Obituary: Sir Peter Allen
Monday 01 February 1993
PETER ALLEN had a varied and distinguished career in the chemical industry and was Chairman of ICI in 1968-71.
Allen was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated in Natural Sciences. In 1928 he joined Brunner Mond - one of the constituent companies when ICI was formed in 1926 - as a chemist and throughout his career in ICI took a leading part in setting up so many things that make up the company today. Whether as chemist, Division Director, Division Chairman, Director or Chairman, the catalogue of his contributions is valuable and memorable.
Allen was part of the team that invented and developed polythene; he much influenced the early days of the development of Terylene, the polyester fibre; he saw the need for, and much encouraged the start of the company's manufactures in Europe and the United States.
Following the separation of Canadian Industries Ltd (CIL) from the Du Pont company, Allen moved for three years to Canada where he became President of CIL in 1959 and Chairman in 1962. He was also President of ICI of Canada in 1961-68. He became well known and well liked throughout the chemical industry in Canada and the US. On return to the UK he became Deputy Chairman of ICI in 1963 and, in 1968, its Chairman.
No doubt stimulated by his experience in the US and Canada, Allen committed himself to increasing productivity in the company which at that time employed about 105,000 people in the UK. Although sales per employee were increasing at 9 to 10 per cent a year, he saw the need to maintain and increase that figure in order to be fully competitive internationally.
He much enjoyed travel, and strongly believed in the need to meet people throughout the organisation at home and abroad. Few will ever equal his energy and enthusiasm for visiting places of work at home and overseas. He claimed to have travelled over a million miles and to have visited every workplace in ICI during his chairmanship of the company.
Allen's contribution to the chemical industry the historians will record, but it is the man that so many will remember with respect and affection: his rock-like stature, his warm and jovial manner, his openness to other people's views, his interest in everyone and all things and his decisiveness, his love of games, particularly golf. They will remember him as locomotive driver, photographer, writer and philatelist.
Allen wrote his first book, The Railways of the Isle of Wight, in 1928, at the age of 23. Between 1948 and 1967 he wrote eight further books on railways, with or without a co-editor. He studied and described railways in Europe and elsewhere and when on his travels was never more pleased than when he was able to travel on the footplate. In his garden at Battle, East Sussex, he installed an old Spanish shunting locomotive. Though it was no longer capable of steaming, he had been known, when showing visitors around his extensive garden, to gather up some dried grass, thrust it into the furnace, light it and stand back and admire the sight of smoke emerging, an expression of boyish delight on his face.
Allen also wrote books on golf, Famous Fairways (1968) and Play the Best Courses (1973). He was the first overseas member of the Augusta National Golf Club, in Atlanta, Georgia, and it was a great disappointment that for the last 20 years of his life he had to forgo his great pleasure in playing golf because he became dependent on crutches due to a failed hip-replacement operation. Before that he probably played on more golf courses around the world than any other amateur player.
At various stages during his career Allen was President of the British Plastics Federation, a Governor of the National College of Rubber Technology, a member of the National Economic Development Committee, of the Export Council, Chairman of the Committee for Exports to Canada, President of the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, and a Director of the Bank of Montreal.
After retirement Peter Allen contributed much of his energy and enthusiasm to the work of the British Transport Trust, which recognised his devotion to their work by giving his name to one of the buildings at the Railway Museum in York.
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