Hard-living Glaswegian historian who became an advisor to Margaret Thatcher

Born: March 8, 1941;

Died: June 19, 2019

PROFESSOR Norman Stone, who has died aged 78, was an historian of conservative instincts and unconventional temperament who courted wider notice, and occasional notoriety, as a newspaper columnist and advisor to Margaret Thatcher.

Stone’s field was the 20th century, and in particular the two world wars; his academic reputation was secured by The Eastern Front 1914-1917 (1975) and Hitler (1980), written while he was a lecturer in Russian History at Cambridge, and in 1984 he was appointed Professor of Modern History at Oxford.

He and the university did not get on; Stone bemoaned the generally left-of-centre views of his colleagues, the paucity of his salary and what he saw as the poor quality of his students, as well as the fact that he could not smoke in the Bodleian Library. In turn, Oxford deplored his enthusiasm for Mrs Thatcher, his libertine attitude towards female students, and his astonishing intake of alcohol.

There was, too, the fact that the collapse of communism and the rise of the “New Right” had made Stone, in the 1980s, a useful commentator for newspapers; he spoke most of the Eastern European languages and had, when younger, actually spent time in a Czech jail. He became an extremely prolific “media don”, but his prodigious journalistic output was not matched by his academic publications. Increasingly, he ducked out of lectures and tutorials, preferring to hold forth in the pub, or over the card table.

In 1997, he astonished the academic world by resigning his post at Oxford to become Professor of International Relations at Bilkent University in Ankara. He was reassured, on his arrival in Turkey, to see six policemen chain-smoking under a No Smoking sign and found his new post congenial until the rise of Recep Erdogan’s regime, after which he decamped to Budapest.

Norman Stone was born in Kelvinside in Glasgow on March 8 1941, the son of a pilot (also Norman) who had fought in the Battle of Britain and his wife Mary (née Pettigrew). His father was killed in a training accident, and he was raised by his mother, who was a Labour-voting schoolmistress. With the help of a scholarship from his father’s RAF colleagues, he was educated at Glasgow Academy, where he was a linguistic prodigy – he was eventually proficient in at least eight or nine languages.

He went on to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he initially studied languages, but quickly switched to history, in which – despite spending most of his time playing poker, an abiding passion, and drinking – he eventually graduated with a first. He then became a research fellow in Vienna and Budapest (teaching himself Hungarian), where he worked for three years on the role of the Austro-Hungarian army in the First World War for his PhD, which he never completed. It was there that he was jailed for three months, for attempting to smuggle a Hungarian over the Czech-Austrian border to reunite him with his girlfriend. He spent his sentence picking up fluent Czech. In 1989, he published a history of the country in the 20th century.

Stone returned to Caius in 1963 as a fellow, and in 1967 moved to Jesus College, as director of studies in history, on his appointment as a university lecturer; from 1979 until moving to Oxford he was a fellow of Trinity College. In 1966, he met Nicole Aubry, a Haitian, while travelling in Europe; she was related to the finance minister in the government of the notorious dictator “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and Stone spent some time living in Port-au-Prince. They had two sons, one of whom is the thriller writer Nick Stone, before divorcing in 1977.

The following year, Trinity admitted female undergraduates; Stone was generally dismissive of their ability to study history, but this did not prevent him from making studious attempts to get to know them more intimately. By this time, his intake of alcohol, always heroic, was regarded as excessive, even by the standards of university lecturers, and he was sometimes too hungover to lecture; one student, attending a tutorial, found him comatose on the floor of his room.

His stellar reputation was founded on his early books and – when he had a favourable view of the student, and could be bothered – his brilliance as a teacher, but by the time he went to Oxford, his output was largely journalism. Mrs Thatcher appointed him as an advisor on foreign policy and he also wrote some speeches for her; this went down badly with Oxford students, as did his published views on Marxists, feminists, homosexuals, and liberal intellectuals (though his top bogey was Edward Heath), which led to the union passing a motion of censure on him.

In Turkey, Stone also taught at Koc University and was a member of the board of the Centre for Eurasian Studies, a group which disputed the historical account of the Armenian genocide. He also, after nearly two decades, returned to academic publishing, with World War One: A Short History (2007); it was followed by short histories of Turkey (2020), World War Two (2013) and Hungary (earlier this year). His only other late book, The Atlantic and it Enemies: A Personal History of the Cold War, got a mixed reception.

In 1982, Stone married, secondly, Christine Booker, ex-wife of the journalist Christopher Booker and herself a journalist and later a lawyer. It was a notoriously open marriage; they maintained a house in Oxford (even after Stone’s appointment in Turkey) which various lovers and hangers on passed through. She died in 2016, and he is survived by their son, and the two sons of his first marriage. He spent his final years in Budapest, where he claimed to have cut down his drinking, though that was to three bottles of red wine a day.