Last week, I visited Germany's Versailles, the splendid Sanssouci summer palace of Frederick the Great at Potsdam outside Berlin. It was enchanting, and the palace itself - only twelve rooms in total - has astonishing rococo work. But the magic was the memories it awoke of studying Frederick the Great, the commanding Prussian king of the eighteenth century, at school rather a long time ago.
Walter Batty was brought up, as I recall, in Warmfield near Wakefield, which - when he was young - had its own grammar school. I visited him there a couple of times. He lived with his elderly father, whose great passion was keeping a couple of pigs, for which Walter was forever boiling potatoes as feed. He had a fairly humble background, and for a head of department at a direct grant school, a fairly humble lifestyle.
The story went, indeed I think he told me it, that Walter secured a scholarship to University College, Oxford to read history. He was a contemporary there of Hugh Trevor-Roper. They both got Firsts, but Walter's was the better First. He was asked to do doctoral research but declined. He needed to earn a living to help support his parents and so went into school teaching. He helped me to follow a similar path (not the teaching bit, mind) - to Oxford (Keble, with an exhibition) to read history, and securing a First. It took me another thirty-five years to get my PhD.
All this was brought to mind by Fritz's Potsdam palace. And it prompts me to say, very belatedly - thanks, Mr Batty!
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