Obituary: John Bleach - The OCA

Obituary: John Bleach

John Bleach 
(Teacher at Caterham School 1962-1994) 

Died 7 January 2021 

John Bleach passed away in the East Surrey Hospital on 7 January, aged 82 years, having succumbed to a Coronavirus infection.

John was appointed ‘Head of Art’ by Mr Leathem in 1962 and throughout his 32 years at the School his exceptional knowledge and inspirational teaching of the subject led many of his former pupils to pursue the subject at university and beyond. He involved himself in all aspects of ‘School Life’ including: organising and leading the Debating Society in a very special, but professional way; being a loyal ‘Member of Staff’ who ran the RAF Section of the School’s CCF Unit, and being an enthusiastic ‘team coach’ of School cricket, hockey and rugby teams. One of John’s greatest legacies will be his 23 years of service as an Assistant Boarding Housemaster in Beech Hanger where he will be fondly remembered by former pupils and staff alike for his generosity and devotion to duty.

John was a true ‘gentleman’, in every sense of the word, who will be greatly missed. 

If you would like to share photos and sentiments in memory of John, please email oldcats@caterhamschool.co.uk and they can be added to this page. Condolences received from his peers and pupils … 

I too remember Mr Bleach with great fondness. He managed to encourage our rather unruly year to appreciate art in its many forms. We were particularly fond of his sessions held al fresco on the Home Field. He managed to convince those of us with no talent for drawing, painting or sculpture that we could be “artists” if we learned to appreciate the work of others.
OC Alan Wilson 

I remember Mr Bleach with great fondness. He introduced me to the wonderful world of surrealism through his art classes, instilling a lifelong appreciation for Dali and other surrealist artists as a result. Not only that, but as head of the senior school Debating Society when I first joined it, he was a passionate believer in free and open debate, and he helped me find my feet with public speaking – a skill I continue to rely on to this day. I remember, too, that he would, without fail, always invite the Prince of Wales to our annual Debating Society dinner. Though we never received an acceptance, that never put Mr Bleach off from inviting him every year. He combined his love of art and public debate by producing some truly excellent sketches of debaters during our House Debate competitions – some of which I still have tucked away inside my Year Book. He was a wonderful teacher, immensely knowledgeable and very talented. His calm, quiet manner still seemed to be able to control a classroom, largely because so many of us were genuinely interested in what he had to say and what he could teach us. He will undoubtedly be sadly missed, but very fondly remembered.
Colin Hoad (OC 2001) 

I was sorry to hear about the passing of Mr. Bleach, that’s very sad news. He taught me Art for my GCSE’s, and I went on to study Printmaking with American Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University. I seem to remember the art department running a Saturday dry point printing session, which was my first taste of printmaking, and I’m sure he must have been part of it, if not ran it. A great loss.
John Coombe (OC 1990-1996) 

Thanks for letting me know about Mr Bleach, indeed very sad news. He was deputy housemaster at Beech Hanger when I was there from 75 – 80, the era of great music!
OC Andrew J Stewart Bsc, MRICS 

It is truly sad to read about the passing of Mr Bleach. As a boarder of Beech Hanger House between 1992 – 1994, I have very fond memories of him.
Several things immediately came to mind:

  • He ran a ‘tuck-shop’ from his room at Beech Hanger. We the boarders frequented his ‘tuck-shop’ to stock up on snacks. 
  • When he did his rounds during study time, he would give out snacks to us boarders.
  • He also accompanied us on our school trip to Amsterdam in 1994. 

He was indeed a gentleman, and a wise teacher.
RIP Mr Bleach.
Azrain Adnan (OC 1992-1994, Beech Hanger) 

John Bleach introduced us to Bonnard and a little known young artist called David Hockney but he’ll always be in my memory as the first cricket umpire to send off a player during a match. It was summer 1966 and Viney were playing Beech Hanger with Mr Bleach officiating. Those unfamiliar with the labyrinth of the cricket lawbook will need to know that wicket keepers are rated on various aspects of their game – one is how many ‘byes’ they let through. A ‘bye’ is when both batsman and wicket keeper miss the ball and the batsmen take a run, or runs. These runs are recorded as extras. If the ball is deemed to be beyond the batsman’s reach by the umpire, it is signalled as ‘wide’. One run ( or more) is added to the score and it is debited against the bowler. The keeper is excused any blame. M.D.(Mick) Morley (1959-66) was the Beech Hanger keeper that day and having a torrid time reaching wild deliveries from the erratic John Turner. Leg-side wides followed leg-side wides. Many went for four. But Umpire Bleach resolutely signalled them as ‘byes’ and Mick protested the decisions with increasing disbelief. His reputation as a decent keeper was in tatters. As another wide flew by him and a ‘bye’ was signalled, Mick threw down his gloves and roared ‘not again – that was wide !’ Umpire Bleach had had enough and promptly sent him off. Extras were almost top scorer for Viney that day and we won the match. Poor Mick has had to endure being reminded that he is ‘the only man to have been sent off in a cricket match’ for 54 years. R.I.P. John Bleach. You will be fondly remembered.
David Boardman (OC 1959-1966, Captain Viney XI)

