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September 2008

The Trevor-Roper diaries, extracts of which appeared in the July and August issues of Standpoint, brought back many memories. I first met Hugh when I went up to Christ Church, Oxford, where he was the (modern) history don, in 1951. Although I was not reading history, I had occasion to get to know him because he was also, at that time, the college’s Senior Censor, whose duties included the allocation of rooms to undergraduates. I was interested, after a year of sharing, in securing what I considered the best set of rooms in the college, which he kindly arranged.

But although the origins of my friendship with Hugh may have been somewhat self-­serving, that was only part of it. He was, at 37, a glittering (if far from universally popular) ornament of the college, perhaps the first celebrity don, having recently secured fame and fortune by the publication of his book The Last Days of Hitler, a success that he flaunted by parking prominently in Tom Quad the large Bentley it had enabled him to acquire.

He did this not so much to show off as to annoy the stuffier among his fellow dons, who resented his worldly success (and could afford only much more modest cars), and in particular the Canons of Christ Church, whom he would refer to as “the black front”.

We walked and talked together quite frequently in those days, when he would dilate on his latest enthusiasms. Most of them I now forget, but two I remember were the idea of tracing the geographical movement of political power from the history of the art market – from the Medicis of 15th?century Florence to the contemporary United States – and a campaign to secure the Nobel Peace Prize for Himmler’s masseur, Felix Kersten, who Hugh insisted had bravely exercised a benign influence on the Reichsführer.

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