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I sent some talking books to a young student who had been blinded... he turned out to be Gordon Brown.

Byline: LES REID

When the Telegraph's political correspondent LES REID spoke to the Prime Minister he learned Mr Brown still remembered a successful blind man from Warwickshire who had once shown him great kindness - it was Les's own father Dr Fred Reid who unknowingly helped the young Gordon Brown after he temporarily lost his sight. A surprise invitation to Downing Street came four decades later

SOME 40 years ago, 17-year-old history student Gordon Brown lay blind in hospital, bored and not knowing if he would see again.

With both eyes heavily bandaged, they were his darkest months.

He had undergone operations on both eyes having the previous year been kicked in the face in a scrum in a school rugby game which left him with detached retinas.

A few months before, aged 16, the minister's son won a bursary to become Edinburgh University's youngest post-war student.

His blindness left the prodigious intellectual frustrated as he was unable to read for months, thwarting his insatiable appetite for learning.

He was later to describe his experience as "a living torture".

Then a parcel arrived. It contained several tapes of history books.

They had been sent by then Warwick University historian Dr Fred Reid, forging a fledgling academic career despite being totally blind himself from the age of 14 when infection led to detached retinas.

Dr Reid did not know the recipient's identity. An acquaintance had asked him if he could do anything to help an Edinburgh University student who had been hospitalised in the Scottish capital's Royal Infirmary.

State-school educated Glaswegian Dr Reid had himself been a prominent Edinburgh University history student five years earlier, before studying for a PhD at Oxford.

The 30-year-old Scot thought nothing more of it. But it was a kindly gesture Gordon Brown never forgot.

Four decades later Dr Reid was mystified to receive a personalised invitation to 11 Downing Street from the then chancellor of the exchequer.

The Kenilworth-based historian had no idea why Mr Brown had personally requested his presence at a gathering of celebrity authors for a fund-raising event for the Talking Books Service - an invaluable charity which provides recordings of books to blind people.

Attending with his wife Etta, also blind, Mr Brown approached the couple and thanked Dr Reid for helping him in a time of need.

In an exclusive interview with the Coventry Telegraph, Mr Brown instantly remembered the name.

He recalled: "He sent me a tape when I was blind for a bit. I was just getting back from my operations and he sent me a tape from one of these old tape recording machines.

It was very good of him, so remind him that I'm very grateful to him.

He was a great help to me."

He added that he had been impressed by Dr Reid's "great book" on Keir Hardie, the founder of the modern Labour Party.

From 1967 to 1969, Gordon Brown underwent four operations which were to save his sight in his right eye. But, in those days before laser treatment, deterioration of his left eye in the months before he sought medical help contributed to him losing his sight in his left eye.

In hospital, he made use of the very limited Talking Books Service which he has since helped to grow.

Biographer Tom Bower comments that Gordon Brown's experience in hospital made him more serious and cemented his determination to fulfil weighty ambitions.

A biography by Paul Routledge testifies to accounts of the young Gordon Brown soon becoming not just highly respected by Edinburgh professors and his undergraduate peers as a gifted historian and student politician as chair of the Labour Club - of which Fred Reid had been president several years before - but a popular, party-throwing editor of the student magazine.

He was voted in by students to become only the second Edinburgh student to become the university's rector, ahead of celebrities who usually won the management role.

THE RNIB's Talking Book Service offers a window to the world for more than 40,000 people a year with sight problems.

The books are recorded by professional actors and authors, and are delivered to subscribers' doors. Call the RNIB helpline on 0303 123 9999 or email


SPECIAL DELIVERY... Dr Fred Reid sent talking books for the blind to a young Gordon Brown.; NEVER FORGET... Gordon Brown in his student days at Edinburgh University.; RUGBY... Gordon Brown lost his sight when he was injured in a school rugby match.; DOTING PARENTS... Fred and Etta Reid with their eldest son Gavin in 1966.
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 20, 2009
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