John Julius Norwich (Viscount Norwich)

b. 1929 – d. 2018

John Julius Norwich (Viscount Norwich) was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1970.

John Julius Cooper, 2nd Viscount Norwich, CVO, was an English popular historian and travel writer.

John Julius Norwich (Viscount Norwich) remembered – by Philip Ziegler

Historian, broadcaster, wit

If anyone had the right to be blasé it was John Julius Norwich. Grandson of a duke, with a father who was a prominent politician and ambassador and a mother who was one of Britain’s most celebrated beauties, he moved naturally in a world of glamour and distinction and might have been forgiven for taking it all for granted. Instead, he relished it. Few people got as much fun out of life as John Julius; fewer still made life so much fun for others. He had, and cherished, innumerable friends; if he had enemies, I never met or heard of them.

His prime preoccupation in his writing was to give pleasure to his readers. A most assiduous researcher who took immense pains to get things right, he would however have denied any suggestion that he was a scholar. His study of the Normans in Sicily and his books on Venice made a serious contribution to the world’s knowledge of these subjects but, even more, they were a delight to read. He got as much satisfaction, though, from his annual Christmas Cracker, a highly personal anthology produced in pamphlet form in which he collected excerpts from other people’s writings – poems, novels, biographies, letters – which had amused or delighted him over the previous twelve months. It started off as a more-or-less casual production, designed to entertain his friends; to his surprise it gathered steam, collected a wider audience, and by the time he died had become a much-looked-forward-to feature of the literary Christmas scene.

He wrote a delightful volume of memoirs, Trying to Please (2008). The title was typically self-deprecating, but it caught the flavour of someone who did indeed feel that he had a duty to entertain and make life more fun for other people. He tried to please and he did please. He would be the last to claim that he had made a major contribution to the world’s literature, but the literary world would have been much the poorer for his absence.

Image credit: Camilla Panufnik