One of the principal delights of my recent cruise with Voyages to Antiquity was the company of so many sympathetic fellow passengers. Almost the first I met, on a coach trip from Sharm El Sheikh to Luxor, were Michel Strauss and his charming wife Sally. With my natural nosiness — but let us say journalistic curiosity — it took little time for me to learn of Michel’s strong Oxford links.

As a stepson (following his father’s early death) of the Oxford Professor of Physics Hans Halban and then, after his mother’s third marriage, of the celebrated philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin, Michel spent part of his childhood in the city and was educated (before departure for Bryanston on the advice of his psychoanalyst) at Magdalen College School. He later studied PPE at Christ Church, jacking in favour of art history at Harvard.

Over the decades that followed, during which he had a high-profile position in the art world as head of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department at Sotheby’s, he remained a regular visitor to his old home, Headington House. Lady Berlin continued to reside there following Sir Isaiah’s death in 1997. Aged 96, Aline Berlin is now living in London’s Albany.

Details of all this, and much more concerning Michel’s life, can be found in his recent memoirs, Pictures, Passions and Eye. This is published, price £25, by Halban Publishers Ltd, a company run by his half-brother Peter Halban. The pair can be seen below, unveiling a blue plaque in 2009 at the Oxford home of their distinguished stepfather.

Having learned of the book’s existence during the cruise, I naturally quickly acquired a copy on my return to England.

While it contains much of huge interest concerning the world of art — Michel has an unimpeachable pedigree in this area with a grandfather, Jules Strauss, who owned no fewer than 209 Impressionist pictures — I shall devote such limited space as I have here today to a couple of the sort of gossipy tales that, for me, make books like this such gripping reading.

First, those Christ Church days, spent in the company of “the ‘fast set’, many of them Old Etonians and members of Bullingdon”. These included Colin Clark, son of art expert Lord Clark and brother of the diarist and philanderer Alan, and an Italian called Giuseppe Gazzoni “who distinguished himself by driving one night from Oxford to London in his Jaguar XK120 in 35 minutes”.

That the notoriously boozy ITN newscaster-to-be Reggie Bosanquet was another of his intimates perhaps says all that is necessary about his alcoholic intake during this time of poker, roulette and very little work.

Michel writes: “I remember, now with amusement, the night, following a party at Lady Margaret Hall, and drunk as usual, I was stumbling along St Giles, weaving between the lamp posts, when I was spotted by my mother, who happened to be driving Isaiah Berlin back to All Souls after a dinner in North Oxford. She wanted to stop the car and scoop up her child, but Isaiah prevented her, saying that was the worst thing she could do for an undergraduate’s reputation.”

Over one debauch, Michel did draw the line: “An acquaintance said he had been invited to a friend’s digs in Holywell to smoke opium and would I like to go? I thought this was an appalling idea and naturally refused.”

Despite the aborted degree, Oxford did one thing for Michel: “sickened by a year of drunkenness,” he has never been squiffy since.

At Sotheby’s, an intimate working colleague for some years (though never a friend — “we were chalk and cheese”) was novelist-to-be Bruce Chatwyn. The auction house was not slow to utilise his boyish charms (which he employed himself in a notably active bisexual life) for the company’s good.

An instance came when Somerset Maugham seemed about to abort a sale of some of his pictures. Sotheby’s boss Peter Wilson sent Chatwyn, having ordered him to wash his hair, to visit the great (and gay) novelist at the Dorchester Hotel.

“Sitting together, with Maugham grumbling about his toothache while at the same time running his fingers through Bruce’s hair, had a positive effect and Sotheby’s were back on track with the sale. [Wilson] had set up Bruce as a honey-trap and it had worked.”