Church Road in 1953. My mother – and my pram – are outside number 3.

What would you do if your child looked to be dying before your eyes?

I think that was my father’s situation in 1953 – the Coronation year. He and my mother had been through the mill – over and over again – before I finally made an appearance. And now, in their little flat in Norwood, something was clearly wrong with me.

Not for the first time, my father’s keen intelligence came to the rescue. Because he realised – perhaps sooner than many of his contemporaries – that pollution was the problem.

I’d been born, literally, in the middle of the Great Smog of 1952. It took decades for the death toll of that event to be made public, but it ran to the tens of thousands. And I was nearly one of them.

As it happened, my father was working on a freelance commission at the time. Cope’s the bookmakers were looking to celebrate the Coronation with a book documenting the long connection between horse racing and the royal family. My father had been approached to write it – but the brief was constantly changing, and each change involved him in more work.

Motivated, perhaps, by our situation he (uncharacteristically) asked for a higher fee. And got it. The book was duly produced (and I have the copy given to him, one of a limited run of 25 luxuriously bound in leather). There is no credit to my father inside, but luckily I have a letter from the publisher which makes his role in the work clear.

But in the meantime he and my mother had both been very busy.

Before the war they had enjoyed three idyllic years in a flat overlooking the Haliloo Valley in Warlingham. Now they looked again, hoping, perhaps, to rediscover that bliss – and, more importantly, a place where the air would be clean and there was a chance their son might survive and thrive.

They found it at the foot of the North Downs, just up the road in Woldingham – two blocks of four terraced houses in Church Road, a short walk from the station. They’d been built by an enlightened landlord in 1933 as housing for his farm labourers – and a place where they could retire. Number 3 was up for sale – and with the proceeds from Cope’s Royal Cavalcade of the Turf and every penny they had saved, my father could just afford it.

The other residents were somewhat nonplussed. Here was a journalist (obviously a suspicious character, especially with that foreign wife) buying a solidly built but absolutely basic house in the middle of nowhere, at a crazy price. No one really spoke to him for a year or two – at least until the appearance of a small boy opened at least a basic form of dialogue. But once that had happened, our family became part of the little Church Road community – which, by the way, included Bert and Doris Starmer, the grandparents of Keir Starmer, at number 8.

And I don’t just think my parents’ decision saved my life. I know it did.