Michael Sugden obituary

·2-min read

My friend Michael Sugden, who has died aged 63 of a pulmonary embolism, was a keen advocate of learning foreign languages: they were vital to an understanding of other cultures – and fun. He devoted the whole of his working life to teaching French and German at various independent schools, inspiring many to continue to study modern languages.

Born in Oakville, Ontario, to Peter, a teacher of French at Appleby college in the town, and his wife, Judy (nee Fenton), Michael also had a grandfather who had been a language teacher, at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Devon. When Michael was two, the family moved back to England, where his father bought Great Ballard preparatory school in Eartham, West Sussex. His parents divorced when he was seven and Godolphin girls’ school in Salisbury became home for him and his siblings when his mother was appointed a house mistress there.

His love of languages came to the fore as a pupil at King’s college, Taunton, where Ben Sykes, the charismatic head of modern languages, spotted Michael’s talent for French, and urged him to apply to Cambridge. Before going to Christ’s College in 1977 to study modern and medieval languages, Michael did a short-service commission with the army, serving with the Light Infantry to Hong Kong.

After completing his PGCE at UCL Institute of Education in London, he took his first teaching post at Sherborne school, Dorset, in 1982. He established himself as a tough but fair taskmaster, taking his teaching skills to Australia on a one-year exchange at Scotch college, Melbourne.

Leaving Sherborne in 1991, he worked for many years at Felsted school, Essex, then from 2014 taught at Westminster school. He retired in 2018 and, among other pastimes – including walking long-distance paths and cooking (he was keen to master the art of making tarte tatin) – he embarked on an Italian language course.

Michael will be remembered for his roguish sense of humour. One intriguing word the French have for mischievous is espiègle. He would have relished the word’s derivation: the name of a jester in medieval German folklore.

He is survived by his daughter, Poppy, from his marriage to Gill (nee Brown), which ended in divorce, and by his sister, Joanna, his brothers, Jonathan and Mark, and a half-brother, Edward.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting