Obituary - Alan Guy, 1926-2010

12th November 2010 at 00:00

Alan Guy was the last Latin teacher to be employed at his Halifax grammar. But he represented the end of an era in other ways, too. He was the stereotypical classics master: all tweed patches and bushy moustache, rambling tangentially from behind his lectern as schoolboys played pranks around him.

Alan Guy was born in London in 1926. His was not a wealthy background, but he won a scholarship to Christ's Hospital boarding school in West Sussex. He then went on to read Greats at Hertford College, Oxford, before beginning his teaching life in Wolverhampton.

Naturally garrulous and gregarious, he enjoyed talking, enjoyed company and loved his subject. Teaching was the obvious career choice.

He briefly held a post at Abbotsholme boarding school in Derbyshire, but having not come from a particularly privileged background, he was keen to work with a wider social mix than the independent sector offered. And so, in 1952, he moved to Halifax to take up the position of classics master at Heath Grammar.

He was, undoubtedly, a man of his time. One year, a class presented him with a pack of plastic collar bones as a gift. Bemused rather than insulted, Mr Guy mumbled his thanks and continued with his lesson.

Never a man to let a tangent go unexplored, his lessons were notoriously unstructured. He would ramble at the front of the class; pupils either picked up on his enthusiasm or they did not. Many did: under his watch, significant numbers of Heath boys progressed to Oxford to study Greats.

For those who did not, there was fun to be had elsewhere. Successive groups of Heath classical scholars became adept at highlighting potential tangents, delighting in sending their teacher off into discussions of classical history or art, or the latest Halifax Town football scores.

This was not the only way in which they took advantage. A round-faced, bespectacled, somewhat rotund man, Mr Guy became nearly universally known as "Froggy". After one holiday, he returned with a moustache; colleagues speculated that this was to make him look less like a frog. But it was too late: the nickname was there to stay.

However, he was not one to hold grudges. Amiable and good-humoured, he would forgive almost any misdemeanour. Former colleagues remarked that nobody - pupil or teacher - was able to dislike him.

He was not a natural disciplinarian. Instead, he had the old-fashioned gentleman's dislike of swearing: the fiercest expletive he hurled at pupils was, "You blithering owl!" Indeed, his loyal attendance of Halifax Town football matches faltered purely because he could not stand the proliferation of swearing in the stands.

But there was always cricket. Constantly ready for a game, Mr Guy played with more enthusiasm than skill. But he was a natural talent-spotter, and coached Heath's junior team with a keen eye for promising players.

His tastes were broad: alongside sport, he also loved word play. He had the erudite man's fondness for puns and facility with crosswords. His knowledge reflected his tastes, spanning literature, music and sport.

In 1959, he was given charge of the school library. He was immediately home among the musty books: under his stewardship, the library quadrupled in size. The only time many pupils recall seeing him angry was when departing sixth-formers failed to return their books.

In 1972, Mr Guy was appointed Heath head of classics; 10 years later, he was encouraged to take early retirement, so that his department could be phased out.

His wife, Margaret, had died before him. But his long retirement was not spent in solitude. For years, pupils had known exactly where to find him out-of-hours: in the same seat at the Murgatroyd Arms, nursing a pint of beer. In later years, his encyclopaedic knowledge was put to effective use in pub quizzes.

His knowledge of former pupils was similarly exhaustive: ask him about anyone who had attended the school and he would immediately be able to recall them. Many returned the favour, paying fond (if sometimes inappropriate - "Damn, he was a nice bloke") tribute to "Froggy" when he died in a Halifax nursing home, at the age of 84.

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