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News > Obits > Derek Nott

Derek Nott

24 Nov 2023
Written by Cait Spencer

Derek Nott. 1944-2023. BGS 1968-2004.

Derek's funeral took place on 22 November 2023 and his friend Philip Davies spoke as well as BGS Deputy Head Paul Roberts. Peter Jakobek attended who commented 'It was a beautiful service, the choir was bolstered by the City of Bristol Choir and the singing "raised the roof." The School song was sung at the end of the service." 

Eulogy by Paul Roberts, Senior Deputy Head at Bristol Grammar School

We all see people come and go in our lives.  Some stay for a day, a week, some months, and others for some years.  For the community of Bristol Grammar School, Derek was one of those people whose influence was certainly not fleeting – it was long-lasting, very long lasting. He retired 20 years ago but many of the things he brought live on today. He was like Queen Elizabeth, seeing his greatest satisfaction in his service of others.

I can safely say that all of us who worked with Derek consider it a privilege to have done so. A true professional schoolmaster in the old-fashioned and best sense of the word. Someone whom everyone else, Headmasters and Governors included, turned to for wisdom and wise counsel. Someone who cared about every member of staff and every pupil in his care. Someone who gave hours and hours of his time to do his very best for them and to spend time talking and providing a listening ear which often gave them a way ahead with whatever life had thrown at them. Someone who was a first-class teacher in the classroom and who could explain any and every aspect of physics in a way which every pupil could understand.  Talking with one of his pupils the other day, 30 years on he still remembers that Derek had revealed the mystery of electricity as being like loaded shopping trollies being pushed around.

In May 1968 a young Derek applied for a physics post at Bristol Grammar School: he was paid two pounds and ten shillings (two pounds fifty for the youngsters here) for his travel expenses from Southampton. I am delighted to have met one of his colleagues from his Southampton days who is here today. One of his referees said, “he should be capable of performing adequately the duties of a post of responsibility”. Never a clearer understatement!  BGS wisely grabbed Derek as a teacher of physics, closing the advert very quickly, and he started his career at BGS in September 1968. Derek was an outstanding teacher of physics, taught mathematics, had the intellect to teach the many aspects of General Studies, helped with cricket, was an assistant House Master, ran Community Service and our Charity Committee and became Deputy Head of Sixth Form and Head of Careers.  How did Jan ever get to see him?!! In 1980 Derek became Head of our Sixth Form and that was his niche for the next 24 years and he is rightly remembered by generations of our pupils. I remember him starting a course called the Diploma of Achievement for which pupils had to cook, wire a plug, change a washer and change a car tyre – Derek drew the line and would not let any pupil near his beloved cars to try changing a tyre!! Looking after 300 plus teenagers day in and day out he made look easy. He was always meticulous, imperturbable and good-humoured, concerned for the welfare and happiness of every pupil. He fostered a Sixth Form that valued individuality, creativity, service and academic achievement. He respected his pupils as individuals and they respected him. When he did have to tell any pupil off, teenagers sometimes need that, there was always a mischievous glint in his own eyes and empathy with them growing up.  Few teachers have such a major influence over the development of a school for so long. At the same time he was a member of every choir and always there with his trusted violin at all of our concerts. I was always delighted to hear that he had brought his love of music down here to Stoke Gabriel.

Derek devoted thirty-six years to our school and our pupils.  In all his years at BGS Derek’s was certainly a life well-lived and as that poem says, “ A life well lived is a legacy, Of joy and pride and pleasure, A living, lasting memory, Our grateful hearts will treasure. He gave of himself to 150 new young people every year and influenced where they are and who they are today. Towards 6000 young lives moulded for their life ahead. On behalf of them all, I say a heartfelt thanks for all that Derek gave and to Jan for standing beside him and letting him do so.

Eulogy by his friend Philip Davies. 

[Early years and education]

Derek was born in February 1944, at home in Paignton, to Dorothy & Alf Nott.  He was the middle child of three siblings. Pamela was his elder sister and Heather the younger. Heather is now the only remaining offspring of the Nott family.

Derek attended Oldway Primary school in Paignton and later moved to Torquay Boys Grammar School at the age of 11. After A levels he studied Physics & Maths at Exeter University gaining a BSc, after which he gained a PGCE and chose a career in teaching.

Derek’ first job was at Richard Taunton School, Southampton where he spent two years before moving to Bristol Grammar School. He remained there for the rest of his working life. His friend and colleague Paul Roberts will be giving a professional tribute in a moment.

Having discussed teaching and learning with Derek over the years I can only conclude that he was the sort of inspirational and effective teacher that most of us yearned for, but only occasionally encountered.


Derek met Jan Percy in 1970 just after Jan had moved to Bristol to train as a midwife. They met at a local Salvation Army corps. Jan’s friends will say that she missed the bus to the hospital one Sunday morning, phoned in sick, and spent the rest of the day ‘tarting’ herself up to go and spy out the local ‘talent’ at the Salvation Army that evening. (I’m quite sure this is a scurrilous untruth, but it is a good story).

