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English language students asked to discuss whether Michael Foot looked like a ‘tramp’

Oxford University Press textbook anecdote about woman seeing former Labour leader on the Heath

24 November, 2019 — By Geoffrey Sawyer

Michael Foot lived in Pilgrim’s Lane, Hampstead

A DISCUSSION about Michael Foot looking like a “tramp” on Hampstead Heath is being used to teach language students English, it has emerged.

The former Labour leader is described as looking “a real mess” and like he “hadn’t had a good meal for sometime” in Oxford University Press (OUP) English File’s Intermediate Student’s Book.

The coursebook – one of the most popular tools on the international English Language teaching circuit – suggests students get into pairs, look at an accompanying photo, and make up sentences about Mr Foot using a list of words including “homeless”, “hungry” and “very rich”.

Also available to listen to on DVD-ROM, the passage tells a story of an Italian woman, Adriana, who tries to give the man in the photo – Mr Foot – some spare change. “He was walking very slowly, and he looked a real mess – he had long white hair and he was wearing a jacket with a hole in it and old looking shoes,” the passage reads. “She started to look in her bag for some money.”

The OUP said the story was a personal recollection of one of the coursebook’s authors and “was not intended to provide and kind of political commentary”, comparing the section to a similar exercise about Susan Boyle’s audition to the TV show Britain’s Got Talent.

But Adriana is spared her blushes by a friend who says “that man isn’t a tramp – he’s Michael Foot, an ex-politician… He used to be leader of the Labour Party and he’s a very brilliant and intelligent man. And he definitely isn’t homeless – he lives in one of the most expensive parts of London and he certainly doesn’t need any money!”

The textbook containing the anecdote

“Adriana was really surprised,” the OUP passage concludes. “She said that in Italy no politician or ex-politician would ever look like that. But I told her that in Britain you can’t always judge people by their appearance because a lot of people, even rich people, don’t worry too much about the way they dress.”

Mr Foot lived in Pilgrim’s Lane, Hamp­stead, with his wife the filmmaker Jill Craigie for more than 50 years before his death in March 2010.

His great-nephew, Tom Foot, works for the Camden New Journal.

The OUP – the largest university press publisher in the world – said: “The reference to Michael Foot is actually a personal recollection of one of the authors – a Hampstead resident who encountered Mr Foot one day while walking with an Italian friend.”

It added: “The piece is not intended to provide any kind of political commentary or opinion, but rather forms part of a larger feature about the use of specific vocabu­lary in the context of not judging people based on their appearances. The following page for example, has a reading task which recounts Susan Boyle’s audition on Britain’s Got Talent, and the way that many people unfavour­ably judged her by her appearance before they heard her voice.”

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