In 1969 when IRG was founded after the Annual Convention of the British Wood Preserving Association in Cambridge, England, I was fortunate enough to be present as a very Junior Scientist with the UK’s Forest Products Research Laboratory (FPRL) in Princes Risborough. By 1994, at the 25th Meeting of IRG in Bali, Indonesia I had been elected President and I remained a staunch supporter of IRG right through to my retirement in 2012. My last IRG Meeting as a delegate was in Tromso in 2006, although in 2016 I was delighted to have been able to accept the kind invitation of the Executive Committee to participate socially, with my wife Julie, at the meeting in Lisbon. Now, because of my long association with IRG, Alan (Preston) has asked me to contribute a short ‘Bio’ for the archives. So, even though most of you will certainly never have met me, and many will not have the faintest idea who I am (!), here goes!
I was born in 1941 and brought up in the Isle of Wight, a small Island just off the South coast of England opposite Portsmouth. For the first 15 years of my life I only travelled off the Island a few times for holidays with relatives ‘on the mainland’! My secondary schooling was at Sandown Grammar School where my biggest passions were representing the School at Soccer and Cricket, including being selected as an opening batsman for Hampshire Grammar Schools! Following ‘A’ level examinations I gained a Scholarship entry to the University of Southampton to study Natural Sciences and on completion of my degree in 1965 I was appointed to a position of ‘Scientific Officer’ in the Mycology Section at FPRL to work under the supervision of Officer in Charge John G Savory (of ‘soft rot’ fame!). (There are those who contend that actually the main reason I was selected for the post was because my surname rhymed with that of the Officer in Charge!).
John Savory was a very good friend of John Levy at Imperial College London (IC) and through that link it was proposed that I be registered to study for an ‘External’ PhD under the University’s new scheme for young Scientists employed in Research Institutes. My time with Imperial College coincided with Harry Greaves completing his post-grad studies in UK before departing via Germany and the USA for Australia, and also with John Butcher’s sabbatical year at IC from the then FRI, Rotorua, New Zealand; both of whom I still count as career-long friends to this day.
My early formative research years at FPRL were devoted to microscopic and electron microscopic studies of the micromorphology of wood decay, and to the use of a better fundamental understanding of these factors in developing new, improved and accelerated methods for testing the efficacy of preservatives and the natural durability of wood. I was very fortunate to be at the fore-front of the application of electron microscopy in this field. Towards the end of my PhD studies, John Savory decided that I should represent him at the German Society for Wood Research’s bi-Annual Conference in Munich in 1970, by presenting our joint-paper on new methods of testing against soft rot fungi. As a consequence of this Conference appearance, I subsequently was nominated by Professor Walter Liese, then Director of the State Institute for Wood Research (BfH) in Reinbek, Germany, for one of the German Society’s Post-Doctoral Research Fellowships to carry out electron microscopy studies on wood attacking fungi. In preparation for this assignment in Reinbek I was sent by FPRL on an intensive German language training course (one week a month for six months) at the end of which I astounded my German Colleagues (and myself!) at how fluent a non-linguist can become in such a short while! (Sadly that fluency has pretty much all gone now through lack of use, and because our German colleagues all speak such perfect English that the real NEED to speak German was rarely there - except as a tourist!). Learning German to this level and resurrecting some at least of my schoolboy French, gave me a real understanding, and appreciation, of how fortunate native English- speakers are that in our Wood Protection field, the vast majority of our non-native English speaker Colleagues all speak such good English – and how much we native English speakers take that for granted, and at times perhaps fail to make sufficient allowance for linguistic issues!
Following from my time in Germany in 1972, I was gradually introduced by FPRL to the British Standards Committee negotiating structure, eventually becoming Chairman of the lead Committee. I was also introduced as a UK Delegate to the European Standardisation Committee (CEN) and eventually became Leader of the UK Delegation to CEN Technical Committee 38 on Wood Preservation. Through CEN, and later through involvement with IRG, I have made many friends around the world and especially in the 26 or so Member States of the EU. I have to admit that I have been deeply saddened by my Country’s exit from the European Union; whatever the eventual political and economic outcomes might be, I know we shall be the poorer socially and culturally for leaving.
It was through my time at BfH, and subsequently through IRG and CEN that I became good friends with Professor Hubert Willeitner and in 1989, when we all so tragically lost the talents and humour of up-coming IRG Vice-President Jeff La Fage, Hubert and the then Executive Committee of IRG proposed me as the next Vice-President of IRG. This I was honoured and able to accept thanks to financial support from FPRL (by now part of BRE, the Building Research Establishment) and from UK Industry. I look back with considerable pride and affection on my introduction to the Leadership of IRG in 1990, not least for coining the acronym ‘PCP’ (the President’s Consultation Panel) in deference to the demise of pentachlorophenol which began about this time! My time in the IRG Management Team with Hubert, Gerald Ozanne as Finance Chairman and Joran as Secretary General was particularly enjoyable and stimulating, as we set about trying to put in place clear operating structures and procedures to take IRG forward to the end of the millennium.
