Nick Shales appears in the final part of Free Fall in a memory from the protagonist Sammy Mountjoy. According to Sammy, Shales was ‘the best teacher I ever knew’ and he treated children as equals to adults. Shales was Sammy’s science teacher and he recalls his teaching methods with great fondness. Shales came from a poor background and had improved his social standing through hard work and determination. He is thus a source of inspiration to Sammy, who himself came from Rotten Row, a slum. The inherent goodness in Nick Shales is the thing that Sammy hopes to find for himself throughout the novel.
Golding based the character on his own father, Alec Golding, who was also a popular school teacher. Alec and Nick Shales both believed in rationalism and were driven by hunger, and love, for knowledge.