I first met Richard Cobb at my Balliol interview one late evening in December 1970. The encounter was, by any measurement, a failure. In the 'interests' section of my entrance form, I had made the mistake of declaring membership of the Committee for Freedom in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea. Cobb, who was plainly bored at having to conduct interviews after dinner, asked me brusquely which liberation group in Angola I supported and why. When I admitted having heard only of the MPLA, he recited the initials of the others and then turned to the Révolte Nobiliare: what, in my opinion, did its leaders really want? I couldn't remember who the leaders were, let alone what they were after, and a difficult silence followed until Maurice Keen asked me about the battle of Waterloo. What should have been a straightforward discussion ended in surly disagreement about whether or not Wellington had been unduly cautious about his right flank, and I left the room convinced that I would be seeing no more of Cobb or Balliol. A week later my school received a letter from the senior history fellow saying that I had passed in spite of a Latin paper which was so bad that I needed coaching: 'to soften the blow,' he added, astonishingly, 'perhaps you could tell him how much we enjoyed hearing about Angola.'
LRB 21 May 1987 | PDF Download