Daily Archives: 14 October 2022

Brits in Athens, 1946

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 3465ff.

Although the Germans had blown up the docks and harbours of Piraeus before their retreat, Athens had not been too badly damaged during the war. Far more severely affected were the Athenians, who had lived in a state of semi-starvation since 1941. One of the results was that almost everyone kept chickens, even those living in apartment blocks in the city centre. The crowing of cocks, added to the cries of street vendors, blaring radios and the metallic cacophony of antique trams, was enough to convince Osbert Lancaster that Athens was one of the noisiest capitals in Europe. In 1946 the Acropolis still dominated every prospect, for most people lived in modest two-storey houses. In the poorer parts of town, below Mount Hymettus, the walls were covered with Communist slogans in red.

Paddy’s immediate superior was the unfailingly affable Rex Warner, a Greek scholar who was considered one of the most promising novelists of his generation. Maurice Cardiff remembered them both. ‘At a midnight contest in a taverna, given quite difficult rhymes, he and Paddy produced passable sonnets in minutes, but Rex’s was the more perfect and metrically correct.’ As Director of the Institute Warner was answerable to Steven Runciman, whom Paddy had met in Sofia in 1934 and who was now the British Council’s Representative. Tall, fastidious and a brilliant linguist, Runciman was then working on the History of the Crusades which made his name; but his chief recreation was collecting scandals and stories. ‘Royal gossip is very good,’ he once said, ‘and political gossip is even better; but my dear, nothing beats Vatican gossip.’

They all worked in the same building in Ermou Street, and Runciman had vivid memories of Paddy. ‘He looked very good in an office,’ said Runciman, ‘but none of us could think of anything to do with him.’ Cardiff recalled that Paddy was not at work very often and when he was he seemed to be throwing a party, sitting with his feet on the desk and entertaining a stream of Cretan visitors. The Cretan economy had been almost destroyed by the occupation, and there was very little work. Paddy found menial jobs for both Manoli Paterakis and George Psychoundakis in the Institute; they and others often spent the night on the floor of his room at the Grande Bretagne, and later, in the flat he was lent in Kolonaki. His office was always blue with cigarette smoke, and the sound of loud talk, Cretan songs and rollicking laughter echoed down the passage.

This did not make him popular. ‘There was a very insensitive side to Paddy,’ said Cardiff. ‘He was very bumptious, a bit of a know-all, and his enthusiasm and noisiness could be rather wearing.’ Steven Runciman, too, had his reservations about Paddy. Cardiff said that this was because he resented the fact that Paddy knew more Greek royals than he did; but Runciman also saw how Paddy disturbed the peace of the office. ‘All the girls were in love with him,’ he said. ‘He used to borrow money from them – and I have to tell you, they weren’t always paid back. There were occasions when I had to sort out Paddy’s little irregularities myself . . .’

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