We called Leslie Shepherd Giggling Gus because of his infectious laugh. In my time masters didn't giggle, and Gus excited our interest because he made jokes

16th June 2006 at 01:00
Portrait by Neil Turner

In the sixth form at Bradford grammar school I was taught English by a young man just down from Cambridge called Leslie Shepherd, known to us all as Giggling Gus because of his infectious laugh. In my time masters didn't giggle and Gus excited our interest because he made jokes and also because he knew his stuff.

It was through him I got to know some of my favourite writers such as Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis and TS Eliot. He was a brilliant teacher and a nice man. He had studied under Frank Leavis and knew him and his wife, Queenie, and he introduced us to a lot of the Leavis's favourites as well as his own.

I was a voracious reader right from childhood. I used to buy little sixpenny copies of the classics with cardboard covers from Woolworths; I still have one or two of them. Basically I was a classicist, but I loved English and always came top. I won the National Book Council junior essay prize the same year that Alan Bullock, who later became vice-chancellor of Oxford University, won the senior prize.

Bradford grammar school was proud of its reputation as one of the best schools in the country and the cleverest pupils had to learn Latin and Greek to enable them to sit scholarships to go to Oxford or Cambridge. The man who first gave me my love for the classics was "Tock" Lewis, who was a great friend of Gilbert Murray, Regis professor of Greek at Oxford University. Tock Lewis was bald with a white beard and a good deal older than Giggling Gus. He had a house at Mawgan Porth in Cornwall and I often used to spend a week of the summer holidays with him there. After a day on the beach or walking along the cliffs we would listen to recordings of classical music together.

I found Greek hard, but I enjoyed it enormously and was keen on the Greek lyric poets such as Sappho and Alcaeus and the dramatists Sophocles and Aeschylus. It's a pity so few schools teach Greek now. I still consider Thucydides to be the best writer about politics ever.

I was also keen on drawing and painting and still doodle compulsively, though I paint very little now. We had a good art master called Frank Maddox. I learned water colour painting from him and went to lessons out of school at his home. He got me to copy paintings by De Wint and Ethelbert White. Later I learned classical painting from Alex Keighley. I used to buy picture postcards of all the great Impressionists from the church bookshop with my pocket money. If circumstances had been different I think I might have become an artist. Some years after my time, David Hockney was a pupil at Bradford grammar school.

I have always had a lot of interests. At school I was keen on acting and took part in school productions. I played Polly Perkins in The Grand Cham's Diamond. I was also involved with the literary and debating societies. I was an enthusiastic cyclist. I went to the Halle Orchestra's subscription concerts at St George's Hall and heard all the great musicians conducted by Sir John Barbirolli and Hamilton Harty, which were wonderful.

My studies came easily to me and I enjoyed them, but I wasn't good at everything. I'm a bodger when it comes to technical things. I played a bit of cricket and football, very badly. I dropped out of the Officer Training Corps, which seemed to me an absolute waste of time. I became a pacifist, much influenced by an English master in the junior school, Mr Benn, who had been wounded in the First World War.

I can only remember once getting into serious trouble at school. That was when my great friend Arthur Spencer and I bunked off for a day to go to see Donald Bradman play cricket at Headingley in Leeds. The headmaster, Mr Edwards, was very nasty about it and we had to write a lot of lines.

Politician Denis Healey was talking to Pamela Coleman

The story so far

1917 Born Mottingham, Kent

1922 Family moves to Keighley, Yorkshire. Attends Drake and Tonson's kindergarten

1925-36 Bradford grammar school

1936-40 Reads Mods and Greats at Balliol College, Oxford

1940-45 Serves with the Royal Engineers in Second World War

1945-52 International secretary of the Labour Party

1952 Elected Labour MP for SE Leeds

1964-70 Defence Secretary

1974-79 Chancellor of the Exchequer

1980-83 Deputy leader of the Labour Party

1992 Leaves House of Commons and is created Lord Healey of Riddlesden May 2006 Publication of updated edition of autobiography, The Time of My Life, first published in 1989

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