0:05:07 I went to St Antony's first as a graduate student; I had got a First; I remember picking up Cormac to go to our vivas; when I went into mine I expected to get a lot of questions and I didn't get any at all; I can't remember any details but the whole board was there; they simply asked me what I was going to do in graduate work; I learnt afterwards that I got the best modern history First in my year; I had already been interviewed at St Antony's and remember Theodore Zeldin asking me what I would do if I didn't get in; I said that I would swallow my pride and become a schoolteacher, and if I had done so I would have modelled myself on Alex Jeffries; anyway, I got in and Prys came there as well, writing about Mediaeval Calais, Keith Robbins from Magdalen was doing work on the First World War, and I was doing nineteenth-century Temperance; the idea of writing on temperance came from Harry Hanham in Manchester; one of my few skills is writing a good letter, and someone suggested writing to people whose work I admired and see if they had any ideas for good research subjects; I wrote to Hanham and Kitson Clark in Cambridge; Hanham said that something that needed to be written about was the Temperance Movement; I immediately saw the potential, as it was obviously so important in Victorian society and odd that it had not been written about; that was my first book, Drink and the Victorians, but it started as a D.Phil. thesis rewritten and drastically slimmed down; my disability has always been writing too much and it had to lose 100,000 words; it was published by Faber, and the person who arranged that was the well-known literary agent, Michael Sissons; I had written an article in History Today on temperance tracts in 1963 and he had seen it; he invited me to lunch and said that if I ever wanted to publish a book he would help me; I sent him a typescript and he took it to Faber; they said that it would have to lose 100,000 words but they would publish it if it did; they published it as Drink and the Victorians in 1971; I had published a lot of articles before that, partly because I wanted to offload some of the vast amount of stuff I had collected somewhere else, so that I could refer to it in footnotes and not have to include it in the book; I was launched by that stage but I broke with Michael Sissons; I had written an essay on 'Moral Reform and State Intervention in the Victorian Period' for a book of essays edited by Patricia Hollis called 'Pressure from Without', published in 1974; Edward Arnold offered me £50 for it and I asked Michael if I should accept it; he suggested £100 was the price I should ask and said he would write to them; Edward Arnold stuck to £50 and then Michael had the cheek to take £5 off that as commission; I was furious; I didn't say anything but I thought from that moment onwards that I didn't need an agent
5:40:00 On my indexing system, I don't know where I got the idea from, but certainly by the end of my undergraduate days I had quite an elaborate card index; I had an index of quotations which I learnt off by heart, and another of dates; I knew an enormous amount in those days; that was its initial function, but I got used to shuffling around cards although I hadn't developed the present arrangement of facts on cards and bibliographical cards; that happened from the beginning of my time at St Antony's; I remember going to see James Joll, the Senior Tutor, and asking how you did research but got nothing from him; he said that if he kept a card index the cards would fall about all over the room. This rather shocked me as I had thought I would get some guidance on how to do research; so I invented the card index system for myself; it somehow grew out of the undergraduate card system that I had already developed, though it had a different function; Beatrice Webb's ‘one fact one card’ as outlined in her ‘The art of note-taking’ at the end of the Webbs;’ Methods of social study, was an influence, but I don't know that I had read that before I started up my own system; I don't remember any moment of enlightenment, but stumbled on the method for myself and then found it validated by her; I did not know about Keith Thomas's envelopes in those days as he didn't talk about them; he was very well organized in comparison to me because while I was just looking through booklists wondering whether to buy them, he was looking through for references that would be useful and slipping some of them into his envelopes; I never thought of doing that, so in that sense he was far more efficient than I was. I think Peter Burke was quite an influence at this point; Peter was very intelligent, a highly intellectual person, and we used to talk after dinner quite a lot; he said that the important thing was to keep your horizons very wide when researching, and this is what Keith does; I always try to do so, and the index started off solely on temperance but eventually diversified and became a general index on everything; temperance is now only one drawer of fifty, and there are all sorts of sections on political parties, Parliament, etc.; in all there are over 1,000,000 cards, many of them duplicates, as material often needs to be indexed under several heads; in the beginning we did not have Xerox machines - the first one I used was in Nuffield College where I went in 1964; at that point I decided it was absurd typing out one card several times, which I initially did, and got into the habit