I arrived at Sherborne in September 1944 and found myself in Mr M D Thomas’s class. The classroom was the ground floor of a former house just outside the school gates.
The desk next to mine was reserved for a late arrival, who turned out to be, Christopher Chataway. MDT, as he was known, was an eccentric form master, a dapper dresser and a teacher who liked going off on red herrings, which he seemed to enjoy as much as we enjoyed leading him into them. He had been, however, an Oxford Blue for athletics and held the varsity mile record, something which must have influenced the whole of Christopher’s career, though at the time his main talent was in the gym, mastering the form, 3b, to win the gym prize. He and I moved to Ralph Barlow’s IVc and eventually to Howard Baker’s sixth form for languages where Christopher gained the German Prize and the Elocution Prize.
By this time he was captain of boxing, the 1st XV hooker and a leading performer in the gym squad. In the summer of 1948, while the rest of us were playing cricket, Christopher had the school grass track laid out and could be seen timing himself round each circuit. He believed, that rather than competing with those who dictated the race, he could win simply by running a winning time. Not only was he ambitious about his running, but he had already mapped out his future career even by then, stating that he would make his name as a runner which would enable him to become a newscaster, which would get him into Parliament. That summer he told me he was entering his name for the Public School Championships and asked me to join him to putt the shot. This I declined as I hadn’t even mastered the technique of shot putting, and although he won the School mile, I hadn’t appreciated how far he had come as an athlete.
In fact he won the Public School mile, the Army mile and the varsity match mile and, as they say, the rest is history.
In following his career I understood that he also invented the post code when he was Minister for Post and Communications, which at the time was quite unpopular. It also amused me personally, when he became Minister for Education, when I thought of the times when he absented himself from afternoon lessons, which happened quite frequently. When I asked him for the reason for his truancy he calmly told me that there was a good film on at the cinema!