Obituary: Nick Skues
Born 1930, died 5 October 2022, aged 92.
Nick’s funeral took place on Monday 31 October 2022, it is possible to watch the webcast via this link:
If you would like to share photos and sentiments in memory of Nick, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and they can be added to this page.
Condolences received from his peers and pupils …
A superb schoolmaster, he will be remembered by many hundreds of Old Caterhamians for his humanity and skills – as much as in the classroom and on the hockey field as in his ability to administer advice and counselling. For those of us who were at Caterham in his time, he is the main reason we hold the school in such high regard. He taught physics under the mantra ‘physics is fun’ and with Nick that became ‘school is fun, too’. I am not the only Old Cat to whom he was a friend for life.
Nick was brought up in Beckenham, Kent, where he went to the grammar school. His family home was flattened during the Blitz and he was evacuated to Rotherham in Yorkshire. After the war, he served his National Service as a Captain in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and then went up to Downing College, Cambridge, where he gained a Hockey Blue. He later went on to captain Spencer Hockey Club in South London and play at county and divisional level.
He arrived at Caterham in 1955 and became assistant housemaster in Beech Hanger – then a junior house – before becoming the first housemaster of Viney when the house system was changed in 1958. He may have been the only master in his time not to have a nickname…… he was simply ‘Nick’. He was strict, but with a smile. In those days you could not escape his eye if your hair was a centimetre too long. Those of us who saw him in later life were quietly amused to note that he let his locks grow beyond military regulation length.
His lifelong passion was horse racing and he followed it like a hawk. He kept a separate bank account to manage his outlay and he only bet moderately and always to win. This knowledge found its way into Nick’s curriculum in the classroom. After GCE exams were over, he would enthral us with exercises in Extra Sensory Perception, (ESP), by writing on the blackboard the runners, riders and the form guide of a given race at Kempton Park – or wherever – and invite the class to vote on their preference. Nick would then put a shilling on the selected horse to win. In my year the horse did indeed win and, when Nick announced at the next double physics session that we had so much in kitty, we all voted to continue the experiment in ESP. It worked again until there were several pounds of winnings. In the 1960s that was plenty and memorably, after school, Nick used the money to supply us with ‘refreshments ‘ to celebrate the success of ESP. With this firm hold of our attention during these lessons, he also gave us a brief course on the binary system and other aspects of science that were way beyond the given syllabus.
Those of us lucky enough to play hockey under his coaching were more than blessed.
His words of encouragement from the touchline as we strived to rescue a game, or get a winner at the last gasp were: ‘ Digitum Extractum, Caterham. ‘ Once you heard them you knew you had to find that extra gear.
By David Boardman (OC 1959-66)
L to R: OCs Iain Brownie, Russell Dredge, John Marsh, Nick, Roger Simpson
Nick Skues was simply the best teacher I had at Caterham. Friendly, funny, approachable and engaging. A passion for his subject which he transmitted to all his students. Always a good balance of theory and practical, with lots of hands-on experience with what seemed like weird and wonderful equipment in cabinet-maker made wooden boxes with switches and dials and gauges and rubber hoses and liquid mercury and wires and glass blowing and steam and … I could go on and on. As a boarder I felt privileged that he selected and charged me with advancing or retarding the master clock held in the physics lab when the clocks went forward or back. The master clock drove and synchronised all the clocks and bells around the school so it was (it seemed) a big responsibility to be given the key and trusted to do it right over the weekend. His passing is a sad loss, but he is fondly remembered.
By Alastair Harries (OC 1975-1984)
For me he was a beacon of hope and understanding in what for me was a dysfunctional family. The School, and the order of life were a real support, especially when my mother died when I was 14. No one more so than Nick, who dished out sympathy and guidance in great measure. Sadly missed.
By Toby Bryant (OC 1955-1964)
Vale Nick Skues … I recall he was most forgiving of our lethal 3rds hockey XI (more like “coarse hockey” — drawn mainly from the previous season’s rugby first team). I was pretty hopeless at physics and it might have been a very different result if he’d started teaching it back then (1959-62). He was, as they say here in Australia, a good bloke.
