In Summoned by Bells, John Betjeman describes his time at the Dragon School in Oxford. Charles Cotterill Lynam was the Headmaster, known to the boys as “Skipper”, and this is what Betjeman wrote about another master, Gerald Haynes :
Much do I owe this formidable man(Harrow and Keble): from his shambling heightOver his spectacles he nodded down.We called him “Tortoise”. From his lower lipInvariably hung a cigarette.A gym-shoe in his hand, he stood aboutWaiting for misdemeanours –
Nicknames for masters were common in Betjeman’s day - although just among the pupils one presumes - and it was the same in my secondary school. Coming through the State system, I moved from Oldway Primary to Torquay Boys’ Grammar, as I described in Walking with Gosse :
The atmosphere at TBGS was formal and all the familiarity, inclusiveness and enjoyment of learning at Oldway Primary were behind me. Masters wore gowns, were mostly rather severe, and learning was now a serious matter. I had embarked on the grim business of growing up.Each subject was taught by a different master and was governed by a syllabus, as we needed to know various facts and principles for national examinations. There was some rote learning, but also problem solving, and insights into topics about which I knew very little...
It was quite a change. Our teachers at Oldway Primary were all women, with the exception of Mr Mitchell who had a BSc degree, something that elevated him to a very high level in our minds, as none of the other teachers had a University qualification. At TBGS, there were no mistresses and all the masters had degrees, or their equivalent. As mentioned in the quote, they all wore gowns (except the PE staff), with some, including the Headmaster, taking great pride in keeping their gowns in immaculate order. Others appeared to take the opposite approach and preferred a ragged and faded version, often having streaks of chalk dust embedded into the stuff fabric.
In addition to learning all the master’s surnames, new boys also had to memorise their informal names and nicknames, passed down to each new year group. We felt they were our secret, although I’m sure they were known widely among the staff. Some masters were referred to by their first names (or what we thought were their first names), but there were many with nicknames. Some of these had obvious origins, others were more obscure. The following are some that I remember (surnames have been omitted out of courtesy), together with a list of the first names that we used among ourselves. In addressing masters, they were always “Sir”, of course:
Bill – mathematics masterChas – mathematics masterChris – physics masterDave – chemistry masterDon – chemistry masterFred  – English masterFred  – geography masterGeoff – geography masterGeorge – languages masterGraham – biology masterHarold – chemistry masterIan – English masterJoe – actually John (headmaster)Percy – deputy headmasterTony – biology master
Bilko – mathematics master, whose surname unfortunately led to SergeantBilkoBum (or Jim) – PE master, but unknown originCharlie Drake – master who resembled the comedy hero of the timeChick – languages master, but unknown originGrowler – mathematics master with a bad case of “small man syndrome”Hoppy – music master; abbreviation of surnameMole – physics master who used this pronunciation when describing moleculesMoon (or Bert) – languages master with a round faceNeddy – history master, but unknown originPiggy – languages master of rather large dimensionsPtolo – classics master; short for PtolemyRip-Rap – history master, but unknown originTaff – PE master; from WalesZip – geography master, but unknown origin
So, using first names and nicknames was a way of softening the secondary school experience, as was the camaraderie of friends. There was bullying, but I was never bullied by other students, only by two masters. My policy was to keep out of trouble and I only had one whacking and one detention in my time at TBGS. As to learning, a lot was drummed into us and a few masters commanded respect for their wide knowledge and humanity.
As readers of Walking with Gosse  discover, mine was not a distinguished academic career and I was given no honours for achievement, no honours in sport and failed to become a prefect or sub-prefect (almost all my classmates managed to achieve this status). I went on to success, of course, and it was my love of natural history that sustained me though the secondary school years. I was much more in tune with the approach to learning we had at Oldway Primary and that is something that I maintained in my own teaching career (where I was awarded three teaching prizes and also acted as Director of Studies). I wonder if my students gave me a nickname, or if this was a practice confined to UK boys’ schools long ago?
 John Betjeman (1960) Summoned by Bells. London, John Murray.
 Roger S Wotton (2020) Walking with Gosse. e-book (available widely!).
Below are pictures of me at Oldway Primary and at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School