldn't stand the pace we could sign ND (non-desirous) forms to opt out from it; I felt at times I would like to but didn't; eventually, on the Sunday night, at the end of the barrack room I suddenly heard a lot of laughter, and it turned out to be all a hoax; the next course above us had dressed up as officers having us on; the realization never left me of the impact that the mere wearing of a uniform can make. We did a lot of high-powered drill in our training as officers, but it was never as high-powered as at Merchant Taylors; we then went up for what was called WOSB - War Office Selection Board, and you had to do things like carrying a barrel across a stream, directing a group of people, and having projects for getting from A to B, also interviews; I passed that as I was expected to do, as public-school boys didn't fail WOSB; actually I was jolly glad I passed, as I wasn't sure I would; then you went on to Mons, another six-week course near Bisley; again a lot of drill, but I learnt to lecture which was quite a good thing to do; in my indexing system I use a lot of abbreviated words and they originated from the abbreviations we used in the army - 'accn' for accommodation, for example; eventually I got commissioned and I invited my parents to the commissioning parade in Catterick where we had been for the last six-week part of the course; I asked my mother to make sure that my father was properly dressed; my father had embarrassed me when visiting my public school as he just didn't bother with his appearance whereas my mother was perfectly dressed; unfortunately my father saw my letter to my mother and took great offence; I then wrote a tactful apology to him and he came properly dressed; I was then free to go off to Malta in the Signal Squadron and ran the military transport section there; there were five or six Maltese drivers, all middle-aged, and few Maltese other ranks with some English; again I was struck by how easily one is influenced by one's environment; we despised the Maltese and believed them incapable of running things; this was the time that people were saying that the Suez Canal couldn't be run by Egyptians; we called them 'The Malts', and I just inherited this from my surroundings; I didn't think this at first but, like a chameleon, just adapted to my environment; I was in Malta from 1957-8; I learnt to drive then and still don't have an English driving licence; it was ludicrous to run a transport section without being able to drive; I learnt a lot of value there; it was a most interesting place; I also learnt that I could run things; I actually went into the Post Office section of my father's shop shortly before going into the army, and picked it up quite quickly, learning the most complex business of issuing a money order payable abroad; I taught myself Italian in Malta and did the Italian special subject later; by the end of my National Service knew Malta very well, and in many respects enjoyed it though I wouldn't say everybody should do it; another side was that I was terribly immature, like my mother, in sexual matters; I remember one of the officers in Malta Signal Squadron was fascinated by prostitutes; there were a lot in Malta and occupied one of the well-known streets in Valletta; he took some of us to one of the places where you met these women, and I was appalled at the very thought of it; it never occurred to me to go to a prostitute; I was really very innocent in that sense, though on my return to England my mother thought I was much more grown up than I was; that is a disadvantage of being an only child and going to a single-sex public school; I had friends, both male and female, but there was no sexual component; my work on 'Sex and the Victorians' could be seen partly as self-discovery
1:19:53:08 I was twenty-one when I went to Oxford; as undergraduates we thought we were terribly mature, but we weren't; I went to Selfridges from January to October 1958 before going to St John's; there I started with Keith Thomas, Howard Colvin and Michael Hurst as my three College Tutors; Howard Colvin was a very scholarly man, and it really was a case of absorbing scholarship by osmosis; he was then just making the transition from being a Mediaeval historian to an architectural historian and he had rolls of plans on the shelf in his room; he was very interested in the photographs I took as I was quite good; I had taken photographs in Malta and elsewhere, coming back across Europe to England through Italy and Austria; he particularly liked one I had taken of the fan vaulting in Wells Cathedral; he wasn't a teacher in the sense that he wasn't really interested in teaching, as such; he knew how to write, but I didn't learn that from him, but he was a good influence and I was just bursting to learn; coming to Oxford was just paradise to what had gone before, so I was keen to get the utmost out of it all; Costin, the President, who taught us Voltaire's letters; the philosopher Mabbott took us for political thought; I did very well in Prelims and went in for the H.W.C. Davis Prize and came proxime to Prys Morgan, who got it; we were both in St John's which was getting a reputation for History; I didn't encounter Keith until my second year for the 'Middle Period', and we didn't really get on; I thought he ought to know that I didn't need pushing and knew what I was doing, and he was very much the martinet; I worked out that you didn't have to do continuous British history but could select, so I refused to do anything on the seventeenth century, which was silly because he was the specialist on the period; he forced me to do a collection on that period, to write a few essays, and it was the only time I borrowed someone else's essay and copied it; I wrote an essay on Cromwell about whom I knew nothing; he was a martinet for the best possible reason as he wanted his pupils to do well, so we really didn't get on; however, we didn't have a row, and I respected his intelligence and range; his lectures then were quite famous on political thought, and they really were inspirational; as a lecturer he was awfully good; the person who really inspired me was Jill Lewis at St Anne's; she taught me for the Italian Renaissance special subject, and she took an awful lot of trouble; it you sent her an essay she would scribble on it and you really felt she had read it; I never felt that any of my St John's tutors ever really read my essays; I was either paired with Cormac Rigby or Prys Morgan for tutorials and one or other of us would read out his essay; my essays were always rather long, especially for Howard Colvin; I did suggest to him once that I hand in my essay, that he read it and then we would talk about it; but he thought he would have to give up his research day in London to do that; I vowed never to say that to a pupil; later faced with the same dilemma, I tried to comment on each person's essay, but eventually only did so for the person who had not read out his essay as it was just too time consuming; as an undergraduate I thought, quite wrongly, that my tutors were lazy; they were not, but were following the Oxford system which only allowed a certain amount of time; Michael Hurst, who was a controversial character and eventually pensioned off, treated me very well and was a good Tutor; Paul Slack told me that in a tutorial, Michael said that as he was being particularly original, would Paul please take down what he was saying; it was that sort of conceit that he suffered from and in the end I had to break with him; he wanted me to be a disciple and I did not want to be that; there were other lecturers, like Isaiah Berlin, who was wonderful; I had a syndicate with Prys Morgan and we divided the lectures that we wanted to go to between us, and we duplicated notes and gave them to each other; I learned a lot from Prys who was a highly cultivated chap; I envied his cultivation, as his father was a Professor of Welsh in Wales, and he had breathed it all in; Cormac didn't like him because he thought he was a fraud, and thought, perhaps rightly, that I was too much overwhelmed by Prys. In my second year I won the Gibbs Scholarship which was a godsend, as it gave me £300 a year for three years, which was a lot of money in those days; that started off my book collection; I wrote to Keith to ask where he got his books and he told me to give my name to a number of booksellers, that they would send their catalogues and I could buy from them; I did that for a long time; it involved a lot of work looking through catalogues, but I would go on expeditions to places like Ilfracombe, where the Cinema Bookshop at that time was a gold mine; all my Victorian biographies of bishops have come from bookshops in cathedral cities; at that time Keith came into his own as after I won the Gibbs Prize he realized that I had something; he encouraged me, and invited me to meals; he and Michael Hurst didn't get on as Michael was jealous of his influence