of Xeroxing cards on to foolscap sheets, and then I would cut them up and file them; it took ages and was frightfully boring; it all evolved organically from that; I never measured the time it took, but I worked extremely hard, all hours of the day; I did not take off weekends but treated them as work days; I enjoyed it; it was partly ambition and that had developed at school; when I was at St John's I discovered that I was abler than I thought, winning those prizes helped in that, and I then looked out of my window on the second floor straight into the Senior Common Room; I saw a really rather nice panelled room with a big chandelier over the centre table and I used to see Dons going in after dinner for dessert, and I thought to myself that that was a nice life; now I am an Honorary Fellow there, quite often having dessert in there, I think I've made it, but I never planned to be a Don as it then seemed flying rather high; I just wanted to do as well as I could and I remain surprised at having been a Don for I never thought I would
13:59:10 I did encounter problems of finding things as my indexing system grew, and my solution was constant subdivision, reshuffling and rearranging, so there were smaller categories in which one could find things; of course, it is nothing like as efficient as a computer, so that problem has now gone away; filing obviously took longer and longer, and looking back, it was becoming a real trial; that is why I am so glad I gave up filing; the flexibility of computers involves risk in the sense that the stuff isn't secure, although in some ways it is more secure if you take copies of it elsewhere; I now have a backup on the University system; looking back, I did predict to myself that computers would eventually sort out my stuff for me and before the Access Database was drawn to my attention, I was just printing cards from the computer; as I had kept the information in its computerized form so that when I got the database in c.1997 I was able to transfer 5-7 years of information into it; I started making cards from the computer in 1992 and foresaw that it would become possible to use the typed information in a different way than just printing it out; the same happened with laptops because I thought that there would come a time when people would carry computers around with them; I got one of the earliest portable computers in about 1986; it is still in the garage as I think it might have enormous second-hand value at some stage; I took it from archive to archive when I was working on the history of the University; it had a small screen and no hard disc; I wrote an article in the College magazine about how computers came to Corpus; I wrote it because I just thought that we would forget what it was like in the early days; I re-read it the other day and thought that nobody could write this now because they have moved on and forgotten what it was like; I interviewed four or five Fellows of the College for that
19:38:08 On the use of the index, the important thing is to enjoy writing; the agony of writing which I remember when I was doing my drink book is not being able to find stuff; it adds an additional layer of painful procedures, so if you can make everything instantly accessible it not only ceases to be a chore but becomes a positive pleasure; the initial impulse for moving on to an Access database was to remove chores and to make it easy to assemble factual material in the order that you wanted when you came to write, then the process of writing becomes pleasurable and if writing is enjoyable, I think you tend to write better; the process of writing is a continuous process of discovery; you don't know when you start on a chapter what you are going to say, but in the course of writing it, you discover; in my case ideas often tend to emerge from unexpected juxtapositions; you think about one thing on one record, then look at another, and suddenly realize that they are related; that in a sense could be called ‘an idea’; so the process of creating is also exhilarating and of course a highly personal matter too, whether it is good or bad it is yours; that is why we are so different from the natural scientists; though all sorts of personal factors shape scientific discovery, the personal element is still stronger in the Arts; anything that I write, good or bad, emerges out of my personality, experience, and my peculiar combination of reading, so you get all the satisfaction you would get out of sculpture or painting; it is highly creative; it is also attractive to me because it is cumulative, and on the whole you get better as time goes on; it requires a knowledge of human nature, of context, and of how things happen, so I think that, unlike some natural scientists, on the whole historians get better as they get older; the cumulative aspect relates to collection; I am collecting things all the time; they are facts, ideas, or insights, and the cards are substitutes for collected postage stamps; I am very competitive as well, so there is also that incentive; I think that in research one starts off with rather low motives and these motives improve as life goes on; initially what I was fighting for was security and success in some sense, but then the process in seeking those things becomes itself the object; the ambition and lower motives get overlain by a scholarly motive, so on the whole one is probably a nicer person later on in one's career than one was at the outset.
