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News > Staff > Teacher Feature from the Archives: Geoff Underwood, 1958-1993

Teacher Feature from the Archives: Geoff Underwood, 1958-1993

Former Senior Master and Head of Mathematics, Geoff Underwood took part in a Teacher Feature in 2001
7 Feb 2024
Former teacher Geoff Underwood
Former teacher Geoff Underwood

Geoff Underwood was both an Old Hymerian student and a former staff member.  He started in the Senior School in 1948 and left in 1955 to continue his studies in mathematics at Leeds University.  Maths was a subject that Geoff never took an O Level in whilst at school but gained a First degree at university.

Three years later, he returned to the school to teach mathematics and stayed for 35 years, until his retirement in 1993.  During his employment, he was promoted to Head of Mathematics in 1966.  Shortly before his retirement, he gained a further promotion in 1990 to Senior Master.  As well as teaching at the school, he also coached in cricket and table tennis.

in 2001, Geoff talked to past OH President, David Bond, OH 1958-68, about life as both a pupil and a teacher at Hymers for "The Old Hymerian" magazine that ran for 11 editions from 2000 until 2007:

When Geoff Underwood was given the chance to return to Hymers College to teach mathematics in 1958, one thing did not add up. He had, after all, still been a pupil at the school only three years earlier and it made him wary of returning so soon.

"In my final year of teacher training I received a pleasant communication from the Headmaster Harry Roach (1951-71). He had heard that I was interested in teaching and he wanted to offer me employment at Hymers," he recalled.

"Gradually things have changed between pupils and staff but I thought long and hard as to whether I should accept the offer because I didn't know if I could face sitting shoulder to shoulder with staff I'd known as a pupil.

"I was going to be on first-name terms with people I'd called "Sir" or knew by their nicknames. For example, I knew Wilf Watton (OH Staff 1947-85) as "Cod," as did all the pupils, but now I would be calling him Wilf and I was going to be the youngest member of staff by a long way. I think that Gerald Thompson (OH Staff 1957-85) was the next youngest.

"In the end what made my mind up was that Roger Wheeler (OH Staff 1951-61) was the Head of Mathematics. I respected and liked him very much and I thought I could learn a lot from him about how to teach well. And it was the right decision to return to Hymers because I learnt a lot about teaching mathematics."

Hull-born Geoff's education had started in the infants and juniors at Eastfield Road: "They had two sort of Army huts and didn't have electric lights when I first went there. I can remember holes being drilled in the ceilings for the wires for the first electricity."

When he sat his 11-plus, Geoff won a place at Hymers and joined the senior school in 1948: "Learning Latin with 'Sandy' Sanderson (OH Staff 1946-57) was an experience, but I knew I'd enjoyed the place thoroughly by the time I left.

"William Victor Cavill (1927-51) was the Headmaster when I first arrived and it was quite a radical change when Harry Roach took over from him.  Having seen both regimes, I always thought that Cavill would have made a damned good prison governor, although the boys liked him as they got older.

"We went from having a disciplinarian bachelor to a family man who brought his young daughter into lessons when he taught me French and let her make paper aeroplanes at the side of the classroom. But the feeling was that we had gone from the strict, hard discipline of Cavill to the humanitarian, caring, understanding approach of Roach.

"I remember that there had been the annual CCF concert under Cavill, but Roach allowed us to have a school revue and I was compère of one of them. I brought the house down and John Whisker (OH 1948-55) and I went down very well, as did Ray Monelle (OH 1949-55) who was pretty good at music.

"Another memory is that there was no central heating when I started at school. There were fires in the classrooms and the porter would refuel them. He'd knock on the door, come in with a bucket without interrupting the lesson and he would never miss with his aim with the coal - even from a distance!"

Geoff himself passed A-levels in mathematics, chemistry, and physics - he points out the irony of never having sat O-level examinations in mathematics or additional mathematics - and won a state scholarship to university.

His options were to go to Manchester, University College in London to read statistics, or Leeds, the only university in the country then to have a degree course in computing with mathematics. As it turned out, going to Leeds was to be an inspired choice. "It is difficult to know the exact instant when you make up your mind what you want to do as a career. But when I was taking my A-levels, I thought about teaching and I have never regretted it," he said.

Geoff, left Hymers as a pupil in 1955, but he did not plan to stay too long as a teacher: "I decided that coming back was for me, but I expected to stay for about five years and then move on. But Roger Wheeler left after three years to go to Leicester University and I was promoted to No. 2 in the department.

"Roy Selby (OH Staff 1961-66) came in to replace Roger and I thought I would give it a few years before applying to be a head of department somewhere.  But when I was 28, Roy told me he would be leaving. Harry Roach said that he wanted me to be Head of Mathematics and I know I took over soon after England had won the World Cup!" Geoff's specialist studies at Leeds University soon came in handy because he added: "In the early 1970s we became one of the first schools to have computing on the timetable and we were able to use the main-frame computer at Hull University free of charge.

"And we brought in several desk-tops as we developed the computing and put them in Joe Gillbanks' (OH Staff 1949-84) bookroom between B6 and 87. But because there were only 24 hours in a day, we eventually brought in John Harston (OH Staff 1975-2002) as head of computing to leave me free to concentrate on being Head of Mathematics.

