BORN TO BE BLESSED; If Gordon Brown Steps Up to Be Prime Minister, He'll Be the Latest in a Proud Line of Famous Children of the Manse

Daily Mail (London), January 6, 2007 | Go to article overview

BORN TO BE BLESSED; If Gordon Brown Steps Up to Be Prime Minister, He'll Be the Latest in a Proud Line of Famous Children of the Manse


Byline: JOHN MACLEOD

SATURDAY ESSAY

THIS summer, being spared and well, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown should at last 'kiss hands' and become Prime Minister. That will be a source of great satisfaction to Mr Brown's friends and allies. It will gratify his constituents. It will delight his good lady and, of course, it will greatly please Gordon Brown.

But it will also - whatever our political differences might be - afford great satisfaction to those of us who, as sons of the manse or daughters of the clergy, sit smugly in the Preachers' Kids Trade Union. My membership comes from being the son of a Lewis-born Free Church minister who pastored charges in Lochaber and Glasgow before ascending to Edinburgh's Free Church College. (Yes, you should hear our accents.) Why do the children of ministers so often prosper in life, emerging from a background of regular public worship, modest means and the invariable indignities of living in a tied house to be well-adjusted, socially skilled and - sometimes - very successful people?

Gordon Brown is not the first preacher's child to be Chancellor. Hugh Dalton, who held the Treasury under Attlee, was the son of an Anglican cleric who is best known as the boyhood tutor and lifelong friend of King George V.

Nor will Mr Brown be the first son of the manse to lead a political party - David Steel, after all, commanded the Liberals and subsequently became the Scottish parliament's first Presiding Officer.

We, the Preachers' Kids, have claimed the White House (in the shape of Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson), prospered in journalism - like Gordon Brown's two esteemed brothers - and medicine. Robert Liston, the crusty Scots surgeon who pioneered anaesthetic surgery, was a son of the manse.

Scottish politics boasts such holy terrors as Douglas and Wendy Alexander, Alasdair Morrison (whose brother, John, is a noted broadcaster) and Michael Moore.

And children of clergy have made their mark in literature - Jane Austen, John Buchan, Alastair MacLean or the popular sci-fi novelist Ken MacLeod.

They have also made a remarkable impact in broadcasting. Television was invented by John Logie Baird, a minister's son.

The BBC was moulded by another, John Reith, while David Frost and Sheena MacDonald are but two clerical sprogs whose honeyed tones have borne them far.

AND, of course, Mother Church herself owes much to the conscientious fecundity of her servants: some preachers, such as John Wesley and CH Spurgeon, eclipsed their reverend fathers.

What common forces shape the children of ministers, and why do so many do really rather well? The Very Rev David Steel - former Moderator of the Kirk, father of the politician - declared when interviewed for his son's biography: 'A manse child has a considerable advantage over others in that he meets all kinds of people from all strata of society in the manse.

'He might be meeting the Lord Lieutenant one minute and a miner the next, and he's taught to treat all people automatically the same way. Manse society is a very democratic society.' There is no doubt that ministers' children enjoy formidable social training. For one, we are forced early into public performance - my brothers and I still remember the rigorous discipline, by the age of five, of having to attend two long services each Sabbath. Sitting in a prominent cross-pew by the pulpit, we faced the cynosure of all eyes - sitting still, singing strong, giving every appearance of listening intently and, on the way out, not forgetting to smile sweetly at all the old ladies.

Strict? Probably. But it taught us discipline, and respect. It taught us to listen. Frequent flittings made us adaptable and, over the years, it all honed our formidable acting skills.

Living in a manse, we were regularly propelled alone into rooms to entertain visiting ministers and other august personalities - who, no doubt, were often equally ill at ease - and to talk nicely and give every impression of avid interest in their lives and priorities.

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BORN TO BE BLESSED; If Gordon Brown Steps Up to Be Prime Minister, He'll Be the Latest in a Proud Line of Famous Children of the Manse
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