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Agenda: Skeletons in the family cupboard; Labour grandee tells of his parents' big secret.


WHEN Roy Hattersley's father died 30 years ago, his son offered to go through the hundreds of letters of condolence to save his mother further distress. Roy, still to approach the zenith of his political career as a cabinet minister and deputy leader of the Labour Party, was astonished to find many references to his father 's years in the Roman Catholic Church.

Frederick Hattersley, a clerk in the town hall at Sheffield, had shown only a passing interest in Christianity during his life and none at all in Catholicism. But the clincher came when Roy opened a note from the retired Catholic Bishop of Nottingham. It referred to the years the former bishop and Frederick had spent together studying at the Roman Catholic seminary, the English College in Rome, and to their time together in the same Nottingham diocese after ordination.

The best-kept secret of the Hattersleys, one that they successfully kept from their only son as he was growing up, was out. In the late 1920s, Father Frederick Hattersley, a young priest in the mining of village of Shirebrook in Nottinghamshire, had met and fallen in love with Enid, the fiery, politically-committed daughter of the local coal merchant.

They had run away together to set up home in Sheffield from where both their families had originated. With them came Enid's mother and two of Frederick's brothers, George and Syd, both of whom had abandoned plans to become Catholic priests.

The astonished Roy Hattersley began to recognise the tell-tales signs that had been with him throughout his childhood but that he refused to read. There was, for example, his father's encyclopaedic knowledge of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and his inexplicable ability to sight-read the Latin inscriptions on the tombstones in local churches.

``I realised that the only reason the secret had taken so long to come out was my own obtuseness,'' Hattersley says now.

The nature of his parents' relationship accounted for much in his childhood. It explained, for example, why so many of the family members lived together in Sheffield. It was a safeguard against the revelation of his parents' secret and protection should the scandal ever be made public.

But more discoveries were to come for Roy Hattersley. Years later as his political career was winding down, he turned to writing for an alternative means of making a living. He planned to write a novel which would feature his parents.

He paid a visit to the Catholic Bishop of Nottingham to find out as much as he could about his father's years as a priest. The bishop told him that Father Frederick Hattersley had married his mother twice.

First he had officiated at her wedding to an Irish miner working in Nottinghamshire called O'Hara. Then she and Frederick had run away together.

They had to wait until O'Hara died before they could marry each other. That opportunity came only in 1954. In other words, Roy Hattersley was illegitimate when he was born in December 1933. The remarkable relationship between Frederick and Enid forms the centrepiece of Hattersley's entertaining account of his formative years in Sheffield, A Yorkshire Boyhood, which was first published in 1983 and which has just been re-released.

The romantic nature of his parents' relationship was highlighted by their devotion to one another. His father was clearly a clever man but he showed no ambition to advance himself professionally. Instead, he poured all his energy into his family.

Enid, on the other hand, saved much of her time for furthering her career in local politics. In the 1920s she had been a committed communist. She had poured tea for the miners' leader, the South Wales communist A J Cook, when he had visited the Nottinghamshire coalfield during the 1926 miners' lockout. Enid, by now a stalwart member of the Sheffield Labour Party, introduced the 11year-old Roy to political activity by taking him canvassing during the 1945 General Election.

She and her son never discussed her relationship with Frederick at any length, even though she lived until she was 97.

Hattersley, a sickly boy who suffered from asthma, was academically a late developer. He went to a local grammar school late, having spent his early years at a fee-paying school. For a while his academic record was poor. But he recovered to win a state scholarship to university.

He was elected to the local council in Sheffield at the young age of 23. By 30 he was an MP with a successful career as a cabinet minister ahead of him.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 14, 2002
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