25:37:03 I now write on the computer and couldn't think of writing in manuscript, I want my material to be instantly flexible; it is much easier if the cards are there in digitised form so that I can arrange them in the right order; before I was able to do that, I would physically arrange cards in an order that would give me my initial text, but then very frequently one would rearrange them once they were on the screen; the big virtue of computers is that you can reshuffle the stuff; that flexibility you don't have when writing in manuscript; I never understand people who can use a computer saying they always put their first draft in manuscript because that's the time that you move the stuff around most; maybe some people are much clearer-headed than I am so they know exactly what they are going to say when they start writing; I don't; the Warden of Nuffield used to say to us ‘Get something down, it doesn't matter what it is like, get started’; I do that; I write at any time but I am a morning person and can't usually do serious work after about nine o'clock at night; in the past when one had to type I used to go through seven drafts of anything I published; now I have no idea how many drafts I do, I don't print it out as I go along, I just do it all on screen; I couldn't say I always had my best ideas away from the desk, but quite frequently will wake in the morning to find something has become clear that wasn't so before, just through sleeping on it; I always used to carry cards around with me so that I could write ideas down whenever they came to me; the great attraction for me of writing contemporary history (in my two volumes in ‘The new Oxford history of England’)was that, for at least a decade, any casual conversation could turn out to be academically fruitful; when I went to the dentist, for instance, I might ask why and how he became a dentist; my mother always used to ask me as a child when I would stop asking questions; all children do that, but I have sought to perpetuate that childish trait into extreme old age; I am inquisitive by nature, and being an historian gives you every excuse for asking questions of people or raw material; someone criticised me for being naive, but all historians should be naive, and should approach reality with surprise; why are things as they are, and why do people respond as they do, and couldn't it be done some other way, or whatever; to that extent I am a disciple of Wordsworth; I do think that young people have a freshness of outlook which one really needs to try to retain; to appear worldly-wise and all-knowing is wrong in my view, one should be learning all the time; I have never minded asking people questions and that is one reason why I have done a lot of interviewing
31:48:14 The first serious interview I did was with Douglas Veale, who was the Personal Private Secretary of Neville Chamberlain when he was Minister of Health; he was a retired University Registrar, and Fellow of my College; I did two interviews with him about Chamberlain; he was very incisive, very clear, as civil servants can be; this convinced me that it was a technique worth having; this was in 1967-8 and at that time Paul Thompson was starting, and I used to go to History Workshop meetings to hear him; I was a follower but not a disciple, as I felt he was too bitten by social anthropology and not sufficiently critical of the stuff he received; none the less, he got ‘oral history’ off the ground; I went on a BBC course that was organized by him about interviewing people; it was good for me in a number of ways; I'm not an extroverted person but interviewing made me much better in company; I got used to putting people at their ease and getting them to talk; I think it was good for me in a general way; my interviewing really originated with my father giving me his Grundig tape recorder (very expensive at that time) in about 1959; it was a huge thing like a suitcase, and I remember wondering if I would be able to lug it around when I was sixty-four; I used it for recording music off the radio; I recorded the first tutorial I ever gave, as the tape starts with Keith Robbins (who lived in the next room) looking round the door to tell me that the students were coming, and there follows a dreadful tutorial with two students from St Edmund Hall; I talked all the time as I was terribly nervous, as a young tutor is, whereas the essence of being a good tutor is to let them talk; I did learn from listening to it; on one of the BBC courses we were sent out to interview people, and I interviewed a cockney woman in Camden Town in her kitchen; we played the interviews afterwards to the group and it was a dreadful interview as we weren't connecting at all; I did get better at it and eventually did a big project interviewing suffragettes and feminists; that set is now at the London Metropolitan University in the Women's Library, though the Library is in danger at the moment; it is called the ‘Harrison Collection’, and contains about 200 interviews, some very good; we made a radio programme for Radio 4 about three months ago with Peter Snow presiding, where extracts were played; there was a wonderful one of Maud Kate Smith, who was on her death bed in some old people's home, talking about being forcibly fed; she had a bright, chirpy, voice, and talked in such a cheerful way about this ghastly procedure; it came over brilliantly on the radio and there was a close following on Twitter as a result; she died soon after I interviewed her, but at that stage she was still not saying who was involved in her sabotage attempts - she was trying to destroy the canal system by blowing up an aqueduct in the Birmingham area; there were many other episodes in that project which were quite memorable; people would burst into