"Then in 1990, I became Senior Master. It was another promotion, which was very nice, but the staff joked that I was being put into the kitchen cupboard because they made the porter's storeroom, which had a kitchen sink in it, into a study for me!"

In 1983 Geoff had been diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis, but he did not retire until 10 years later and insisted: "I was determined that it wasn't going to stop me from doing the work I wanted to do."

One of Geoff's other abiding interests has always been sport, especially soccer, cricket, motor-racing, table tennis, and speedway, which he can remember watching at an old airfield near Hedon in the 1940s.

He accomplished a major feat in 1968 when he coached a Hymers College team containing Tony Clayton (OH 1962-69), Alan Fletcher (OH 1964-71), both of whom became England Internationals, Chris Boothby (OH 1963-70), Andrew Petrie (OH 1959-69) and Richard Nakielny (OH 1959-68) to win the England Schools' table-tennis title.

And Geoff has continued to support speedway in Hull at the Boulevard and Craven Park, while it was in his blood to follow the fortunes of Hull City because his father Ernest - also known as "Tim" and "Eddie" - wrote about the club's fortunes for the Hull Daily Mail both before and after the 1939-45 War.

"He took me to the first game at Boothferry Park when it opened and I was always being asked at school for exclusive stories about Raich Carter when I was a pupil," he said.

David Bond, OH 1958-68

Unfortunately, due to ill health, Geoff's teaching career was cut short and he retired in 1993. The Hymerian paid tribute to his many years at the school, both as a student and a teacher:

Sadly Geoff died in 2015, aged 78 years.  Former colleague and friend, the late Alex Sutton, OH Staff 1962-20002, wrote an obituary for him for The Hymerian:


Since this article has been published, we have received memories from former students regarding Mr Underwood:

Geoff was my form teacher for what was then years six and seven. The article mentions free computing time on Hull University’s mainframe - as I understand it, this was actually provided courtesy of my father, Alan Whitaker (lecturer in CS there), who would collect hand written coding forms from Geoff when he picked me up from school on an evening. These were delivered to the university, where one of the data entry staff (usually female) would type them onto punched cards. The program (written in Algol 60) would then be run, and the resulting printout (on continuous sheets of 8.5” x 14” line printer paper) along with the deck of cards delivered back to school by dad a couple of days later.

It was a definite high spot (if I remember rightly in my year six) when the school bought two Commodore PET computers, which lived at the front of Geoff’s room in B3. These (as I delight in pointing out to junior school students who write to me as part of the letter writing program), had a massive 32K of memory, and were loaded off cassette tape.

Two of their more regular users were myself and Robin Alden. I remember Geoff had acquired two games: Space Invaders, and some kind of TIE fighter-like combat game. Geoff challenged me with my first major pieces of software hackery, which were to figure out a way of quitting out of both without turning the computer off (as once you’d loaded them, you couldn’t quit) and also flipping the controls on the TIE fighter game so that they were the more intuitive way round.

My other abiding memory of Geoff was in the summer of 1981: we just finished A-levels, so it was one of those non-school days for year seven before the end of term, and I’d volunteered to help sort out text books in the classroom.

It was also the last day of the Headingly Test match vs Australia - the Monday after the Saturday of Ian Botham’s insane heroics with the bat (in those days, test matches had rest days on the Sunday) and he had generously allowed me to bring a radio in - not that we were expecting England to win. We listened in mounting disbelief as the late Bob Willis tore through the Australians taking eight for 43.  My dad actually wouldn’t believe the result until he turned the 5 o’clock news on in the car.

I remember very much by the end of my time at Hymers, thinking of Geoff as a friend, as much as a teacher. I also seem to remember being the person who was volunteered with the job of collecting for and buying him a bottle of scotch as a Christmas present from the form.

I think it would amuse Geoff to know that my current job involves writing computer software for CricViz, having previously been one of CricInfo’s first employees.

Mike Whitaker, OH 1974-81

I too had the pleasure of having Geoff as my main maths teacher. I remember the computer programming, writing code to draw graphs and so on; also learning Algol was a boost later in life as ICL mainframe control language was Algol based. I also remember he had a 64 step programmable calculator, desk top size that we tried to get ever more complicated calculations to work.

Neville Jennings, OH 1967-73

I think I am correct in saying that I was in his first allocated Form – Lower3A from September 1959 when I entered Hymers.  I have nothing but happy memories of the times with him – a very gentle and encouraging teacher.  One odd memory, in particular, is that he ran an old Triumph Mayflower with its rather square body-styling.  

Other names that were in the article included Roy Selby (head of Maths for my later years) and Wilf Watton (head of Physics).  Collectively, they ensured that the teaching of Maths, Further Maths and Physics (my subjects) was a joyful and rewarding experience for us all.  Of my original 1959 cohort, 16 of us gained entrances to Oxford and Cambridge colleges (just checked the archives and the Hymerian for July 1966).  I don’t know if that was an all-time record for Hymers, but it bears testament to the exceptional standard of teaching.  Happy memories, indeed!

Mike Palmer, OH 1959-65

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