Mike Daly (OC 1954-1962)
I remember Nick Skues with great affection. I recall his pale green Jaguar. This was a time when some masters still pedaled bicycles. As I reflect, his time at Caterham was a changing of the guard in teaching staff. Nick was of a younger generation with whom I could relate. Two incidents stick in my mind. A physics exam that somehow involved him furnishing Brighton beach pebbles. My written answer skeptically suggested he had gathered them not on the foreshore but on the school hillside. I was credited with critical, if erroneous, thinking. The exam results let us say were less than stellar. On another occasion I had fashioned a wax effigy and was experimenting, unsuccessfully, with sticking pins in it. Fortunately, Nick saw the funny side. Years later struggling through the theory of flight in my private pilot’s exam I reflected that I should have paid rather more attention to Nick’s physics classes.
By Keith Edwards (OC 1956-1963)
As I think back on my A level teachers, he was the star. Physics was definitely (for me) the hardest of my subjects, but he taught it with an elan that isn’t always obvious to the non-taught. He used to bring his Jack Russell into the labs, and the dog would sit quietly under the wooden lab tables. He started teaching me in 3A and I remember from the first lesson he told us never to stand up when he entered the room, he didn’t need to be reminded that most of us were taller than him. My deepest condolences to his family, I hope that his old age was happy and fulfilled.
By Ian Chaplin (OC 1972-1981)
I remember around 1963 on a Sunday morning in November Mr Skues took me and one or two other Viney borders to Merstham to watch the Veteran Car Run pass through on their way from London to Brighton in his green Jaguar MK1 2.4 litre. This was a real treat at the time and I have never forgotten it. Thankyou Mr Skues and RIP.
By Nick Sharp (OC 1957-1964)
Vale, Wiffer Skues – great bloke, a great teacher, and probably the only man known who could drive off in the morning in a glorious Alvis Speed 25, and come back in the afternoon on a BSA Bantam. Such were the realities of the Suez crisis. He put fun into physics, which I guess was a bit radical in 1955, and also breathed life into 574 Sqdn ATC.
Fondly remembered by Nick Pyner (OC 1953 – 1957)
I was in the same year as Ian Chaplin, and also had the benefit of Mr Skues teaching me both O- and A-level physics. Only later did I realise he was teaching us logic, as far as the official syllabus allowed. One exam question he set was about a machine: as you pressed various buttons or switches, it did things, and the idea was to work out what would happen with novel use of the controls. In the exam post-mortem, he explained that he was not too bothered if we got the right answer, but most of the marks went on how we tackled the problem: setting up simultaneous equations; drawing a wiring diagram; making a flow chart. Another of his exams was a single-sided piece of paper with “PTO” at the bottom and on other side ”There is a bonus of 5 marks for spotting the deliberate error in one of the questions above.” For Speech Day, Mr Skues often had us set up experiments of physical phenomena. I recall one class mate creating a very heavy bicycle wheel by replacing the tyre with lead piping; and sitting on a swivel stool holding it vertically. His colleague then spun the wheel, and when it was in motion, the chap on the stool turned it to horizonal and went whizzing round: I think this demonstrated the conservation of angular momentum. Some of his home made equipment had design flaws. One involved releasing ball bearings through a gateway; collecting those that passed through the gateway in a tray; taking out the tray; counting the bearings; and repeating, to demonstrate exponential decay curves in radioactive substances, without us all getting radiation sickness. But you could re-run the experiment before replacing the drawer and the ball bearings went all over the laboratory. When I came back from a week off school for my grandmother’s funeral in Ireland, Mr Skues was the only member of staff who asked how I was feeling after her death. I can still remember some of the jokes and mnemonics he used to help us get through exams: he was someone who really enjoyed teaching.
By AIan O’Rourke (OC 1974-1981)
Article from the School magazine, November 1984 on Nick’s retirement:
(click here to read original article on the Caterham School Archive)