My Best Teacher;Interview;Sir Edward Heath

24th September 1999 at 01:00
I liked school. I was always a year ahead of my time at Chatham House grammar school, Ramsgate, which in some ways made it a challenge. The staff were all of a very high quality when I was there from 1926-1935, and we were given every opportunity to develop outside interests. We had an enormous number of activities, both on and off the sports field, including music and drama, in which I used to play a part.

The debating society, for which Mr Wilsher, the geography master, was responsible, was very active. I took part in debates continuously. We also had a mock election in which I took part (and won) representing the National government. It was in the school debating society that I first spoke against capital punishment, but the biggest debate of all was copying Oxford on "This house will not fight for King and country". I opposed the motion. The debate attracted an enormous audience in the school so we couldn't finish it in the normal evening and had to postpone it over the weekend and finish it off on the Monday when everybody hoped tempers might have cooled a bit. Amid a great deal of shouting, the motion was defeated by 45 votes to 13.

The headmaster in my day was HC Norman. He used to take prayers every morning and was always there for sports, watching cricket and athletics and so on, and he showed great interest in all the things we were doing. He was not at all aloof, he knew us all by name. There were 450 pupils. I go to quite a number of schools today which are so large the headmasters find it difficult to know the names of their staff and to recognise them all, quite apart from the boys or girls.

Dr Alex Woolf, the second master and an inspiring teacher with a very good sense of humour, tried to urge sixth-formers to learn Spanish, his favourite language. He considered it to be the language of the future,particularly in Latin America. I did not share his enthusiasm.

I regret now I didn't concentrate enough on modern languages. I did concentrate on Latin and I always attribute being able to make a speech without notes to a satisfactory Latin upbringing. It forces you to phrase your approach in the right way; it is of great value from the point of view of developing the mind. I always use Latin today when I give grace. I did that at Number 10.

Dr Woolf was responsible for organising the first continental visit I made, which was to France when I was 13. He took a group of 12 of us. One night, some of us looked in on the Folies Berg res - which I think I may have neglected to mention when I recounted the events of the trip to my parents.

My housemaster was Mr Derome, who taught mathematics. He was meticulous, wouldn't let anything pass. And "Tufty" Goodram, the senior English master, conducted the school orchestra. I had been taught the piano when I was seven and was in the parish church choir when I was nine. Then, when my voice broke at 14, I took up the organ, and Mr Goodram allowed me to conduct the school orchestra when I was 15. It was a very good orchestra, properly balanced with all the right instruments, and everybody agreed it always put on a good performance.

Another housemaster, Mr Pearson, was a great cricketing man and we had a very good team. Kent County used to come for a one-day match every summer and the school team held its own. For a couple of years I was scorer; I didn't play. I was a cross-country runner.

After I left (I got the organ scholarship at Balliol), I corresponded with the headmaster for several years, and told him what was going on at Oxford. I have been back to the school many times. I have attended three speech days and we have old boys' reunions. I look back fondly on my days at Chatham House.

Sir Edward Heath KG MBE MP was Prime Minister from 1970-1974 and Leader of the Conservative party from 1965-75. He is the longest-serving MP (he celebrates half a century early next year) and Father of the House. His autobiography, 'The Course of My Life', was published in paperback earlier this month. He was talking to Pamela Coleman

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