Education: Passed/failed Roy Hattersley

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The Independent Online
Roy Hattersley, 64, was the MP for Birmingham Sparkbrook from 1964 until he stood down at the general election. A minister in the last Labour government, in opposition he was the deputy leader of the Labour Party. His books include `A Yorkshire Boyhood' and `Fifty Years On: A Prejudiced History of Britain since the War'. He is currently working on a biography of the Salvation Army founder William Booth. On Monday he takes his place as Lord Hattersley of Sparkbrook in the House of Lords.

A bit of a fag? I don't look it now, but I was a sickly kid. I had asthma - not helped by being exposed to 150 cigarettes a day from my father and two uncles - and was sent to a ludicrous private school from the age of five to eight. Either I was getting better, or the family was more strapped for cash, but I then went to Wisewood Primary.

On a point of order: Sheffield was way ahead of its time, and its school system went right back to 1935. Sheffield had invented the Butler [Education] Act before Butler. When comprehensive education came in, Sheffield rejected it; Chris Price, who was later an MP, and I managed to change the view of the Labour group on the council. We had a hierarchy of grammar schools and you put them down in order of preference. The "best" - I am not sure on what criteria - was King Edward's, which had the cleverest boys; everyone wore blazers and it had a colonnade on the front of the building. City Grammar, where I went, was at the bottom. Below that were the "intermediate" schools for people judged not quite bright enough for the grammar schools; Below these were schools similar to the secondary moderns. Fourthly, there were the unreconstructed "all-through", ie five-to-fourteen, "elementary" schools.

The 1X-Files? Because I was sick, I didn't go to to the City Grammar, bottom of the Premiership as it were, till I was 12. City Grammar had an "over-age" class, known as 1X instead of 1A, B and C. I had a very unsuccessful early time at school. I was a bit lost, and forced to do things which were to me uncongenial. It was not until my third year that I began to enjoy it, and that was only because I could do well at games.

Not a Latin lover: At School Cert I got five credits and three distinctions; my mother [Enid Hattersley, Lord Mayor of Sheffield 1981-2] has still got the certificates. A-levels came in while I was in the sixth form; I got history, geography and English. But you needed Latin to get to university - and, because I had been at first in the bottom form, I hadn't been allowed to do it. I got Latin in 10 weeks of the summer term; in the exam I recognised one of the unseens, which I'd done a fortnight before at school. If I'd known my father could actually speak Latin like a living language, it would have stimulated my interest; but I wasn't supposed to know he'd been a priest.

Truthful with the economics? I was going to read English at Leeds but Mr George Daly MP told me that if I wanted to be a politician I would have to read economics. I wrote to several universities saying that I wanted to do economics, and Hull was the first to reply.

Roy of the Rovers? I was Secretary of the Union; it wasn't like the Cambridge Union but like a trade union, and took an interest in things like the rents of student hostels. I played football until a young gentleman of Cranwell, the RAF college, very carefully stood on my hand. I still have the scar. I remember the date well: it was 5 November 1951, when I was 18. I never played again.

Interview by Jonathan Sale