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Norman Stone

Roger Norman looks back over the life of the late historian and writer Norman Stone – always unconventional, sometimes difficult, frequently mischievous – who, after less-than-happy times teaching at Oxford and Cambridge and a stint as an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, chose to make his home in Turkey

  • Norman Stone at the Garrick Club in London, not long before he died. Photograph: Monica Fritz

I met Norman Stone at a diplomats’ cocktail party in Ankara in 1994 or thereabouts. I took to him immediately – this warm, humorous mischievous person – and we spent some time together as long as we were both based in the capital. I knew when I met him that he had been Professor of Modern History at Oxford and was now teaching at Bilkent. I knew that he had been a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher and spoke a number of languages. I had read Europe Transformed (1878–1919), an inspiring book hiding under an uninspiring title. I knew enough history to enjoy his adventurous monologues during a typical evening at the Hittit Bar, or long Sunday breakfasts at my flat in Kennedy Caddesi that stretched out into midday refreshments. What I wasn’t aware of was just how big a celebrity he was, in Cambridge, Oxford, London and Bilkent. I was probably fortunate in that, because I wasn’t tempted to lionise him. I wasn’t even sure, at the beginning, that he was a Tory, although I might have guessed from his protest at that first cocktail party: “Why do you keep introducing me to all these terrible lefties, Roger?” I have never set much store by the left-right divide. There seem to me more useful categories, if categories are needed.

I was at that time (among other things) writing for the Turkish Daily News and asked if I could interview Norman for what was then Turkey’s only English-language daily. The circulation was small – 40,000 odd – but the diplomats read it and so did the politicos (or they had someone read it for them). Norman readily agreed to my request and we met at his Bilkent digs – spare, masculine, impersonal – to have a chat. He was a Glasgow man, he told me, whose father had died on active service in the Royal Air Force and who went to the best school around, courtesy of RAF funds. He talked more of Glasgow than of Cambridge – indeed there was very little of Cambridge, rather more of Oxford.

Academic life as an Oxford professor, he said, was “like swimming in glue”. This was as close as he got to explaining his surprising move from the old spires of Oxford to the new suburbs of Bilkent. Close enough, if you think about it. He had few compliments for the average Oxford student of the early 1990s: “They are less interested in the life of the mind and more interested in getting together with the bird or bloke of their choice, finding a room, buying a microwave and playing housey-housey.”…

Norman Stone, historian, born Glasgow March 8, 1941; died Budapest June 19, 2019

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 61
  • The Road to Pergamon

    A shared fascination with the Roman Empire impelled Britain’s greatest photographer, Sir Donald McCullin, to join the writer Barnaby Rogerson on a foray to the Troad to capture Rome’s Aegean legacy

  • ‘Health to the Body, Food to the Soul’

    Centuries ago, travellers to Turkey were amazed by a new, uplifting taste sensation: the sherbet, flowery or fruity, and served with ice. Berrin Torolsan traces the history of sherbets and the sorbets made from them, and serves up an irresistible array of cooling summery treats

  • Café Come Home

    Istanbul without coffee houses is a day without sun. It was here that they were born, and they are still as individual and interesting as their clientele. Savour them while you can, says Andrew Finkel. Photo essay by Monica Fritz

  • Where the Wild Things Are

    The botanist Andrew Byfield relives the happy days on Bozdağ, in the Taurus Mountains. Flowers thrive there in the harsh climate on bare limestone cliffs and in fractured gullies, and cedar of Lebanon and black pine brave all that nature can throw at them

  • Vanishing Villages

    Can ingenious new ideas coupled with old country wisdom stave off the long-predicted death of the Anatolian village? We sent two keen conservationists to Turkey’s lake district. The writer Nicholas Haslam found reasons for hope. The photographer Paul Veysseyre captured the poignant beauty of its tumbledown houses

  • Emigré’s Escape

    In 1919 the Ukrainian artist Alexis Gritchenko fled Russia for Istanbul. Here he befriended Turkish artists and walked the streets, keeping a diary and making sketches, then applying ‘dynamos’ of colour. A new exhibition throws light on his stay in the city

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Issue 61, Summer 2020 The Road to Pergamon
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