tears during interviews and I didn't know how to cope at first, but people are prepared to talk more freely to a stranger on very personal matters; I did a lot of interviewing for the history of the University as well; furthermore, oral history emerged somewhat more centrally for that, as I organised 64 seminars on the history of the University - Keith Thomas gave one of them - and I did word-for-word transcripts of them; we not only had the paper but also the conversation afterwards with names attached; they are now quite an important record of what the University’s elite were saying in the late 1980s about the University's recent history as they themselves had observed it; they were quoted in footnotes in volume eight of the History; the seminars became ‘an event’ that people came to and took care over what they said, though I don't think there was distortion as people became involved in the event and were not thinking about what would be said of them twenty years hence; seminars were also useful in getting chapter writers started, as they would be expected to address the relevant seminar; I also interviewed people like Isaiah Berlin, Max Beloff, and so on, just to try and understand how their subjects worked; but interviewing is so time-consuming that I didn't use it much for the New Oxford History volumes, I would never have written them if I had; I interviewed a dentist called Downer about the history of dentistry, which interests me, and also Cicely Saunders, the founder of the Hospice movement, and she was a marvellous woman; I would like to have done more interviews but decided it was just too time consuming; you can't use it unless its transcribed and that takes seven times as long as the interview; it never occurred to me to film interviews; in 1969 some very good students of mine said they wanted to write some history of their own; Trevor Aston was there then with all the accoutrements of 'Past and Present', he liked the idea, and we made a tape recorder available so that they could take interviews, though a number wrote in manuscript; they interviewed College employees and found that far from being envious, they enjoyed being close to the privileged; this seemed very odd as this was the period of Marxism, class-consciousness was the thing, the Labour Party was going places, so these people were oddities; in fact they were a lot more sensible than we were but we did not know it at the time; the project worked very well, but I am surprised how much time the students were prepared to give to it as it didn't pay off at all in their degree result
43:53:18 I was frightened of Nuffield as a Junior Research Fellow (1964-7); I applied to go because it was the place to be if you were a modern historian; it was then, and still is, a highly professional place, very competitive and very serious; that was why it was disliked in the rest of Oxford; there was no pretence of amateurism at all; it was very good for me as it exposed me to political science and sociology, and to a certain extent to social anthropology; there were some very interesting people there including Rod Floud, Patricia Hollis, Gareth Stedman Jones, Robert Currie. Raphael Samuel came into discussion groups we had, Max Hartwell was extremely encouraging to us all - it was quite an intellectual hub; I wrote an article with Patricia Hollis in the English Historical Review for 1967, and we edited Robert Lowery's autobiography together, and published it with Europa in 1979; I found it and showed it to her; she was working on the Unstamped Press movement in the 1830s and said it was important; I suggested writing an article on it together, and then we edited the autobiography which was published in 1979; that was the atmosphere in Nuffield in the mid-1960s, as there was a lot of inter-fertilization; another person I ought to mention is John Walsh; he was a wonderful man, very encouraging, a historian of evangelicalism and Methodism; the first time I ever met him he simply looked round the door of my room in St Antony's and invited me to a seminar on the history of religion that he was running; I was very flattered that he should bother to ask me so I went; he used to send me slips from the Bodleian Library with references to temperance that he had found; I was not the only graduate student deeply indebted to him; he was a friend of Keith Thomas, and they were both very encouraging, which you need as a graduate student; the first year, Peter Mathias, my supervisor (in Cambridge), left me alone; he then said I should start writing; it wasn't before time, as in retrospect I thought he should have got me writing earlier; he was a very good supervisor, very encouraging, and conscientious in reading my stuff; I used to go over to Cambridge on the railway that then existed between the two cities; my first bit of writing turned out to be the second chapter of 'Drink and the Victorians'; he wrote at several points on the text that I had been "uncritical" of the evidence; this frightened me to the extent that I wondered if I would be any good as a historian; I remember sitting in Queen's College in Cambridge, where I had a bed for the night, wondering if my venture into becoming a historian had been a big mistake; but he was encouraging and very supportive, and I needed to be told that; what with him in Cambridge and Keith in Oxford I was very well looked after; in the end Peter used to call me a Stakhanovite, I just flooded him with chapters on drink, and finally took off from him in a way; I was always a social and political historian, not (like Peter) an economic historian; I was never very interested in economic history and sociology was the subject that interested me; there I got a lot of encouragement from sociologists in Nuffield, particularly Chelly Halsey who was extremely encouraging, a very nice man, and eventually we collaborated in writing things for the history of the University; there were a lot of encouraging senior members there; Norman Birnbaum was there for a time, an American sociologist, and Jean Floud - she was my model of an intelligent woman, well turned-out, very incisive, and tough as old boots
