Memoirs offer glimpse of different manners and customs in a vanished age

Looking In: Some Observations sees Easebourne’s Christopher Hill reflect on his life.

Thursday, 21st January 2021, 10:00 am
Christopher Hill
Christopher Hill

The book is self-published at £15 and available from Christopher at [email protected]

“The book is about my own varied life,” explains Christopher, who is 85.

“The first three chapters deal with childhood at Trotton, boarding schools from the age of eight and Cambridge from 1953-56. They give a picture, as does much of the book, of what I called a vanished age because manners and customs were so very different, as is what used to be called the Establishment. The chapter on the City and service in Germany, where I was an SIS trainee, similarly, are of human and historical interest. It was not long after the war, and Germany was still very much in its shadow and divided into zones, British, French, American and Russian, the last of which became East Germany, the DDR. That career came to an abrupt end when I was invalided out. The main themes after that are opposition to apartheid in South Africa, the turmoil of Rhodesia’s UDI and race relations generally. I was an activist over Rhodesia, but more of an observer of South Africa where I maintain a holiday home. Although I am entirely in favour of black emancipation, there is a rather sad chapter on the decline of South Africa in recent years.

“My account of life at the University of York, ending in 1993, should appeal to people who are interested in British universities. The Centre for Southern African Studies at York, of which I was the founding director, was quite well known at the time, though now defunct.

“Most of the book is lightly written. I have not tried to convey a message, except by implication. I call it social history lite in the introduction. The book had been in my mind for years, but I only got down to it last year. First I got a young friend to question me minutely about what I could remember and from those lengthy chats, we constructed a quite detailed skeleton. After that I turned the house upside down, looking for relevant documents. Then I settled down to writing, helped by having written a number of books before, all published by commercial publishers. I think it will appeal partly because it gives a picture of a vanished age. I wanted to write something reasonably light, having in the past written academic books and articles, with many footnotes. This one has no footnotes!

“I have a number of audiences in mind: the local, because I was brought up at Trotton; pupils of Radley College (my school) and Cambridge, my university; colleagues and students at the University of York, where I started teaching when the university was only three years old; and fellow Africanists. One of my special interests has been Southern Africa. My chapter on Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) gives an insider’s view of UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith in 1965), literally an insider’s view as I spent a week in prison before being deported. Another specialisation has been the politics of sport, which led me to write Horse Power: the politics of the turf, and Olympic Politics.

“My chapter on service in the British Consulate-General in Frankfurt, starting only 14 years after the war, should appeal to people interested in service in Germany in those far off days.”