Thirty years ago, being late for one of Alan Alker’s lessons would have filled many a Morecambe High School pupil with dread.
But Mr Alker, who retires this summer after 36 years at the school, admits he’s mellowed since his younger days.
His booming voice and hard but fair approach used to reduce pupils’ knees to jelly in the classrooms and on the sports field.
But the man known affectionately as ‘Mr Alks’ is nowadays more of a kindly uncle figure around the school, who says he’s learned over the years how to coax the best out of students with a gentler approach.
There is a lot of affection at Morecambe Community High for the formidable former PE teacher. An entire page of the school magazine this month is filled with tributes from colleagues to a man many describe as a ‘living legend’.
One in particular, from current PE teacher Andy Armitstead, sums up his past reputation.
“Morecambe High School of the 1980s was a totally different place...ruled by three horsemen of the apocalypse, Worth, Wilson and Alker.
“Two of these went on to pastures new while the greatest of all, Mr Alker, stayed. He was a force of nature around the school...a man of power, a man who was not to be crossed and a man who generated respect.”
This is the Mr Alker I remember from my years as a Morecambe High pupil, when he ruled the roost with his colleagues in the PE department, Gordon Wilson and John Worth.
They turned the willing into winners. As for the unwilling? They were usually forced to do long cross country runs in just their shorts.
Mr Alker still keeps in touch with his fellow ‘horsemen’ and he smiles as he reminisces of the time he pulled out all the stops to beat Mr Wilson at a 400m race during a lunchtime challenge, then was violently sick in front of a watching crowd of 200 kids.
His favourite story, though, is when he took six lads to Ripley in the battered old school minibus to collect a high jump mat. As they were driving back the mat blew off the bus roof and landed across three lanes on Greyhound Bridge. Mr Alker sent the boys to collect it and then told them to sit on top of the bus while he drove, to hold the mat in place!
“By the time I got back to school the police were already waiting for me,” he laughed. “But I just got a ticking off. I’d be sacked these days!”
Chorley born, Mr Alker started at Morecambe High in 1978, beating 370 other applicants to the job of replacing another legendary school sports teacher, Jack Lamb.
Apart from one year out to teach in New Zealand, he’s been there ever since, rising to the post of assistant head.
He specialised in rugby, coaching school teams to great success, and playing himself for Vale of Lune A. And for the past 19 years he’s mainly taught geography, a fact he’s proud of because he never actually passed the GCE!
When school starts again in September, Mr Alker will be on his way from Lands End to John O’Groats on his trusty bicycle. He then intends to enjoy his retirement by travelling, including a trip back to New Zealand in November.
“It’s been a real privilege to work in the same place and the same town for such a long time,” he said. “I really really love Morecambe. The people and the community are what makes the school stand out.”
And then he pauses to reflect, thinking ahead to his upcoming final day at the school, and admits it’s making him feel emotional.
Proof that the mighty Mr Alker is a big softie at heart...although you’d still never say that to his face!