Classicist and crossword compiler.

Born: October 11, 1939; Died: March 14, 2020.

JOHN McKie was a long-serving and inspirational teacher of Latin and Greek at Hutchesons’ Grammar School, and, as Myops, compiler of crosswords for The Herald; the originator of the Wee Stinker, he wrote what was described as “the most fiendishly difficult crossword in a British newspaper”.

He spent almost all of his working life as head of the classics department at “Hutchie”; at the time of his retirement, Radio 4 made a programme in which he described his approach to teaching, and provided snippets of him engaging with pupils, which he described as a joy. “I try to answer the questions they ask, rather than tell them what I think they ought to know,” he said.

His focus was entirely on the classroom, where his Socratic approach could inspire admiration and devotion. “He woke me up to the values of Latin and Greek, and to an extent life,” one of his Sixth Form pupils told the interviewer. “He believed he could make [his students] want to be better people; he’s just one of the most interesting, and I would say good, people I’ve ever met.”

Though an advocate of Classics as an unrivalled training for clarity of thought, understanding of culture and as a civilising influence, he relished above all the structure of the languages and their capacity for beauty.

The same rigour and playful delight was evident in his crosswords. His pseudonym, Myops, the Greek for “gadfly” (as well as a play on his short-sight), was how Socrates had described himself; it indicated that his puzzles, even as they gnawed away at the solvers, would stretch them and perhaps let them learn something. Though essentially in the Ximenean tradition, Myops’ clues — often startlingly original — worked on the basis that the only rule was to play fair with the reader: McKie was particularly insistent on the integrity of their grammatical form.

A further level of ingenuity was evident in the Wee Stinker, masterpieces of compression that used the smaller grid and very concise clues usually associated with definition puzzles rather than cryptics, and which acquired a cult status with devotees.

John Stewart McKie was born on October 11, 1939 at Innellan, where his mother Mary, always known as Maisie, had been evacuated with his older brother Roy and sister Isobel. He was the third of five children; his father James Stewart McKie was a flooring contractor and put carpets in the Queen Mary.

After the war, the family returned to Glasgow, settling in Knightswood. John attended Garscadden Primary, where his ability was identified by the headmaster, who suggested to his mother that he would benefit from an academic environment, advising he be sent to Hutchesons’. The Boys’ school was then in Crown Street in the Gorbals, and he travelled across the city; unusually, he was immediately placed in the top set, and then awarded a bursary as a Foundationer, which covered the fees and cost of his books.

Isobel had a hip condition, and was sent to dancing lessons to aid her mobility; she insisted her younger brothers, John and Stewart, were also made to attend. They became accomplished dancers, and picked up chorus work. John, whose profound Christian faith was central to his life, attended Knightswood Congregational Church and met his wife Lorna at its Sunday School. Through the school, he also took up rowing.

He went early — too early, he later felt — to University, where he initially studied English and mathematics. He found it hard to settle on a subject, however, taking philosophy and Anglo-Saxon before fixing on Classics, in which he eventually took his Honours degree. To subsidise his studies, he had various jobs, including working on a delivery van for the brewers Whitbread, taking the night shift in a garage, fuelling and sweeping buses, and regularly working as a guide for Caledonian Tours, taking visitors round Scotland on a coach.

He worked as a supply teacher at various schools, including stints at Larkhall Academy and Mount Vernon, before a chance encounter with Bob Eadie, who had taught him Greek, led to a job at his old school. He took over as department head not long afterwards, where he remained until retiring (earlier than he would have liked) in 2005; his wife also taught at the school, in the infants’ department and latterly as Deputy Rector; all five of his own children (and several grandchildren) went there, and his daughter Jane is a current member of staff.

For many years, he was an elder at St George’s Tron. In the 1970s he bought and restored a former Congregational church hall (initially devoid of water or power) in Corrie, on Arran, where the family spent their summer holidays, and he made inept attempts to learn to sail. He also conducted services at the Congregational church at Sannox, which he helped to preserve.

McKie, as Myops, started producing crosswords for The Herald in 1979, and for more than 40 years was responsible for the Saturday prize puzzle; he also initiated and composed the jumbo crosswords which appeared for Christmas and the New Year.

In 1988 the then editor, Arnold Kemp, proposed swapping the difficulty of the Monday crosswords (traditionally the easiest cryptic of the week), and making the small grid a “Wee Stinker”. He continued to compose the puzzles until the last week of his illness. Myops also contributed elsewhere, and was a regular setter of The Daily Telegraph’s “Toughie” for several years.

With his pipe, mildly eccentric dress sense and vintage Rover, he fitted many people’s idea of the archetypal schoolmaster and after retirement found further opportunities to teach, first at a school in Falkirk, and then taking on a Greek class, largely made up of older learners, for Strathclyde University, often conducted round the dining room table of his book-cluttered house in Dumbreck.

He is survived by his wife Lorna and their five children.