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Alan Archer 1923 - 2009

Alan Archer, who died at the age of 86 on 31 May, 2009, possessed an enormous passion for life and action. After war service he graduated with First Class Honours in Geology from University College and joined the Geological Survey of Great Britain in August, 1950. For the next 15 years he worked largely on the geology of the South Wales coalfield and prepared the Special Memoir entitled “Gwendraeth Valley and adjoining areas”, which was published in 1968. During this period he also made an important contribution to a survey of the base metal deposits and mines of North Wales for a major symposium, the proceedings of which were published in 1959. He was promoted to Principal Geologist in 1958.

When the Ministry of Natural resources and Land Planning was formed in 1965 he was appointed to the Natural Resources Planning Unit and became Technical Secretary of the Sub-Committee on Minerals of the Natural Resources Advisory Committee. In this role he rapidly became acquainted with the ways in which geology impinges on policy problems, in particular those affecting future supplies of aggregates, notably sand and gravel. With the demise of the short lived Ministry Alan returned to the Survey, where he was appointed Head of the new Mineral Assessment Unit formed to undertake a survey of sand and gravel resources for purposes of land planning. He embarked on this task with characteristic energy and helped set up the high level interdepartmental Mineral Resources Consultative Committee (MRCC) of which he became Technical Secretary. Some of the technical papers prepared for the committee by the IGS were later published in the unique “Mineral Dossier” series dealing with the resources, production, trade and use of all the mineral commodities, except coal, produced in the United Kingdom. It was entirely appropriate that Alan should be appointed Head of the Mineral Resources Division in 1969 and subsequently promoted to Assistant Director in 1973.

Under the Rothschild arrangements for funding of Government science, Alan negotiated for most of the work of his Division to be funded by the Department of Industry. This and other contracts enabled his Division to take an increasingly important part in major policy matters, notably in planning, foreign policy, foreign aid and intelligence. Alan also played a prominent role in the Natural Resources Committee of UNESCO, and chaired two of its Working Groups one of which, established to bring clarity and standardization to mineral resources definitions, had profound repercussions following misunderstandings about such matters featuring in the report of the Club of Rome “Limits to Growth”. His interests became increasingly focused on the possible exploitation of deep ocean polymetallic nodules. In 1969 he was appointed a member of the UK delegation to the UN Sea Bed Committee and to the Third UN Law of the Sea Conference on the First Economic and Technical Committee of which he played a leading part until the Conference ended in 1982. He was also Chairman of a Technical Experts sub-group of the First Committee on Production Limitation. He spoke and wrote widely on metal resources in nodules, deploying with advantage the considerable reservoir of ability and expertise which he had built up in his Division, encompassing minerals assessment and commodity intelligence and statistics.

In 1977 Alan accepted the duty of Secretary to the annual meetings of the Directors of Western European Geological Surveys, achieving an almost legendary reputation for efficiency. In the same year, following reorganisation of the IGS, his Division was expanded to include the Geological Museum. In this new role he oversaw preparation of the major museum exhibit “Treasures of the Earth”, which received wide acclaim.

Alan, who retired from the Survey in 1983, was an assiduous and inspiring leader who communicated his enthusiasm to his staff while demanding from them a high standard of performance.. He was highly charismatic and had no difficulty in communicating at the highest levels, but in his relaxed moments he loved intelligent company and was very sociable and amusing. He was a keen supporter of the Aston Martin Owners’ Club, of which he was Chief Registrar from 1967 to 1988 and Chairman in 1989/90, and wrote extensively about the marque, publishing the popular book “The Aston Martin” in 1988. After retirement he enjoyed frequent holidays in France and made three long voyages with his wife as a passenger on container ships.

He is survived by his wife Jane, whom he married in 1949, and by two sons, Stephen and Jeffery.

David Slater