John Nielsen Ratcliffe FCIS HonFIMMM (Obit)

Fellows' Lounge
6 Dec 2011

John Ratcliffe FCIS HonFIMMM was born in 1920 and died on 18 October. He was Secretary-General of The Plastics and Rubber Institute from 1956-1985 and played a key role in the post-war development of Britain’s plastics and rubber industries.

The Institute of the Plastics Industry

The original Institute of the Plastics Industry (later to incorporate rubber and become part of IOM3) had been formed in London in 1933. Its main objective then was to promote the advancement and methods of education in plastics, high polymers and related subjects; to promote the art, science and technology of the subject; and to share information on a worldwide basis.

Up to the Second World War, only limited progress had been made. John served in the war as Captain, Acting Major in the Welsh Regiment and joined the Institute of Electrical Engineers afterwards.

The war gave rise to important advances in new polymer and processing techniques.


The role of the Plastics Institute (PI) after the Second World War

Post-war, a host of new products were in great demand – almost anything that could be made could be sold. Quality standards were virtually non-existent in a sellers’ market and the industry had a poor reputation. Deep concern was expressed by leaders of the industry and it was resolved to tackle the problems through the offices of the newly named Plastics Institute (PI) and the British Plastics Federation. This was the scenario when John took office in 1956.


Development of the PI

The PI was based in London. John’s early achievement was to develop regional sections to handle affairs on a local basis. Under local leadership, major changes were made to business and social affairs. Such was the success that 17 such units in leading UK cities were established and the concept was extended internationally.

Equally important were John’s activities to meet the needs of key user industries. Technical groups were established to carry out detailed work on standards and technical issues, and a formidable corps of experts was assembled to cover subjects ranging from packaging to design and manufacture.

Another major achievement was increasing membership from 3,000 to 11,000 in 77 countries – the largest body of its kind in the world at that time. With its Education Committee, the Institute supported a network of colleges and universities geared to give tuition to meet Fellowship, Graduate, Licentiate and Diploma standards, and the Classification Committee assessed the standards of those applying for professional grades of membership.

John's commitment to IOM3

Much of John’s work went into organising awards (including the Prince Philip Award for polymers in the service of mankind, now an IOM3 award) for outstanding achievements in the industry; professional, technically sound publications and regular journals for members; and the organisation of around 20 conferences a year. In his latter days, he was a key figure in the founding and administration of the Plastics Historical Society, which is affiliated with IOM3.

John’s legacy is the work carried out today by IOM3 on behalf of the plastics and rubber industries. The high standard he set was matched by a personal charm that made him many friends around the world. He will be greatly missed.

John’s mother was Danish, hence the Nielsen. He was a Wandsman to the Royal Maundy and a Church Warden of Christ Church Radlett. A true family man, he was greatly supported by his wife Pat who redeceased him. He leaves a son David and daughter Merilyn, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.