Mr Morgan asked me to stay behind after class...

12th March 2004 at 00:00
...and complained that we were making him out to be some sort of fascist

My secondary schooldays began at the local authority school, James Gillespie's, just round the corner from my home in Edinburgh. It was the male equivalent of the girls' school on which Muriel Spark's novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was based.

Two years later, I changed to George Watson's college, an independent boys'

school. It was the year of the Queen's coronation and I remember being thrilled to receive two commemorative souvenirs, one from each school.

There were a lot of good teachers at George Watson's but if I had to single out one it would be Robin Morgan, who taught history. He had tremendous enthusiasm for his subject and he was stimulating in the way he presented what we were studying. But most interesting was that he often began lessons with a discussion on that day's news. He was fascinated by what was happening in the world, and stimulated my interest in current affairs. It was the end of the Macmillan era and the time of the Cold War and Kennedy.

I was a bit of an extrovert and took an active part in class discussions.

I was already involved with the school debating society, formed by the English master, Michael Robson. He'd instructed me to "volunteer" to speak in the first debate, knowing I could perform in public having been in the odd school play. I'd been cast, most improbably, as Cardinal Wolsey in A Man for All Seasons and played the soothsayer in Julius Caesar.

That first debate was on whether television was a good thing. I spoke in favour. We lost, but I had the bug. Joining the debating society was the best thing that ever happened to me. We also had mock elections in which we not only had the traditional parties, but we also used to invent parties, one of which was called 3D - for doom, death and destruction. My support varied. I started off as a Tory but in my first year at university I flirted with the Liberals. Then I went back to the Tory club, which was much more fun.

At George Watson's all the masters wore gowns, but Robin Morgan was a particularly imposing figure. He was tall and saturnine with dark-rimmed glasses and a marvellous loud, booming voice. He drove a sports car and had a rather grand background and lifestyle. Some boys found him intimidating but I liked his style and he and I had an immediate rapport, though we had one unfortunate exchange. In my final year I was deputy editor of the school magazine, the Phoenix. We thought it amusing to take a well-known quotation and apply it to individual masters and in the case of Robin Morgan it was: "Get your facts right first, then you can distort them as much as you like." The day the magazine came out Mr Morgan asked me to stay behind after class and complained that we were making him out to be some sort of fascist who distorts the truth.

He left Watson's to become head of a public school in Northern Ireland, then returned to Edinburgh as head of Stewarts Melville. When I became an MP he invited me once or twice to speak to the school.

I wasn't prominent at sport or academically, and I was never a prefect. By the age of 16 I was a bit stroppy and bored with school. I left at 17. Two of my friends were offered places at Edinburgh University, so I applied too. It was six months after the closing date and I had minimum qualifications because I was only in my fifth year. Nowadays I wouldn't even be interviewed, but I was offered a place to read law. The day I began at university I grew up.

Years later, when I was a government minister and was invited back to my old school to make the founder's day speech, the headmaster thanked me and, in front of the whole school, said he wished to rectify an omission of many years. Suddenly he produced a small silver prefect's badge and presented it to me.

Conservative politician Sir Malcolm Rifkind was speaking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1946 Born Edinburgh

1951-53 James Gillespie's school, Edinburgh

1953-63 George Watson's college, Edinburgh

1963-67 Reads law at Edinburgh University

1970 Called to the Scottish bar, contests Edinburgh Central constituency

1974 Becomes Conservative MP for Edinburgh Pentlands

1979-83 Junior minister at Scottish Office then Foreign Office in first Thatcher government

1983-86 Minister at Foreign Office

1986-90 Secretary of State for Scotland

1990-97 Serves as Secretary of State for Transport, Defence, then Foreign Affairs

1997 Loses seat in Labour landslide

2004 Selected as Conservative candidate for Kensington and Chelsea

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