Three schoolmasters

Heathens of a certain age still talk with a mixture of respect and awe about the schoolmasters of their time, men of distinction who individually gave 30–40 years’ service to the school, albeit in many cases with time out for war service.

What may not always be realised is that Heathens of a younger vintage were also the beneficiaries of long and devoted service by the masters of their generation. The last twelve months have seen the passing of three such men: Malcolm Blythe (who began teaching at Heath in 1959), Tony Edwards (1971) and Michael Newton (1973). Thus collectively they spent 42 years at Heath and then continued into the successor school — Crossley Heath — to make a rough total of 100 years so that they can be said to have averaged over 30 years’ service each.

Malcolm Blythe died in June 2017 at the age of 80. He started at Heath in 1959, having been educated at Wheelwright Grammar School, Dewsbury, and at Durham University. As a teacher of Chemistry he established himself as one of the major teaching assets of the school. He was in total control of his subject and in total control of his pupils, who regarded him with the greatest of respect and no little affection. His watchword ‘Gerrit learned’ was almost the second motto of the school during his time. The phrase ‘firm but fair’ could have been invented for him. His talents were employed for the school’s benefit in many directions — taking charge of Cross Country teams, acting as Secretary of the Parents-Teachers’ Association, Business Manager for the Dramatic Society and so on. In the ‘interregnum’ of 1984–85, before the amalgamation of the schools, he served as Acting Deputy Head.

For many years while Malcolm ruled over the Chemistry Labs, his opposite number in the Physics Labs was Michael Newton who died just a month before Malcolm in May 2017. Michael was a native of Hebden Bridge and so was very much the local man. He replaced Herbert Morris in January 1973. Physics is a subject of which the ideas and methods have probably changed more over recent decades than any other; yet Michael stayed fully abreast of developments and ensured that his pupils did as well. One notable feature of his work which may have passed largely unseen by pupils was his mentoring of young teachers embarking on their careers in Physics teaching — Lawrence Palmer, Roger Dyer, John Sykes and Clive Briscoe — as well as others in his years at Crossley Heath. Many of these, with Michael’s backing, went on to be in charge of Physics Departments of their own.

Tony Edwards’ loss was the most recent, in February 2018. He came to Heath in 1971, having taught at Churcher’s College, Petersfield, after being educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Within two years, he was deservedly appointed Head of Modern Languages in succession to George Littlefair and brought expertise in both French and German to the post. His enthusiasm for his subject saw him lead innumerable excursions abroad, always meticulously planned and overseen with his unique blend of good humour, friendliness and common sense. Many Heathens owed their first experience abroad to his good offices. The same qualities were brought to his involvement in school sport — chiefly Rugby and Cricket — and he can be seen pictured alongside many teams in the photographs of the 70s and 80s. He shared enthusiastically in the supervision of the inter-form cricket competition on Conways which will be fondly remembered by many in the days before ‘health and safety.’

I feel that I was privileged to have worked with these three colleagues. Heath Grammar School and Crossley Heath School were also privileged to have had the loyal service of these men for so long. I know that they appreciated the chance to spend their professional careers in the company of generations of Halifax youngsters with their independent spirits, lively minds and cheerful dispositions. They are truly fit to take their places in the pantheon of distinguished Heath masters of the past. Digni Erant Favore.

John T Bunch [1972–1985]