A few years before he died I visited the historian enveloped in a deep, English silence in his home near Didcot. He opened up to me about those Hitler diaries, Europe versus America, Oxford gossip and MI6by Duncan Fallowell / March 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
It was in 1968 that I first saw Professor Trevor-Roper. I was reading history at Magdalen, and he was giving a lecture on witchcraft in the Examination Schools almost opposite. Although witchcraft was not part of my syllabus, this was the psychedelic era and the subject sounded interesting. A remote, gowned figure stood on a dais at the end of a large hall built in the Jacobean style, his voice echoing eerily. With round, horn-rimmed spectacles and a shock of grizzled hair, he embodied the high-minded, 1930s Oxford style. The lecture wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped. There was a lot about puritanism, very little about magic. It turned out to be the only university lecture I ever attended and I didn’t re-enter the Examination Schools until sitting my finals two years later. Some time afterwards, I glimpsed Trevor-Roper, tall and tweeded, coming out of Fribourg & Treyer, the tobacconist near Carfax which is now a souvenir shop. He always had that very slightly dandified air of distinction. One didn’t associate him with bicycle clips. My next encounter was when I interviewed him in December 1991. What follows is the piece I wrote soon after.
Didcot is an untidy railway-junction town set in Oxfordshire’s ugliest landscape of pylons, roundabouts, hypermarkets and ripped-up hedgerows. On the town’s edge, shadowed by the gigantic towers of Didcot power station, not far from the atomic energy installations at Harwell, and immediately oppressed by a dangerous main road and an estate of brick boxes, stands the grey stone bulk of a building from another age-the Old Rectory. It is no surprise that the house looks harassed and has, in consequence, become withdrawn and forbidding. One expects Catherine Earnshaw at any moment to vent her hysteria from an upper casement, aghast at finding herself trapped in this chaos of blights, this confluence of horrors, this middle England.
The Old Rectory is the home of Lord Dacre, which is what Hugh Trevor-Roper has become. He has also become notorious as the man who authenticated the Hitler diaries. Standing under a grim porch, I press the bell. Eventually he opens the front door, a more ethereal figure these days, but still active (he’s just back from America) and strikingly tall with his wuzzy white hair sticking up in a crest. Wearing those familiar round spectacles, his manner is shy but affable. The house is light and spacious within-there…