I am very sorry to learn that John Bleach has succumbed to Covid-19.  John was teaching at Caterham during my years at The School (71-78) and although he never taught me, I got to know him.  It was therefore really good to reacquaint with him when he moved to live at the same care home as my mother.  As my mother too was a teacher (Croydon High School) they had a natural mutual interest.  I have no doubt that John helped to provide conversational focus for my mother through her advancing dementia. He therefore made significant contribution to the comfort of her later years which I hope she was able to reciprocate.  It was always good to be able to talk with John when I visited.  He is very much in my thoughts and I shall be grateful if you are able to pass my condolence to his family.  
OC Roger Ardley 

I woke up to the very sorry news of John’s passing we shared many glasses of wine together at Beech Hanger and to this day I can remember John in his CCF uniform and a very unassuming man and may he rest in peace RIP JOHN
Graham Borley (Former Staff, Honorary OC) 

Thank you for your message, Annie. Interesting to read of John Bleach’s years at School. Until one sees it written down it is difficult to recall all that he achieved in those 32 years – even to remember it was so long.
OC John Mathias  

So sad – I remember in my 3rd year 6th I was a life model for one of his art classes.
OC Chris Breach


I am really pleased I saw him in 2018.
Nick Bryars (OC 1980-1988) 

I’m sorry to hear of his death. I remember him quite clearly. I always enjoyed his art classes and that love of art is still with me.
OC Keith Edwards 

What really sad news. Mr Bleach was a great character and tremendous fun to have as a teacher and a rugby coach. As he had is studio/art room up in the attic when I was a pupil he was affectionately referred to as “Quasi” (as in Modo). We all loved his eccentricity.
OC Richard Skinner 

My son was in Beech Hanger under John and Don Seldon and I kept in touch with him for many years after my son left.  John never recovered from being “ditched” as a result of the merger with Eothen, but he still remained loyal to the School frequently returning to events there.  My lasting memory of him is seeing him at fetes dressed as Toulouse Lautrec and producing very good portrait sketches of people to raise money for whatever charity was being supported.  He was indeed a gentleman and a pleasure to know.
OC Roy Elliott    

Thank you for the notice and may his soul rest in perfect peace and comfort be with those he left behind.
OC Debo Olaniba 

I was so sorry to hear about John Bleach. He taught me art when he first joined the staff and was the only art master ever to give me any encouragement! I was and still am a lost cause with drawing, but I have never forgotten his encouragement. I will always have fond memories and am so sad that his life was cut short.
OC Mike Murray 

How sad – he was one of my House Masters in Beech Hanger when I was there in the 1980’s. A wonderful man and his kindness to me as a child will never go forgotten.
OC Paul Stewart 

He was a great encourager and support in my schooldays, and I often think of him. A portrait he drew of me hangs on my study wall. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
Chris Pullin (OC 1965-1974) 

So sad to hear the news of Mr Bleach’s death. Although he never taught me, I will always remember him as a very kind man & always very interested in what ex pupils were doing. I remember his old Art room in the main building as being legend – full of amazing paintings, sculptures & other gems done by students over the years. He will be sorely missed by family , friends, ex colleagues & students.
Alison Cruthers (OC 1983-1985) 

John Bleach or Mr Bleach as we knew him had a great impact on my life, although perhaps I did not realise this until later in life, when I became much more involved in art and photography, at times exhibiting work in a local gallery. He was always a very kind and gentle teacher who was very supportive and always full of encouragement. I will never forget the small book of Holy Icons he gave me when I left school. When I look at it now, it always brings back happy memories of working in the art room and a smile to my face. He will be very much missed.
OC Nigel Lord 

How sad. What a lovely guy. A perfect gentleman. We have such fond memories of John.
John Hawkins (Former Staff, Honorary OC) 

This is such sad news. At 67 years old, I will be one of your older OCs responding to your email, I have lovely happy memories of John Bleach.  Mr Bleach was a highly personable man and pure ‘Caterham’. I never realised he worked 32 years at the School. And my biggest memory? I was utterly hopeless at Art but John Bleach somehow got me through the O’Level with the lowest pass, an ‘E’ grade, back in 1970. If ever I should have failed an exam in my life this was it. With John’s inspirational help I swotted hard for the written paper ‘History of Art’ in my case the Italian Renaissance, but any ability however basic to draw/paint or do anything artistic was sadly missing in my DNA.
And always has been!
JB – maybe small in stature but a teaching giant at Caterham School.
OC Tim Elliott 

Very sad news indeed. He was one of life’s great enthusiasts. Please do pass on my sincere condolences as well as my gratitude for everything John did for me and for the School. I was lousy at art (although John always encouraged me) and not much better at cricket (ditto). I was very involved in the debating society which, of course, he ran. And his post-retirement art work and projects were very impressive. I’ve enjoyed seeing him in my many visits to the school and OC events over the past 43years since I left school. An all round lovely man who always had a kind word to say. I’ve felt a bit low all day pondering this news!
OC Graeme Mew