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Jack Amos, activist and film-maker, dies aged 63

4 February 2010

Jack Amos, one of the longest-serving members of BECTU's National Executive Committee and a lifelong trade unionist, has died peacefully at home on 30 January aged 63, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer less than three months earlier.

Through his varied career he belonged at one time or another to all the major unions that once existed in the film and broadcasting industry, and served on the ruling bodies of almost all. He joined the founding Executive Committee of BECTU in 1991, remained an elected member continuously until his death, except for a short break between 2004-06, and served as the union's Vice-President from 2000 to 2002.

Industry career began at age 16

His working life, and association with the unions that eventually formed BECTU, started in 1961 when, aged 16, he began training as a cinema projectionist in his home town Croydon, and joined NATTKE. Within a few years he had moved closer to the actual production of films by taking a projectionist's job at the BBC, where he spent several years at Lime Grove Studios, then a bustling hub of programme-making.

De Lane Lea Studios

By 1974 his growing expertise had taken him to De Lane Lea Studios, a provider of sound services to the film industry, where he rapidly became ACTT shop steward, and led his branch through a dispute over the company's closure that ended in a workers' occupation of the building, and a victory for the union.
Having come to the attention of the industry's unions, it was not long before Jack was offered a post as a paid official by NATTKE, working out of their Kennington office.
However, Jack's meticulous professionalism and deeply-held political principles were not in tune with the union's head office, and at the beginning of the 80s he was back in the film industry working as an archivist for Pathé, first in Soho, then at Elstree.

Talented archivist

He blossomed in this role, with an instinctive grasp of history, and a love for the unique snippets of celluloid that had captured the nation's cultural and political past. In many cases only Jack knew where to find them among the dusty canisters of the UK's film libraries, often surprising film librarians by requesting material that they had either forgotten, or never known, that they owned.
With a growing reputation in the industry, where his expertise was acknowleged even by anti-union employers, he was head-hunted by Movietone to join the management of their film library.

The activist and the monarchy

By the mid 80s he was confident enough to abandon full-time employment, and launched himself as a freelance film researcher. His specialism was material relating to the British Royal Family, going back to the late 19th century, and his credits appeared on many of the seminal TV documentaries covering the subject through the 80s and 90s

Union colleagues often teased him about the contradiction between his daily work, and his long membership of the Communist Party, although he never saw any conflict between the two. Internationalism being in his blood, he remained a loyal member of the CP until it dissolved itself in 1991.

Red Flag Productions

Towards the end of his working life he achieved the goal that had driven him since he started by becoming a documentary film-maker - a transition from projection box to producer, of which he was deeply proud. He made several labour movement videos as a founder member of Red Flag Productions, culminating in a documentary commissioned by the T&G to document the union's history before merging with Amicus to become Unite.

Throughout his life Jack was committed to the trade union movement, prompted in part by his early childhood in Bermuda, where he witnessed racial segregation and railed against its injustice.  He secretly listened to the local black radio stations on his crystal set, beginning a lifelong love of blues music and the artists who play it.
One of his first political acts, as a teenager,  was to join a Trafalgar Square protest over the assassination in 1961 of Patrice Lumumba, independent Congo's first prime minister, eliminated in a coup thought to have been devised by the Belgian and US governments.
He went on to participate in every union he joined, and, as well as the De Lane Lea dispute, took particular pride in the successful amalgamation in 1991 of ACTT and BETA, the two founding unions of BECTU. The path to amalgamation was by no means smooth in Jack's union, ACTT, where he had become an influential member of its General Council, but his political discipline, and his grasp of the industrial realities of the post-Thatcher industry, played a pivotal role in the merger.
His broader view of the labour movement led him to spend many years as an active member of SERTUC, the South-East Regional TUC, where his commitment to collective action and solidarity among workers marked him out, and he was a regular delegate and speaker at the annual TUC Congress.

Deep respect for lay officials

Jack passionately believed in the role and importance of union lay members, and had a deep respect for the committees and sub-committees that they serve on. He also had a knack for enthusing new, young, workers with trade unionism, and there is a long list of activists in BECTU who were first moved to join in by Jack's dedication, persuasion, and iconoclastic sense of humour.
Jack's persuasive powers were at their best on licenced premises, where he was amiable and enjoyable company for his wide range of union colleagues, and even his occasional moans about life were laced with friendly and generous wit.

Love for architecture and animals

Somehow, despite living and breathing union life, and pursuing a respected career, Jack found time to enjoy his affection for architecture and animals. He spent many years working as a part-time voluntary assistant at London Zoo, eventually conducting public tours of its architecturally-significant features, and was also involved in 2 Willow Road, Hampstead. He loved this National Trust property - an important modernist house designed and built by Erno Goldfinger, the Hungarian communist architect. Jack spent five years as a guide where his enthusiasm for the house and respect for Erno and wife Ursulla, made his tours memorable.

His death has been met with shock and sadness by hundreds of  friends and colleagues, and BECTU has lost a dedicated, loyal, and unforgettable stalwart. He will be remembered as a first-class trade unionist, a man who knew when to be serious, and when to entertain, and someone who stuck doggedly to his principles.
Jack is survived by partner Joy Johnson and son Joe.

The funeral will be at 10.00 on Tuesday 16 February 2010 at Golders Green Crematorium, followed by a memorial reception at the Holly Bush, 22 Holly Mount, Hampstead, NW3 6SG.

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