WHEN I was six or seven, we were living in a modest house with six servants, four in and two out, and suddenly, through a death in the family, we were landed with a large feudal estate, a castle and 5,000 acres.

The year was 1919, the worst possible one to inherit anything, and my father was up to his neck in trouble: death duties, the wartime tax burden and all that. Coachmen's wives and old retainers expected to get a pension, and that didn't come from the state in those days, it came from the squire . . . and as the squire, my father had to pay out.

Father compounded his difficulties by having very strong Socialist ideas, and so he was, you could say, an easy touch.

If somebody came to him and said, 'I want to buy this farm from you, but I can't afford pounds 1,200, I can only afford pounds 900', my father would rather weakly say, 'Well, make it pounds 900'.

In order to make up the deficit between the demands of the estate and his income, which with falling land values, derelict agriculture, and dog-and-stick farming, was negligible, he began to gamble what was left of the family fortune on various Wall Street stocks. And when the 1929 crash came along, the stocks became valueless, it was as simple as that.

But I was surprised to get a letter from my mother, because I hadn't followed world affairs all that closely, saying there were financial difficulties, and that unfortunately this would be my last term at Harrow.

I had not enjoyed earlier life at Harrow; it could be overwhelming unless you were more robust than I, but I was beginning to enjoy it very much in my third year. I had formed lots of friends, and so this was quite a wrench.

I do remember the last night I was there, they got up a frightfully informal and totally illicit supper party in one of the prefect's rooms, a sort of see-off, and we had chicken, and I think we had wine - I'm sure we had wine - and that was absolutely illicit. That was very touching.

My mother was more vigilant about my education than father, who was troubled about his own affairs, and she arranged for me to have coaching at home with a succession of tutors. Somehow I passed the necessary number of credits and got Matriculation.

When I was 17, my mother began to say: 'It's time you sought gainful employment'. My father was rather out of touch with worldly affairs, but I had an uncle who afforded me three introductions. One was with Israel Sieff at Marks & Spencer, who offered me a job as a store manager at pounds 300 a year, which in those days wasn't bad pay. Another was with John Reith at the BBC, who twiddled very thick horn-rimmed spectacles and said he thought I needed a bit more experience. The third introduction was with the managing editor of the Morning Post, Guy Pollock, who was brother of the Bishop of Norwich. He turned me over to the news editor, and because it was the middle of the summer, the reporters had all gone on holiday, and the news editor said, 'If you can start on Monday, you've got a job on space', which meant that you got paid for what you got into the newspaper.

My father never recovered his confidence after losing his money, he didn't shine much after that, and he didn't enjoy very good health, but he'd been in the Boer War, which had undermined his health a bit anyway.

We never had intimate conversations, my father and I, so I don't think we ever discussed what had happened. I accepted it as part of life, and perhaps he did, too.

Make no mistake, I regard it as the best thing that could have happened to me.

I would have inherited more land than I could have managed, and a rapidly deteriorating castle which, fortunately, later fell into the hands of an American millionairess who restored everything.

I think I would have had a greater struggle than the life I went into, so I'm thankful that the cards fell how they fell, and when they fell, I have nothing but gratitude. They seem to have moved me out of something which would have been a doubtful proposition into modern times, and how more modern can you get than being a journalist]

One legacy of my father's misfortune is that I am hopeless with money. I simply keep away from it. What modest investments I have, and the little money I've inherited, are all in the hands of my bank, I've never consciously bought or sold a share in my life.

Lord Deedes was Minister without Portfolio in Harold Macmillan's Cabinet and the editor of the 'Daily Telegraph' from 1974 to 1986.

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