One of the most prominent former education figures in Scarborough has recently died at the age of 93.
Jack Speight was the former Deputy Headmaster at Scarborough Boys High School and latterly Deputy Principal of Scarborough Sixth Form College.
He was born John Granville Speight in Leeds in 1921, the oldest of three children. He grew up with his brother Derek and sister Ann in the deprived area of Holbeck in the city where his parents ran a corner shop.
By his own determination and with much encouragement from his family, he succeeded academically, attending Cockburn High School. Showing a lifelong keenness for all sports, in particular rugby union, cricket and boxing, he achieved the title of schoolboy boxing champion of Yorkshire.
Entering higher education he enrolled as an undergraduate student at Leeds University, gaining a degree in Physics.
Unable to serve in the armed forces due to a perforated eardrum, he spent the period of WW2 working at the Cavendish laboratories in Cambridge, despite having had ambitions to be in the Royal Air Force.
After the war, joining the teaching profession as his vocation, he began his career at Morecambe Grammar School as a science teacher in addition to coaching the rugby and hockey teams. During this period he met his first wife Ina, also a teacher, who he married in 1948.
Living in the region, he greatly enjoyed walking in the Lakeland hills as an activity in his spare time.
After the birth of their first son Clifford, the family returned to his West Yorkshire roots, where Jack taught physics at Castleford Grammar School.
His passionate love of sports continued, playing in both local and county rugby teams in addition to a role as a school team coach.
After his wife’s father became ill and being advised that the sea air world be beneficial for his health, the family moved to Scarborough in 1955, Ina’s parents joining them to live in their house in Scalby Road.
Jack and Ina’s second son Robert was born in 1956.
An unforgettably commanding and influential figure to thousands of local grammar school pupils, Jack Speight taught in Scarborough for almost 30 years, initially at Westwood and then at the then newly built Boys High School in Woodlands Drive from 1959.
In his much admired teaching as a Physics master, although being precise and thorough with theory, it was in his particular use of practical work, in experiments and meaningful demonstrations that he brought the subject alive, inspiring many of his pupils to become scientists and engineers. With the introduction of the comprehensive system into secondary education in the mid-1970’s, he joined the Sixth Form College until his retirement in 1985.
Ina died of a heart attack in 1979 at the age of 58.
In his retirement his main interests were that of golf, being a member of the North Cliff club and as both a committee member and chairman of the MS society. He married his second wife Priska, in 1983 living in Newby.
Jack’s first son Robert died in 2007 after living most of his adult life in Spain as a teacher and musician in Granada and Madrid.
Richard Seymour, one of the world’s leading industrial designers and a former Scarborough Boys High School pupil, remembers Jack Speight stating: “We knew him as ‘Digger’. No-one knew why, but it had a vaguely malevolent ring to it.
“A calm figure of authority on one hand, but nemesis to the miscreant who would dare step out of line. The thought of being hauled-up by the Headmaster was a chilling-enough thought, but to cross Jack Speight was something too scary to contemplate ... even the other staff used him as a symbol of righteous retribution.
“Who would have guessed that behind this mask of authority lay a delightful man of warmth and dignity? He came to my last talk at the Library and smiled at me from the audience... how the wheel turns.”
Also referring to his ‘Digger’ moniker known to so many, former pupil Peter Lassey recounts: “I remember it being traditional to have a nickname for the most colourful of our teachers and Jack was one of those, notorious for his iron hard demeanour and discipline. Underneath, of course, was a hugely compassionate man and one who I have always remembered for his patience advising me during a critical period at the end of my time at the school”
Howard Acklam, current President of the Old Scarborians Association (OSA) for former pupils and staff at the Boys High, in paying tribute said: “He was well respected by many of the students he taught, over his many years at the school in which he always instilled a great sense of purpose.”
Graphic designer and teacher Patrick Argent recalls: “Jack Speight was the overlord, the absolute rule of law within the Boys High School. The archetypal image of the authoritarian school master, yet he was also this mild-mannered, quietly spoken mentor whose pragmatic, no-nonsense wisdom gave everyone a sense of direction, drive and commitment in our studies.
“Essentially he made us all proud to be part of the then grammar school system.”
Honorary Life Vice-President of the OSA Mick Bowman also commented: “He was a major character and had a positive influence on all those who knew him. Education and the world are poorer for his passing.”
Freddie Drabble, solicitor and leader of The Sons Of Neptune marine conservation group, added his own tribute in stating: “There were few indeed on the SBHS staff who you might have regarded as a friend. ‘Digger’ was that exception as his approach was on a man-man basis, not master and pupil. He was a man with no edge. What you saw was what you got.
“That to me was an exceptional gift in a schoolmaster in the 1950s. I have no doubt that he ever changed. He didn’t have to.
He injected the common man approach into the classroom. There are far too few with the ‘Digger’ common touch”
Jack Speight died peacefully on 3rd November at the Rambla Nursing Home on Scalby Road in Scarborough where he had lived for the last ten months of his life.
He is survived by his wife Priska, his eldest son Clifford and his grandchildren Joseph and Ellen.