Copyright © 2005 the Brewery History Society
Dr Alan Albert Leach M.B.E., DSc., FRSC.
by Geoffrey Ballard
Probably, the name Alan Leach will not be readily recognized by a large number of the membership of our society but this remarkable man who, by sheer tenacity and determination, overcame the disadvantages and setbacks of his early life, was to make a major contribution to the brewing industry.
Alan was born in the East End of London in 1928. At the age of 11 he was evacuated to Devon to escape the bombing and there he developed a keen interest in nature. Upon leaving school at 14, with no more than a rudimentary education, he was employed in the laboratory of British Oil and Cake Mills. He was a keen cyclist but one day his wheel got stuck in a tramline, he was thrown and his leg was severely fractured, it took months of traction to repair and he took the opportunity to study for his matriculation. Achieving that gave him entry to Woolwich Polytechnic where he graduated with an honours degree in Chemistry. Still pursuing his quest for knowledge Alan took evening classes at the Sir John Cass College where he gained his MSc., and this was followed by his PhD, all this while he was in full time employment. In 1970 came the belated award of his DSc. by London University.
I first met Alan in 1963, there had been an intrusion into the field of isinglass finings, which we considered to be our bailiwick, by some members of the British Gelatine & Glue Research Association and I was deputed to investigate and instigate a research programme. Quite early on I visited the GGRA where I met Alan and several of the team and it soon became clear that he was much more disposed to be friendly and helpful than his colleagues, but within three years he was to move on to the Brewing Industry Research Foundation (BIRF).
I have memories of the Chairman of the STAC coming into our office on his way back from a meeting with BIRF, probably in 1966, telling us that they had prevailed upon the Foundation to take on an investigation of isinglass and finings. Each year that Committee submitted a list of projects they wished the Foundation to undertake, twice before, this project had met with an adamant refusal and I have often speculated whether this change of heart came about because Dr Alan Leach would be joining the staff at BIRF as Senior Scientist. Along with many other topics which were in his portfolio he was soon to be at work on isinglass finings, a field in which he had a massive head start since isinglass and gelatine are both collagen but from different branches of the animal kingdom. The results of his endeavours were several elegant papers which gave brewers and manufacturers a far greater understanding of the complexities of collagen and the mechanism of the fining process.
Thereafter we spent many hours together and I have felt privileged to benefit in so many ways from his help, kindness and immense fund of knowledge - and Courage. It so happened towards the end of Alan's work on finings a paragraph appeared in a review column of the Journal of the Institute of Brewing in which one aspect of his work was misrepresented. On pointing this out, he was able to make little headway and when we went down to ask for a correction to be printed, we were met by a refusal on the pretext that BIRF stood by what it published. Alan stood his ground which took some considerable courage in the aura of autocracy pervading the meeting and later a correction was published in the next edition of Journal of the Institute of Brewing.
In 1969 Alan moved to The Brewers' Society as Technical Secretary, you can't get much higher than that in the technical field - but Alan did. While continuing to advise brewers on some 250 separate subjects he was instrumental in setting up a Technical Committee with subgroups dealing with many aspects of commercial beer production. He also set up a Medical Advisory Group focusing on biomedical and psychosocial effects of alcohol consumption, culminating with him organizing the first International Medical Advisory Group Conference in London. He was much involved in producing The Brewster Report which led to the formation of the International Centre of Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University. He went to Australia to advise on the setting up of the Australia & New Zealand Section, now The Asia Pacific Section, of the Institute of Brewing. He was one of the first to be award a Fellowship of The Institute of Brewing and his achievements earned him the accolade of being made an MBE in recognition of his services to food safety.
Alan was a perfectionist in all he did and despite all the commitments of his work he found time to become a very proficient horseman in the discipline of dressage. He built up notable collections of antique clocks and Tonbridge Ware (usually wooden objects highly decorated with minute intricate mosaic inlay of other woods). One of the greatest of his pleasures, after the family to whom he was totally devoted, was the outstanding collection of exotic succulents which he nurtured with his son and exhibited with great success. Alan died peacefully in September and lies in the beautiful churchyard of St. Mary's, Leigh, close to where he lived. Most of those working directly in the industry will have some knowledge of Alan, most will be familiar with aspects of his scientific, technical or administrative contributions while many of the more fortunate may well have been touched by his kindness, help and encouragement, and let us not forget that Dr Alan Albert Leach was a truly international figure.
While much of his work may seem to be peripheral to the mainstream interests and concerns of our members, it did have a profound effect on the whole industry, not least on those young scientists he helped and encouraged at BIRF, who then joined brewery companies, some rising to board level and having done much to further the activities of the Brewery History Society. One such, wrote of 'his innate kindness in helping junior scientists by putting them under his formidable technical wing and assisting with their projects and, when the work was published his name, on his instructions, was always entered in a subordinate way although he usually drove the complete project.'
I am indebted to Dr David Long, Alan's colleague at The Brewers' Society for a quarter of a century and now his successor at the British Beer and Pub Association, for allowing me to use his address at the Service of Thanksgiving and his article for The Brewer International to fill in gaps in my own recollections.