Jan was welcomed to the corps and Derek remembered that Jan’s parents had stayed with his parents for a B&B holiday in Paignton a few years earlier. Derek introduced himself to Jan by saying “I think I’ve met your parents”, which surely ranks as fairly mid-table in chat-up lines. Jan’s reply was “I obviously made a big impression on you as I was there too!”  Jan did actually remember him from the holiday in Paignton, but also remembered he then had a girlfriend. What a Lothario the young Derek was!

Notwithstanding this faux pas Derek did take Jan home that evening. According to Jan’s friend Liz, Jan announced that evening that she was going to marry Derek. And so she did. They got engaged within 8 weeks and married 6 months later. And two years ago many of us celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary with them here in Stoke Gabriel.

Those of us who have known about Derek’s recent health experiences, and involvements with the National Health Service, can only be deeply grateful that he had Jan as a partner for the medical expertise she has and for the love and unstinting commitment she has given to him. On behalf of Derek, we thank you, Jan, for all your love and support you have given to him over the past fifty-two years. We also express our deep appreciation to the National Health Service for taking care of Derek in his times of need.


Derek was born into a Salvation Army family.  For those of raised in the Salvation Army early exposure to music was as natural as learning to read and write. Hence, Derek’s early encounters with music.

Derek learned to play a brass instrument, but he didn’t find playing 2nd baritone in the Salvation Army band terribly awe-inspiring. Consequently, he gave up the baritone for the violin. At this early age Derek liked to be different!

At his primary school in Paignton one of the teachers was offering to give violin lessons, to which Derek responded enthusiastically, and so began his life-long love of music, and the violin especially. Violin lessons at school were followed by lessons from Colin Sauer, a member of the renowned Dartington String Quartet.

At his last lesson with Colin, Derek was told that Colin had just been loaned a Stradivarius violin and that Derek could play it at his next lesson. Unfortunately, Derek was unwell and had to be hospitalised on the appointed day. Consequently, he never had that lesson on a Stradivarius violin – something I am sure Derek regretted very much.

Derek enjoyed playing the violin throughout his life, playing regularly in the Bristol Grammar School Orchestra and, since his retirement, in a number of amateur orchestras in Thornbury Gloucestershire, the Newton Abbot Orchestra and most recently the Dartmouth Orchestra. He has also led a string quartet which played in Derek and Jan’s lounge each week, intriguingly called The Stoke Scrapers! False modesty, I’m sure.

Derek was also an accomplished artist with a penchant for landscapes. He liked to paint the places he and Jan visited and enjoyed time working in his studio.


Another of Derek’s passions was cars! He developed this interest in cars in his early years and was always excited when friends of his parents who had a special car came to stay. He maintained this excitement in cars throughout his life and retained his childhood knowledge of makes and models. When he saw a particular specimen on the road he would know the year of its production and registration, its specification and, in some cases, who owned it. Jan, his loyal wife of fifty-two years, has somewhat sweetly called him a “total car nurd”!

Derek’s favourite car make has always been the Jaguar. A parent at Bristol Grammar School spotted a Jaguar poster on Derek’s office wall and asked him if he would be interested in taking on an inherited gold coloured S-Type Jaguar. Perhaps surprisingly, Derek hesitated initially, but eventually he gave in to temptation.

The car had been laid up in a shed for some years and needed a lot of restorative work. Renovation took almost three years, during which time Derek became impatient and purchased the first of a series of ‘everyday’ Jags. Hence, Derek became known as “two Jags Derek” – an accolade given to a well-known politician not named Derek!

Many years of enjoyment followed for Derek driving his gold S-Type Jag around the Devon countryside and, indeed, for several weddings in Stoke Gabriel and the surrounding villages. Derek was especially delighted to use this particular Jaguar for the weddings of members of the family such as nephews Phil & Dan, and Goddaughter Sharon.

[Travel & holidays]

Jan & Derek liked travelling.  Shortly after they married they started thinking about summer holidays. Much to Jan’s dismay Derek fancied buying a tent. His good lady wife was not that keen.  Undismayed, Derek came home from school one day and said that one of his colleagues was selling a small tent. The colleague and his wife had used it for a couple of years and were now buying a bigger tent, so Derek thought that he and Jan would buy it.

Off to France went Derek and Jan for the first time. Jan was still not convinced that this was how she saw holidays. The first night was in an overcrowded campsite near Versaille. They could not get the car near the tent and Derek had a migraine, so Jan had to put the tent up on her own. To add to the joys of camping the loos were all blocked and overflowing. 

You can imagine the comments from Jan! ‘If this is camping I’m going home’ is probably the polite version!  However, things got better, and by the end of two weeks in a site near Bordeaux and another in Provence, Jan was hooked! They bought a bigger tent and then in 1977, persuaded by friends who had taken to having holidays with them, they bought a caravan that the two couples shared. This was followed by a series of caravans, the last one remains on a campsite in France, hopefully with better sanitation arrangements.

