Norman Stone 1941-2019

I first met Norman Stone in London the late 1980s when he used to come down from Oxford to give talks on the collapse of Communism and likely regime change to the British Hungarian Fellowship. The talks were always highly entertaining and thought provoking, never ponderous and always sprinkled with witty stories and asides. They would often be followed by a drink or two (or three…) at a local pub and then, usually with my Spanish wife Charo, we would drive him to Marble Arch where he would catch a late bus back to Oxford. At this time Norman was not just professor of modern history at Oxford, adviser to Margaret Thatcher on European Affairs and her occasional speech writer, but also a media star making regular contributions to national newspapers and television. As he was fluent in many languages his media contributions were not limited to the UK. He also happened to be joint deputy president of Transylvania Direct with my father, Pál Odescalchi, which provided books, clothes and buses to Hungarian school children in Transylvania where Ceausescu was making it increasingly difficult to teach them. Woodrow Wyatt was the president- the only person I knew who spoke regularly on the phone to Mrs Thatcher at 2am! It was at this time that Norman heard that there was a young Hungarian student at Oxford, Viktor Orban. He invited him out to lunch to ask him what living in Hungary under the regime was like.

Norman moved to Turkey in the late 90s and we lost touch until by coincidence a friend told me that Norman was his next door neighbour in Istanbul. This was around 2010.  A couple of years later Norman decided to sell his flat in Istanbul and bought one in Budapest. I asked him then if he would consider writing a biography of Gyula Andrássy as no serious attempt had been made since the massive 3 volume opus of Wertheimer in 1906. Norman replied that he had been commissioned to write a history of 20th Century Hungary and suggested a couple of alternatives. About a year later he contacted me.

“Mark have you found someone for the biography?”
“No”
“Would you mind if I did it after all?”
“Don’t be silly, it was my suggestion in the first place”
“Well good”
“Why the change of heart?”
“I have been trying to write a 20th century history of Hungary and it is so depressing I really need to escape…Andrássy would be a huge relief…”

Eventually Norman compromised. He wrote a history of Hungary which commenced in 1848 and finished in 1990. This was far more balanced as it incorporated the golden era of peace and prosperity from the Compromise with Austria in 1867 to WW1. This period could be described the Andrássy era. This book “Hungary A Short History” was published in January 2019. ( Hungarian translation by Banki Vera, to be published by Pallas Athene on 19th August, 2020) He had been working on the Andrássy biography in parallel and had completed the research (with help from AGyA) and readings and left about 100 pages of handwritten notes and the first chapter before he died in his sleep in June 2019. The biography will be completed but we will not know what Norman thought of Andrássy. His attitude towards him was positive. Norman loved Budapest, the product of the unification of Pest and Buda in 1873 largely the result of Andrássy’s planning. However, we will never benefit from Norman’s insights into Andrássy’s statesmanship. The biography project lives on but will be in the hands of an other historian.

Mark Odescalchi
May 2020

Note

The last work published by Norman Stone was an article on Budapest for the Oldie Magazine written jointly with Annabel Barber on 31st December 2019. This article can be read on this link.

A memorial to Norman was held in London on 23rd October 2019. A film of this event with magnificent contributions is attached below. (The music alone is worth listening to…) A list of the contributors in the order of their appearance is:
1 Philip Mansel
2 Daisy Goodwin
3 Michael Maclay
4 Michael Gove
5 Andrew Roberts
6 Jessica Douglas-Home
7 Robert Harris
8 Timothy Garton-Ash
9 Omer Koc
10 Marquess of Salisbury
11 Niall Ferguson
12 Rupert Stone