Obituary - Moyra Bond 1915-2011

13th May 2011 at 01:00

For several generations of school children, the colour red will forever be associated with maths, blue with English and green with verbal reasoning.

Bond Assessment Papers, with their memorable colour scheme, are near ubiquitous in primary schools. But although she was one of the best-selling authors of recent years, JM Bond remained a deliberately mysterious figure. Until recently, few even knew whether the Bond of Bond Assessment was male or female.

Jean Moyra Bell was born in July 1915, the daughter of a laundry manager. Never a particularly academic child, teenage Moyra excelled at swimming, representing Norfolk in competition. After school, she went straight into a clerical job at Barclays bank in Aylsham, a market town near Norwich.

While at Barclays she met Raymond Bond, a fellow employee. They married in 1938 and went on to have two sons. When the marriage failed, Mrs Bond moved with her young sons to Dorset. Needing to support her family, she enrolled on a teacher-training course at Weymouth College, and subsequently taught maths at several local schools.

Naturally ambitious, in 1958 she risked her family's security and took out a loan to buy Avalon, a girls' preparatory school in the Wirral. Here, her high standards and efficiency inspired both respect and fear among her "Bond girls".

On one occasion, she asked a house captain to complete a formidable list of sports-day preparations. Fifteen minutes after setting these tasks, Mrs Bond returned and asked whether the girl had completed them. "I'm about halfway through," the girl responded. Mrs Bond immediately announced that the girl must be ill, bustled her into her car, drove her home and insisted that she remain off school for two days. "I wasn't ill at all," the girl said, years later. "Just a little incompetent."

In those days, Cheshire local authority - to which Mrs Bond's school belonged - required its pupils to sit not only the standard 11-plus, but also an additional 10-plus exam. The aim was to provide a comprehensive record of pupils' progress over the last two years of primary school.

However, the uniqueness of the Cheshire system meant there were no books of sample questions with which pupils could practise. And so, in her rooms above the school, Mrs Bond began making up her own maths questions, writing them on small pieces of paper and reading them out to her classes. She found inspiration for questions in all aspects of daily life: calculating change in shops, listening to conversations among pupils, "small adventures" such as her car breaking down. Friends and family regularly found themselves making cameo appearances in test questions.

Eventually she developed these questions into test papers, which she sent off to educational publisher Nelson's. Nelson's agreed to publish the maths papers, and also commissioned matching English and verbal-reasoning questions. And because no other authority had the same need for specific 10-plus questions, it also requested four different levels of questions, to be used by pupils aged eight to 11.

The first books were published in 1964. The publisher, however, felt a school textbook by a female author might not be taken entirely seriously. And so Mrs Bond was referred to by her initials. The books described her, equally ambiguously, as the "principal" of Avalon School.

Her identity, therefore, remained largely a mystery. In 2001, in an article on best-selling authors, The Times wrote: "What about JM Bond? You've heard of him, of course ... 36 titles in print, turning over, in a good year, up to a million in bookshop sales." It was only in 2007 that the internet finally outed JM as Jean Moyra.

She revised her books regularly over the years in order to ensure they remained relevant. Decimalisation and metrication, for example, both required a significant overhaul. More recently, the books have been updated (some by other writers) to conform with the national curriculum. Now known as Bond Assessment Papers, the books have sold in countries including South Africa, Canada and Indonesia, earning Mrs Bond around #163;100,000 a year by the end of her life.

Writing and updating books eventually came to dominate much of her life. However, alongside headship and book editing, she made time to take a college course in photography. After retirement, in 1981, she went on to participate enthusiastically in her local photographic society.

Ten years ago, in declining health, she moved to Surrey to be near her family. She died there in February, aged 95.

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