Following Derek’s major vascular surgery in March this year, he was frustrated by not getting his driving licence returned. This was achieved with the help of Anthony Mangnall, the local MP, and in August they were able to drive to the caravan and enjoy three weeks visiting favourite haunts, buying favourite wines, and eating French cuisine. They had plans for next year but sadly that is not to be.

Derek and Jan have travelled towing a caravan through France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Austria, Czech Republic, Italy having wonderful holidays. After retirement they became more adventurous. Jan was persuaded she would fly, which opened up City Breaks in Europe.

Derek organised the first three European choir tours for the City of Bristol Choir, which meant going to the various places beforehand to check them out. Well, someone had to do it! These were fantastic experiences singing in beautiful churches both small and large, particularly singing Mass in the Duomo in Florence, whilst combining their love of singing and travel.

Further afield saw longer trips to Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies and later to New Zealand and Australia.


Singing and choral music has been a large part of Derek’s life. He and Jan sang in various choirs in the Bristol area, culminating in 20 years with City of Bristol Choir. Derek was chairman of the choir for 10 years, which was something he thoroughly enjoyed. Cards and letters sent following his passing kindly say Derek set the choir on the course to become a leading choir in the Bristol area.

One day Derek came home from school and said that Gary (a music teacher at Bristol Grammar School and also Director of Music at a Bristol City Centre church), had asked if he and Jan would like to come to Paris and sing a Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral! Jan’s response was “Is the Pope a Catholic? (which I think means ‘no-brainer’). They accepted this wonderful opportunity which was a remarkable and most memorable experience for both of them. 

Derek has always enjoyed church music and was delighted when he and Jan found that Stoke Gabriel had a good church choir, into which they were warmly welcomed. Derek became a church warden here at the Church of St Mary and St Gabriel and not only gave a great deal of time and effort to this community but also received much warmth and inspiration from it.

[Stoke Gabriel Carnival]

When Derek and Jan moved to Stoke Gabriel they discovered the Stoke Gabriel Carnival, something their solicitor had failed to mention. Derek was asked if he could convert the disability scooter of Jan’s father, Ken, into a Harley Davidson motor bike. Undaunted, Derek took up the challenge, which started a new career as a carnival float builder.

His ingenuity and skill knew no limits and included turning boxes and the scooter into: a motor bike, a box kite plane, the church with a separate tower, the Royal Coach, Noah’s Ark, and an ambulance. Then, without the scooter, he built a moon rocket and, this year, mobile thrones on wheelchairs to mark the King’s Coronation. Derek loved thinking about, designing and building these floats.

[Humour] One can see in this activity the combination of Derek’s intelligence, ingenuity and marvellous sense of humour. The latter is something I always enjoyed about Derek. The quick-thinking repartee, pun making, wise cracking at which Derek was so accomplished. Jan has shared with us many of the comments she has received from friends and family since Derek’s passing. These have mentioned his sense of humour, the twinkle in his eye, his pleasant grin. His routine of drawing pencils, coins, knitting needles and various objects from below seat cushions during FaceTime meetings were beautifully timed and were reminiscent of the very best Vaudeville artists.

He was a good sport and had cream cakes splashed in his face, his hair tied up and pretty slides put in, and would climb on children’s trikes and pretend they were a high-speed motor bikes.

He always dreaded the end of school year and what the exuberant 6th form Leavers would get up to. One year they surpassed themselves. Derek was late home from school saying “sorry I’m late, only they wrapped my car in cling film” They had completely wrapped the car which  took a considerable amount of time to be cut off. Derek did, of course, see the funny side of it.

[A Wonderful Human Being]

Other comments about Derek received by Jan since his passing have included: “a very kind and thoughtful man”, “very caring”, “a very good listener”, “a wise counsellor”, “a kind and gentle man”, “a man who lit up the room when he arrived, just sunshine”, “a man like no other, a joy to know”, “the colour in a monochrome world”, “a positive force in the chaos which is life today”. There is not a trace of hyperbole in any of these observations. They describe Derek beautifully and truthfully.

Jan has shared with us that a couple of days before he died, he was struggling with a pressurised oxygen mask that was a little uncomfortable. It started making a loud buzzing noise a bit like a high-pitched moped. This was very annoying for Derek, but one hand came out from under the bed clothes, grabbed an imaginary moped handle bar and as the sound increased he twisted the grip on his handlebar and revved up. His humour continued to the end.

Jan has offered these wonderful comments about Derek. “He took everything in his stride, rarely got cross, would not argue, and knew how to shut me up when I was cross. He was altogether a kind, loving man, my best friend and soul mate.”

And so say all of us. Goodbye Derek. We say farewell to your physical body, but your spirit and very being will remain with us for the rest of our lives. You are greatly loved by so many people.

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