50:06:23 Three jobs came up in the same year, 1966; the job at Queen's, which Ken Morgan got, came up first in 1965 and I wondered whether to apply; I didn't think I would get it and it would also get me tangled up with the Prestwiches, which I didn't want to do; Keith was not keen on the Prestwiches either; this is where Keith is so good, he advises you on your career, what to do when, that sort of thing; I think it was with his encouragement that I decided not to apply; then in 1966 three jobs came up at the same time, one in Oriel, one in Christ Church and one in Corpus; I was in for all three; I got a postcard from Michael Brock at Corpus, who asked me to call on him to talk about my future; naturally I went in my best suit at once; they did what now would be quite impossible; the Fellows invited me to dinner and I talked to several of them; I remember being grilled by Christopher Taylor, the philosopher, about Gladstone's drinking habits; they just offered me the job though I gathered afterwards that there had been a competition of some sort; Keith said it was a very nice College so I should take it; Michael Brock was very good at initiating me into the teaching process; I was a bit of a firebrand then, very much a Nuffield person and in some ways I have remained so; I didn't go for the amateurism of Oxford and the pretence of not taking work seriously; I remember getting into trouble with the College secretary because I was Xeroxing so much; at Nuffield you just took things like that for granted; that was where I started Xeroxing cards; I thought that attitude would apply in Corpus, but it didn't, and was rather disapproved of; I did enjoy teaching but there were three nagging things; President Hardie, the first I served under, was enlightened enough to say when I was invited to go for a semester in Ann Arbor in 1970, that I should go; I went, and was very much taken with the American teaching system - lecture based, course-paper based; I gave something like forty lectures on British history and liked it; I thought the American system much more compatible with research and publication; there was no fixed syllabus and you could teach what you liked; thereafter I was always an outsider as far as the Oxford teaching system was concerned as I didn't believe in it; secondly, I hated examining and didn't believe in the then four-class system; I do not believe that human nature is divided into four categories; a fortnight ago, I was invited to talk to a gay-lesbian society and said I did not believe in this bifurcated view that the world is divided into homosexuals and heterosexuals, nor did I think the category of bisexual was much good either; the world is divided into a spectrum from one extreme to the other, and it is no more divided into two or three categories in that sphere or into four categories of intellectual calibre; I felt that the pupils I taught were good didn't necessarily get the right marks, and people whom I thought incapable of getting Firsts, got them; that worried me; I had to pretend that I believed in the system, which I didn't think was delivering the right results, and that really lasted until the end of my career; it involved a certain degree of hypocrisy as you can't say to students that you don't believe in the system, you just have to pretend that that is the system and that's what you do; I liked the one-to-one teaching and I think I probably became a better teacher the older I was because pupils initially seem a bit of a threat, they are near one's own age and one wonders how hard it will been to get an essay out of them; Keith is a very sophisticated tutor in many ways, though I did not see that as an undergraduate; he knew that the tutorial was not an occasion in which one delivered information which was then absorbed, it was an opportunity for discovering your own thoughts and being able to convey them clearly to other people; the best tutor was not the person who knew most about what he was talking about, but often someone very different; there is an exhilaration in a tutorial to learn something from a pupil that you didn't know anything about; I think at first I was a bit overwhelming as a tutor, but I think I got better; I like young people, and like the opportunity of talking with them on an equal basis; I never made them wear a gown, and if they wanted to smoke in a tutorial I pretended not to mind, because it ought to be an equal thing; I hated lecturing, mainly because it is peripheral to the Oxford system which is tutorial based; I never really thought I knew the truth, so that lecturing was didactic, and I preferred the tutorial system in that sense as it is question and answer; you don't necessarily know the answer, whereas in an lecture people think you do; quite apart from that I am not a particularly good lecturer and not a spontaneous performer, and I think you have to have a histrionic flair to be a really good lecturer; I could never be an A.J.P. Taylor, for example, though I admire him immensely for what he was able to do; Berlin, still more so, he was a wonderful lecturer; I think Michael Howard said that an important thing with a lecture is for it to go through the brain, so that what you say is what you are thinking at the time, not to read out some screed; that is very good advice and I haven't got a good enough memory to do that convincingly; I was quite good at administration and could have had an administrative career, but I didn't want to because I had various relatives who doubted that through my research I would ever find anything, and I was quite determined to write things to prove them wrong; in the end I got the writing bug and loved it
