former editor of `The Sunday Telegraph'. He began on the `Glasgow Herald' and later worked
for `The Times'. He caused a sensation by remarking on television that no one gave
a f*** about a sex scandal involving a Tory MP, Antony (later Lord) Lambton;
he is now married to Lambton's daughter, the architectural writer, photographer
and broadcaster Lucinda Lambton. He co-presented `England, My England' on
Channel 4. His books include `Peregrinations' and `Tricks of Memory', his autobiography.
Interview by Jonathan Sale
Mass master? At about eight I went to prep school, first to a gloomy, very strict Catholic one, and then, because I got impetigo and my mother was switching her religion, to a very happy Protestant school. Abinger Hill, near Dorking, Surrey was a progressive school: corduroys, open-necked shirts and sandals.
My brother and I were the only two Catholics in the school; my mother married again and became an Anglican, but didn't go so far as changing our religion.
I liked going to Mass - the maths master used to take us to a church in Dorking, after which the priest used to give us a lovely breakfast with coffee, marmalade, bacon and eggs.
I was keen on riding and was allowed to go to gymkhanas.
Picking the pocket money? I crawled into Stowe, at the bottom. I was very unhappy at first.
I used to hate having my hair cut; the beastly housemaster used to stop me going hunting if it needed cutting. When war came, in my last two years or so, a lot of amateur, eccentric Londoners came down to teach, for their war work. John Davenport, who became a regular book critic for The Observer, helped me to get a history exhibition to Cambridge.
He used to take a few of us to dinner at a local hotel. He would order wine and, when the bill came, he would say, "It's never too early to learn to settle your bill" - and hand it to the boys to pay with pocket money.
Not on your Melly! I claim that I was seduced by George Melly on a sofa in the art school. He says that can't be true because he was two years younger. Although he denies it, he says he wishes it had happened: a real gentleman.
University of strife? In 1942 I went to Peterhouse for three terms. It was chaotic, and a wasted year in terms of work.
I volunteered for the Army and was a soldier for the rest of the war - but had two intervening terms at Magdalen College, Oxford, because I had to go to the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford with an injured shoulder, so went up to Magdalen College.
This counted towards my Cambridge degree. I was taught political theory by CS Lewis, who lived with his brother. The first time I went there I began reading my essay to his brother to avoid wasting time.
My shoulder got better and I went back into the Army and ended up in Hamburg.
A short history? I wasn't happy at Cambridge after the War. I felt I ought to be doing something more positive than merely learning.
I think I got a degree with fewer terms, or nights in college, than anyone in the history of Peterhouse College; the Senate had to lift the rule about this.
I got a 2.2 in history. I remember having to study the career of the first Lord Durham, who was one of the movers of the Reform Bill of 1832; it was very interesting to marry [in 1991] his great-great-great-granddaughter.Reuse content