Unable to tell when right is wrong

17th May 1996 at 01:00
Unlikely as it may seem, Prince William, Julian Clary and Hitler have something in common: they are, or were, all left-handed. Other famous left-handers include Jack the Ripper, Napoleon Bonaparte, Joan of Arc and President Bill Clinton, writes James Montgomery.

For centuries, left-handedness was considered a disability, even an evil affliction: Christianity, Buddism, Judaism and Hinduism all declare the right side of the body to be holy. And even today, memories persist of attempts by teachers and parents to stamp out left-sidedness.

Broadcaster and journalist Derek Jameson, who grew up in east London in the Thirties, remembers it well.

"It was considered to be the work of the devil and I got into trouble all through my schooldays with teachers who insisted it was because of some kind of wrongheadedness," he says.

"For two terms I had to use my right hand, and as a result I never learned joined-up writing."

In left-handed people, the right side of the brain, which controls spatial awareness, is dominant. Some studies suggest that left-handers tend therefore to be more artistic. Michelangelo, Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci are cited as evidence. For sports players left-handedness can also be an advantage, as Pele, David Gower, Sir Gary Sobers and Martina Navratilova would attest.

"I have knocked people out with a left jab," says former boxer Henry Cooper, now 62. "I always said the right hand was just for wiping the sweat away.

"At school they tried to turn me round but I always used my left hand so in the end they gave up. In those days we used fountain pens and when you got a new book it would always end up smudged. I was caned on a couple of occasions for it."

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