The late 1970s was a time of considerable political and economic change for Research Institutes in the UK and indeed similar pressures came to bear elsewhere around the world. These changes led to a much stronger focus on income-generation through fee-paid advice and contract work and my role became increasingly one of Research Management and Technical Consultancy, primarily for Government still but also with and for Industry. It was at this time that I was invited to succeed Michael Baker (also a former President of IRG) on the Victory Advisory Technical Committee (VATC) which advised the UK Government’s Ministry of Defence on the conservation and restoration of their iconic 18th Century wooden warship ‘HMS Victory’ – and I served on the VATC for 32 years until my retirement in 2012.
As part of the political changes impacting at FPRL, the Sections for Mycology and Entomology were merged to become the ‘Biodeterioration Section’ and a new purpose-built Laboratory was constructed, the design requirements for which had been entrusted to me. In 1977 after returning from a short secondment to work on Government Science Policy with the Central Unit on Environmental Pollution in Whitehall, I was appointed Head of Biodeterioration to succeed John Savory.
As a consequence of the bigger political changes, FPRL was merged with two other UK Government Institutes working partially or mainly in the Building and Construction fields to become the Princes Risborough Laboratory of the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and by 1984 the decision had been taken to close the Princes Risborough site and consolidate the organisation at the ‘Parent’ Campus in North Watford; the move to new, purpose built and adapted facilities there at BRE was completed in 1987. Having led the design project for a new ‘Biodeterioration’ Building at PRL in the late 1970s, our new Director remarked that I might be the only person in the world to have designed a purpose built Laboratory for Biodeterioration research but if I wasn’t, I must surely be the only person ever to have done it twice!
During the 1990s I was heavily involved in developing BRE participation in co-operative research projects on wood and wood products funded under the EU Research Framework Programme and as part of this I served on a number of EU Management Committees and as an Evaluator selecting projects for funding. I was for many years Chairman of the Co-ordination Committee on Wood Protection under the EU’s COST Programme and also helped set up and later led the Network EUROWOOD association of Wood and Forestry Research Institutes in the various Member States of the EU.
In 1997 BRE was finally put up for sale by the UK Government and against competition from 15 original bidders, was acquired by a Trust established through a Management Company Buyout in which I participated. Wood protection research continued within the newly created Centre for Timber Technology and Construction of which I became Director. So the final 10 years of my career involved a heavy commitment to re-structuring and re-focusing our research-based expertise to be an independent Consultancy, market and service orientated, whilst maintaining as much as possible of the world class scientific expertise for which we and our forebears over the previous 80 years had become internationally recognised.
Immediately after Graduation in 1965 I married my ‘School-boy sweetheart’ Julie, who kept me for 6 weeks on her salary as a Quality Control Microbiologist in the Pharmaceutical industry before we moved to Princes Risborough for me to take up my post at the UK Government’s Forest Products Research Laboratory; we celebrate our 55th Wedding Anniversary in July 2020! We still live barely 1.5 km from the site of the former FPRL, now the location of the famous Ercol Furniture factory.
We are keen though not particularly expert gardeners having had to create gardens from new twice in our lives together. We also share a special interest in the natural world and enjoy walking locally in the Chiltern Hills, as well as in the English Lake District Fells and the Welsh Mountains. Amongst our more adventurous walking/trekking experiences have been The English Coast-to-Coast Path, The Thames Path, The Ridgeway, The South Downs Way, Hadrian’s Wall and two overseas Expeditions (shared with David and Pat Dickinson) to Annapurna Base Camp in the Himalayas and to Mount Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
We have three sons who between them have presented us with seven Grandchildren. Our eldest son Andrew, works in the IT industry as a Software Architecture consultant, advising organisations on moving their sales and customer service systems to the Cloud. Second son Martin is in the Royal Navy having been a Pilot in the Fleet Air Arm for much of his career and Patrick works in London where he leads a global team at an international insurance company responsible for insuring major public infrastructure projects. They and their children have ‘inherited’ our love of the outdoors and are experienced fell/mountain walkers themselves.
We enjoy travelling, stimulated in part by my good fortune in experiencing world-wide travel through participation in IRG, which Julie too has enjoyed once the family were old enough to be left or ‘parked’! We have been fortunate enough to have travelled widely throughout the world including Peru, the Antarctic, and the Galapagos Islands though in more recent years we have settled for more sedate holidays in the Caribbean, Mauritius and the Maldives!
In my time I spent 16 years in local Village politics as a Parish Councillor and for 12 years was a Venture Scout Leader and Assistant Commissioner for Venture Scouts, specialising personally in leading Mountain Craft and Rock Climbing. I gave up Soccer and Cricket in my 40’s as the body began to rebel (!) but I still play golf, which I enjoy for both the fun and challenge the game presents. Julie and I both cycle a little though not as far as we once did!
IRG has been a huge part of my professional life and career and I will always value the personal relationships I established through it both nationally and especially internationally. IRG faces a very difficult time just now but this is not new. IRG has always had to be flexible and adapt to world changes around it. I have no doubt it will continue to be successful in providing the platform for the industry and research communities it serves and the scientists, technologists and business managers who are its life-blood. I wish all of you in IRG every success in your continuing endeavours and hope that you can all continue to benefit from the opportunity for co-operation and friendship which IRG provides.
This bio was written for the July 2020 IRG Newsletter.