Jack Swaab interview: Family life

Then you moved straight into your house here?

No, not straight away. My first move was to move in with her and three other women at a flat in Abingdon Court, pretty well next door to where Princess Diana used to live, although of course long before those days. Near Earl's Court. Anyway, the time came when I found it a bit demoralising living with the three women so we came here to Wimbledon. My sister lived in Murray Road. She had found this house that I am in now and we had a look at it, couldn't possibly afford it but put in for it anyway and we did actually get it.

There was an interesting story about this house?

Yes, this house used to be the coach-house of the house on the corner, dated about 1875, and during the war I believe a bomb was dropped on it here and demolished it. Then this chap Thompson built the cottage on it and we moved in. We have been the only inhabitants of it [since 1948.]

Have you done much to change the building?

Very much so. It had absolutely no heating when we moved in. We had just one form of heating in the hall, it was a paraffin stove which went "glubb" every few seconds. We used to call it "the international glubber" because it made this glubbing noise. I suppose it did take just a little of the cold off but the house was terribly cold. Upstairs we just had a few electric fires and I remember in that very cold winter early on there was ice inside the windows, not outside. That was the way we lived. We didn't get central heating until many years later. I'm not quite sure when.

Did you have children?

Yes. After the miscarriages we decided this was too hard on my wife's morale - and mine as well - so we decided to give up and try to adopt. In those days it wasn't quite as difficult as it is now. Our doctor arranged a private adoption, had the girl lined up and everything but at that moment my wife got pregnant again. We never could quite understand how - apart from the obvious reasons - but according to the book it shouldn't have happened. So we were faced by a bit of a dilemma at three months - should we settle for two children or possibly none? We took a risk and my first son did arrive safely and three years later my second son arrived with no trouble at all. Miscarriages are really a mysterious thing. There are all sorts of theories about it. There was apparently nothing wrong with either of us but she just lost the child each time at about three months. It was very hard on her. However it all worked out in the end.

You didn't adopt the girl?

No we didn't.

What were your sons' names?

My elder son is called Richard, my younger son is called Peter.

They were both brought up in this house?

Yes, they were. They went to school at KCS [King's College School]. They both got the top scholarship to KCS and after that they both got the top scholarship to Cambridge. So they have done rather well.

What are they both doing now?

Richard is deputy chairman of the largest British advertising agency [AMV BBDO] and Peter was a don at Cambridge but he has moved to UCL [University College, London]. He teaches [literature] at UCL and writes quite a lot books. He has written about seven books.

Do they take after you?

I think you would have to ask them about that. I suppose they do to some extent but they also take after my wife.