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An extract from 'Taking it on the chin' by Lord Pendry

This issue we feature extracts from the memoirs of our President, Lord Pendry. Taking It On The Chin chronicles his life at the top of politics and formative years. Sport is a regular refrain throughout, all told in his own inimitable charismatic way.  

We focus on four moments in his life – his encounters with Muhammed Ali and Nelson Mandela; the issue of all-seated stadia following the Hillsborough tragedy; and the establishment of the Football Foundation. 

Lord Pendry’s political career as an agent, candidate, Labour MP and peer has spanned over 60 years. He served in James Callaghan’s government and Labour Leader John Smith then made him Shadow Sports Minister.


"My advice is that you should follow your ideas of advancement and don't let up. You can accomplish whatever you wish if you believe you are capable of doing it."

Lord Pendy

Taking it on the chin - Lord Pendry

ONSIDE editor, Rory Carroll asked him some questions about his career and experience of writing the autobiography.

How did you find the experience of writing your book?

It was invaluable. Several years ago I had no intentions of writing one, but so many people kept saying that I should that eventually I decided to have a stab. I experimented with a couple of ghost writers early on but they weren’t quite right, so I then just got stuck into the writing myself. It took a long time, but I found it a valuable experience and, ultimately, it appears that it has been well received.

Promoting sport and its benefits has been a feature of your career. If you could change one thing about sport, what would it be?

One of the things that motivates me to be associated with grassroots sport is to give children the opportunities that I wasn't able to have. Youngsters of my generation did not have the opportunity to use the sorts of facilities that we are now providing through the Football Foundation. Sport is a great leveler. It allows children of all backgrounds to work and play together and become better citizens. It is a healthy pursuit for youngsters to participate in sport to get off their couches and their video games. Certainly that can be done in parallel but excessively to the detriment of sport. That is changing and I am pleased about it.

Ian Brady and Dr Harold Shipman were high profile constituency cases that you had to deal with as a local MP. Given the broad scope of situations that an MP encounters, do you need to be a certain type of character?

Ian Brady wrote to me from his prison hospital and I replied saying that, with his permission, I would meet him. He agreed, so I spoke to the hospital’s director and he approved my visit. I spent five hours with Brady, during which time I was able to convince him to revisit the Yorkshire Moors in the hope of locating the body of Keith Bennett (he had previously refused to cooperate with Police in revealing where he had buried the bodies.) I then went to Inspector Peter Topping, the Manchester police chief in charge of the operation. He did not seem too pleased to see me, nor to hear what I had achieved, as his team had been unable to do exactly that.

I think the MPs who I have admired most are those who one recognises have lived in the real world. By that I mean who have experienced a life outside the bubble of politics, per se, and can relate those experiences to the parliamentary forum.

Is there a particularly valuable piece of advice that you received in your career which sticks out?

My mother, a great socialist and Catholic lady, was a member of the Labour Party. She knew of my interests in politics and advised me that if that is what I wanted, I should pursue it. At a Labour Party conference in 1950, she introduced me to Bessie Braddock, a notable MP from Liverpool, and my talk with her galvanised me enormously. My advice is that you should follow your ideas of advancement and don't let up. You can accomplish whatever you wish if you believe you are capable of doing it.

Lord Pendry and Blair.png

An extract from "Taking it on the chin" by Lord Pendry


In December 1999, the boxing legend Muhammad Ali was crowned Sports Personality of the Century at the BBC’s final ceremony of the millennium. Ali, the three times world heavyweight champion, received a standing ovation as he collected the trophy at the event in London. Despite Muhammad’s ailment – Parkinson’s disease – he overcame his impediment on the night with charisma and charm.

After the ceremony, Jarvis Astaire, a former boxing promoter and a good friend of mine and of Muhammad’s, came to me and said: ‘Tom, I’m taking Muhammad, his wife and a friend of theirs to the Savoy for supper – would you like to join us?’ Would I like to join them? Gosh! ‘Of course I would!’ I said. What an honour.

So, there I was at the Savoy, enjoying the conversation when it was interrupted by Jarvis who said to Muhammad: `Did you know that Tom was a boxer?’ Muhammad turned to me and said: ‘Show me your left hand.’ I thought, my God, my last fight was for Oxford University about forty years earlier and here I am, expected to show how good my left hand was – although to be fair, it was always my best and and I won most of my fights because of it. When I showcased what I thought was a very good jab with my left hand, Muhammad’s wife, Yolanda Williams, who was sitting to the left of me, exclaimed: ‘You nearly knocked me out then!’ I then turned to Muhammad to find him nodding in approval.

This text is taken from the feature 'An extract from "Taking it on the chin" by Lord Pendry' in Issue 39 of ONSIDE magazine.

Read the full article for free at the following links: 


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