Obituary - Mike Andrews, 1936-2010

5th November 2010 at 00:00

Friends and former pupils describe Mike Andrews as a perfect gentleman. But the description is deceptive: it gives no indication that Mr Andrews was as likely to jump out of a school cupboard and burst into song as he was to deliver elegant insights into the history curriculum.

Michael Leonard Andrews was born in Southampton in October 1936, the second son of a brewer's rep. Young Mike attended the local grammar, where he showed early promise. "Mortgage your house if necessary," his parents were told by teachers, "but make sure your son goes to university."

In 1958, after two years of national service - during which he was stationed on the German-Dutch border, and taught himself Dutch - he went to St Edmund Hall, Oxford, to study history. After university, he followed his father into the drinks trade. But he found the work unfulfilling, and left shortly afterwards to take up a school post that his teacher brother had arranged for him. This suited him far better, and after two terms as an unqualified teacher, he enrolled on a PGCE course in Southampton.

Mr Andrews' first job was at Lincoln's School, a Lincolnshire boys' grammar. While there, he found himself supervising a dance between pupils from four local schools. Taking a break from his duties monitoring wandering teenage hands, he chatted to Janet Clayton, an RI teacher from one of the other schools. They married in 1966.

Three years later, the couple moved to Cleethorpes, so that Mr Andrews could take up a post as head of history at Clee Humberston Foundation School, another boys' grammar. Later, this merged with a secondary modern to become Matthew Humberston comprehensive.

History was his passion: colleagues would say that they had never before met a teacher so in love with his subject. He and Janet regularly spent holidays touring stately homes and castles with their two children, David and Kate. He wanted to make his subject relevant for pupils, too. Long before it was fashionable, he advocated themed history projects such as the history of medicine, local history and family history.

No introvert, he believed in keeping lessons lively. He wrote a history-of-medicine rap, beginning in ancient history - "When a caveman had a pain in his headHe thought the devil would strike him dead" - and continuing through to Aids, cancer and the present day.

Indeed, song-and-dance performances punctuated his career. When Quality Street began to screen an advert in which a man in a red jumper burst out of a cupboard, singing Magic Moments, Mr Andrews noticed that some of his boys were humming the song as they worked. The next lesson, he wore a red jumper, hid in a classroom cupboard, and then burst out in front of his astonished pupils, singing Magic Moments and distributing Quality Street. On another occasion, he delivered a cameo performance in the school production of Grease, showcasing his national-service language skills in a Dutch version of Love Letters in the Sand.

But, despite the fun, his interest in his subject was serious. He was involved in the Grimsby branch of the Historical Association for 40 years, 18 of them as chair. And he conducted his own research into the history of the Frisians, who populated the Dutch province of Friesland. He was similarly interested in the history of the Mountbatten family: he persuaded a Mountbatten expert to travel up from Southampton to address the Grimsby Historical Association.

Kate, his daughter, was born with cerebral palsy. As a result, Mr Andrews began to volunteer for the charity Scope, eventually becoming its local chair. But between chairing responsibilities, he always made time to relax in front of a Southampton football match. He often said that the day he watched Southampton win the 1976 cup was the second happiest of his life.

He had retired from Matthew Humberston in 1992, but taught on short-term contracts until 1998. Even then, however, he continued to receive two history magazines a month at home, and to go on historical research holidays.

He was diagnosed with bladder cancer last autumn, and given the all-clear in May this year. In June, shortly after being awarded honorary membership of the Historical Association, his health began to deteriorate again. Mike Andrews died on September 17, aged 73.

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