1:00:39:02 On my wife - I got started as a graduate student before I met Vicky in 1964; we married on the first day that the Registry Office was open in January 1967; I was strongly against a church wedding and greatly disappointed her parents as they would have liked one; we were complementary, both in personal terms and academically; she was doing a D.Phil. in natural sciences and was working quite hard in the labs when we first got married; we didn't know how things were going to turn out, whether she would join me in some joint operation or was she going to have a career of her own; it was really Robert Maxwell who got her alerted to the fact that she is good at communicating; she is a very good writer; she is a meritocrat, unlike me, going to a grammar school in Workington and making it to Oxford through her own inherent ability, though her parents encouraged her; she went into the popularization of science rather than professional science; through a sort of osmosis I gained a certain confidence about writing in that area and she also gave me a certain scepticism about science; she is very sceptical about doctors, for example, which I had never thought about and just believed everything they said; I was like my mother who went in for the last operation that killed her, totally confident that it would cure her completely; I remember her waving as she went into Intensive Care at St.Mary’s Hospital, Paddington; Vicky and I are complementary in character; like her mother, she is very diplomatic, whereas her mother says of me that I am so open, and for her that is not praise; I think I have probably become a bit more discreet as a result of Vicky’s influence; she comments on my writing, but we are both busy and have had separate careers, so we are a marriage of opposites in some ways; we couldn't have had that if we had had children; two careers would have been quite impossible in that case; not having children was not by design, it just didn't happen, and the pattern of our life was in some sense determined by that; I have always been interested in children and am rather fond of them; I like trying to think myself into their ways of thinking; David McLellan's awfully good on this; he talks to his grandchildren and they are very logical; it particularly interests him, I see him quite often, and their way of thinking is attractive to a philosopher; I would like to be a child myself, and think it rather important to remain a child, feeling that the world is strange
1:06:42:19 A lot of people say that I am best known for Drink and the Victorians; it was my first book and one is always proud, seeing one's name in print for the first time; I really enjoyed it, and soaked myself in temperance, as it was not my world at all; I later learnt that father's father had actually preached temperance standing on top of a public lavatory in Hull; my father was always very interested in what I was doing but my mother could not understand it and thought it bizarre; I dedicated my first book to my father and wish he had lived to see it; it is a classic case of retrospectively discovering one's parents when it is too late; I never really knew him whereas I knew my mother all too well, but they were both very good parents in their way and I owe a great deal to them. Women's history was always messed up by militant feminists who were extremely tiresome; I am a feminist but not militant; militancy is incompatible with the historical outlook which should be balanced, measured, and I felt uncomfortable in this world and eventually got out of it; I was intending to write a big history of British feminism but I gave up because I didn't feel the climate was right; I did write a lot of articles and two books, but I didn't write the book I originally intended; I enjoyed doing the history of the University a lot and I think that if anything "made" me it was that, because I got known in the University for the seminars, and then handled this big volume, which wasn't easy but exhilarating and very enjoyable to do; although I only wrote three chapters of about twenty, I did have a grasp of the whole thing; probably the thing I have enjoyed doing most has been the 'New Oxford History of England'; I started writing my first of two volumes when I was working on the Dictionary and wrote the first four chapters in draft while doing it; then persisted with it in retirement and got it done; it was a real building operation and took ages, and it built on everything that I had done; it drew on the card index and all the newspaper reading I had been doing; I haven't said that teaching for the PPE course was very important in my intellectual growth; in a peculiar situation at Corpus I taught both PPE and history; PPE pushes towards the modern and I learnt a lot from political scientists; I did a huge amount of reading for my two NOHE volumes in the 90s and then started writing about 2003, and published the first volume in 2009; my name doesn't appear in its subject matter anywhere, and I think it would have been wrong if it did, though Paul Addison does feature in his history of the period; I also enjoyed it because I had been brought up on the old Oxford History volumes, Woodward especially, and the thought of actually writing them myself was beyond my wildest dreams; I met E.L. Woodward, the 'Age of Reform' man in the Senior Common Room after dinner in Corpus in 1966 when I got the fellowship and regarded him with such reverence that I didn’t dare tell him he had a crumb on his chin.
