Albert Falco: Diver who worked with Jacques Cousteau


The underwater films of the late Jacques Cousteau enchanted and entranced several generations of cinema-goers and TV viewers throughout the 1950s, '60s and '70s and played an important part in raising environmental awareness. The diver, Albert Falco, was Cousteau's right-hand man for 37 years and helped make the Oscar-winning documentaries The Silent World in 1956 and World Without Sun in 1964, as well as the celebrated television series The Undersea World Of Jacques Cousteau.

Known as Bébert to his colleagues, the stocky Falco always wore a marinière, the traditional white and blue sailor's shirt, and cut a distinctive figure alongside Cousteau as they circumvented the globe a dozen times. He started out as a deckhand but eventually captained the Calypso, the former Royal Navy minesweeper converted into a research vessel by the explorer and film-maker. "Cousteau wanted people to understand the ocean so they would learn to love and protect its diversity," Falco said.

Born in 1927, he was a fearless child, happy to follow his parents and dive into the turquoise waters of the Calanque de Sormiou, one of the picturesque coastal inlets between Marseilles and Cassis. His father had served in the French Navy and taught him to fish with a spear-gun. Later, he met the inventor Georges Beuchat, another keen diver who designed underwater equipment and sold wetsuits and swimfins at his store on the Vieux Port. "He lent me his goggles and opened the blue door of the deep," recalled Falco, who joined the Groupement De Pêche Et D'Etudes Sous-marines, the local diving and underwater survey team established in Marseilles in 1941.

He became an experienced scuba diver with a great amount of local knowledge. In 1950, he tried out the Aqua-Lung autonomous diving suit pioneered by Emile Gagnan and Cousteau, who he met two years later: "Cousteau and his friends were accepting volunteers, weekend divers, to help explore a very ancient shipwreck off the coast of Marseilles. I joined the team. The dream became a reality."

The Grand-Congloué wreck turned out to be a baffling combination of two superimposed ships – one 2nd century BC, the other 1st century BC. The rudimentary techniques the divers used to bring amphorae to the surface meant that a third fell apart, but closer analysis revealed that they came from as far away as Greece and what is now Tuscany. The cargo is on display at the Museum of the Roman Docks at Marseilles.

Falco took to his ever-changing roles with gusto. In 1954, he participated in a lengthy expedition to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean which provided much of the footage for The Silent World. In 1959, he was the first to pilot a circular "diving saucer" designed by Cousteau and Jean Mollard which could reach a depth of 350 metres. Twice he spent a week living in an underwater house, Diogene in the Mediterranean, then Conshelf 2 in the Red Sea, as documented in World Without Sun in 1964. "If I was going to die, it might as well be for the benefit of science," he said.

He had several narrow escapes, usually involving sharks – "my best friends". Most famously, during one excursion the surface team sent down a half-filled airtank for him and Claude Wesly. They made it back to the relative safety of Conshelf 2, but it was a close call.

Cousteau's early documentaries featured interaction between the crew and underwater creatures, sometimes with disastrous consequences for the animals, and occasionally make for uncomfortable viewing four or five decades on. However, Cousteau, Falco and the team adopted a more benign outlook and helped change attitudes towards the ocean and marine life. "The sea needs to be protected," Falco said. "The real danger is man, we're the sharks."

In 1977 Cousteau and Falco surveyed the effects of pollution in the Mediterranean and demonstrated the impact of detergents and untreated sewage. Falco subsequently accompanied Gaston Defferre, the Marseilles mayor, on a dive which led to the installation of a much-neaded treatment plant.

Falco retired in 1990 but still made environmental and educational films. He also campaigned for the creation of marine reserves in Martinique and in Provence. A few days before his death, he learned that a decree creating the Parc National des Calanques, a protected land and maritime zone covering more than 50,000 hectares near Marseilles, had passed into French law.

He was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur and had recently published his life story. Falco only had one regret: that the Calypso, which sank in 1996 after being rammed by a barge in the port of Singapore, and was then raised and brought back to France, still languishes in a Concarneau shipyard. The theme music from The Undersea World Of Jacques Cousteau was played at Falco's funeral while the flag of the Calypso was draped around his coffin. "In order to be happy, one must have a passion in life," he once said. "Mine was the sea, from a vary young age."

Pierre Perrone

Albert Falco, diver and environmental campaigner: born Marseilles 17 October 1927; married (one daughter); died Marseilles 21 April 2012.

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album