chapter  3
13 Pages

‘A seminal moment’: 1940–1943

After schooldays during which, as we have seen, Montgomery himself considered that he had become ‘a prig and an intellectual snob’ 1 and as a result made few friends, his arrival at Oxford created an opportunity for change. Initially, however, little seemed to alter. The impression he made on his contemporaries was formidable. ‘There was no doubt, though, who, of us all, appeared the most sophisticated, best-read, widely connected and gifted. Bruce Montgomery […] may have been slightly older than us, but he was light years ahead in experience,’ wrote Alan Ross, 2 with whom Montgomery shared tutorials in his first year. He made a great impression, too, on Kingsley Amis, who went up two terms after Montgomery:

I must have seen Bruce Montgomery on my first morning in St John’s in 1941 coming out of his staircase in the front quad to go to the bath-house. […] I felt rather like a recruit getting his first sight of a full colonel in red tabs, spurs, etc.: here was an undergraduate, the real thing. This man, along with an indefinable and daunting air of maturity, had a sweep of wavy auburn hair, a silk dressing gown in some non-primary shade and a walk that looked eccentric and mincing, though I found out later that it was the result of a severe congenital deformity in both feet. […] When more fully attired, he inclined to a fancy-waistcoated, suede-shoed style with cigarette-holders and rings. 3