1:12:16:00 One element of my character is timidity which is actually an important characteristic of a historian; timidity in the sense of not being confident that your views are correct and not actually being very confident about one's career; I was certainly surprised when I got a scholarship to Oxford, surprised when I became an academic, very surprised to become a professor, and when it came to the envelope arriving from Number 10, I burst out laughing; I never dreamed of becoming a knight, my mother would have been so pleased for all the wrong reasons but she had died by 2005 when it happened; I am also timid in a physical sense; I remember being frightened of bigger boys as a child; that carried on into the sports field though the main problem there was poor eyesight; the army wanted to toughen us so you were put in the boxing ring; one man, put in the ring, hit the target and apologised; the officers didn't like that at all; I was quite determined when I got into the ring to go down fighting; I really made quite a good impression because whenever I was knocked down I got up quickly; I always used to wonder how anyone could give a lecture and answer any question that came at them; likewise, early on in committees in the College, knowing the right moment to intervene is quite important; I remember at one stage, David Maclellan saying that when he did intervene in meetings, it had no effect; my blooding on that was when we had the vote on whether to admit women to Corpus; in 1971-2 the opportunity came up to consider the matter, and I supported it on the naive grounds that it would be just to women to admit them; that was quite the wrong tack; what I should have done was to say that it would be in the interest of the College to do so, and that never occurred to me until after the event; though we won by a narrow majority (13 to 12, as I remember) we put up a good fight but couldn't get the two-thirds majority which was needed; we went mixed in 1979, seven or eight years later, and I did take quite a prominent part in that; Val Cunningham, the English Tutor, was far more courageous and quoted poetry in Governing Body meetings; I did so once, quoting from Chesterton's 'The Donkey', in relation to even lowly Dons having their day when not being kept fully informed by the Bursar.
1:18:40:08 When I went in for a fellowship at Jesus College, Oxford, with John Walsh's encouragement, I talked to Christie who was the Headmaster of Westminster and then became the Principal of Jesus; John Walsh reported to me afterwards that I had been asked about my other interests and said I spent all my time doing history, and that was reported as a black mark; I can see why, but I don't agree; it may be that a mathematician needs to become a good flautist, but it seems to me that history is such a wide subject, it includes flute playing and natural science, that I find it totally satisfying not having any other predominant interest; I remember a wonderful woman, Elizabeth Rawson, an Ancient Historian, at Corpus; she was the aesthete in the College and decided the colour of curtains; she said she thought that art didn't ultimately matter much to me, and she was right in the sense that it could not divert me from my historical occupations; I was interested in the history of art, but not otherwise; I don't think that about music, given the overwhelming pleasure that it gives; if I had another life I would like to have been a great composer; I have never felt any obligation to pretend to be an enthusiast in any other area, history is quite sufficient; I don't believe in amateur enthusiasms; I am a Nuffield person and believe in being a professional - that is, being dedicated, getting things as right as you can, checking references and footnotes, polishing your prose; also, to be a good historian, I think you have got to be inquisitive, very determined, balanced, have an understanding of human nature, precise, meticulous, methodical, and desire to express yourself clearly for the reader; that is the recipe for the perfect person, which I am not, but all those qualities and skills are important; I don't like narrative or chronology, I want explanation, however inadequate, I want analysis; I don't like schematic, sociological obsessions, but I like the sort of questions sociologists ask, and the social anthropologists' interviewing and listening skills; history is a very civilizing discipline, very broad, and you don't need any other interests in my view