Vale John Julius Norwich

My Bookshop was sad to hear the news from London last weekend that writer and broadcaster John Julius Norwich has died aged 88.

Over the nine years since we opened our store we have recommended with enthusiasm various non-fiction books by Viscount Norwich. Many of our customers will have on their bookshelves (and we feel certain they are well-thumbed) copies of  Sicily: A Short History, The Popes: A History,  The Middle Sea: History of the Mediterranean or his new bestseller, France: A History from Gaul to de Gaulle, an outstanding hardcover that currently graces our main non-fiction table.

Born in 1929, John Julius was the son of the Tory MP Duff Cooper and his society wife, Lady Diana Cooper. John Julius was particularly close to his mother; his dedication inside the covers of  France reads “To the memory of my mother who first took me to France and taught me to love it as she did’’.

In 1937 Duff Cooper was made First Lord of the Admiralty but he resigned from Cabinet after denouncing the 1938 Munich Agreement as cowardly and unworkable. In May 1940 the new PM Winston Churchill appointed Cooper Minister of Information and from 1944-48 he was Britain’s ambassador to France after the Germans had left Paris.

During the war John Julius was evacuated to the US, and when his parents were stationed at Paris he attended the University of Strasbourg and, later, Oxford. 

In 1952 his father was made Viscount Norwich. At the same time, John Julius entered the Foreign Office and over the next decade he pursued a successful diplomatic career. In the 1960s he took up writing full-time and also became a regular presenter on the BBC.

In the obituary she wrote for The Guardian this week, Judith Flanders describes Viscount Norwich as “a man of many enthusiasms – for books, music, architecture, paintings – and his great talent was to be able to convey those passions to the public at large, through books, radio broadcasts and in nearly three dozen television documentaries from the BBC on subjects ranging from the fall of Constantinople, through Napoleon’s final 100 days’ campaign, to Haiti’s revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture’’.

In a 2008 newspaper interview, Viscount Norwich was asked about the ageing process and why he continued to work at such a keen pace. “If I stop, I’ll get Alzheimer’s,’’ he replied. “I dread more than anything. I feel that fetid breath on my neck every time I can’t remember the name of the chap up the road.’’

My Bookshop has plenty of copies of France in stock. And over the next couple of weeks we will rebuild our holding of Norwich titles, including the collection of letters between himself and his mother, Lady Diana Cooper. We are also very happy to bring in other Norwich titles, upon request. Just ask our friendly staff. 

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