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Chair of FOCAL International Loses her Battle with Illness

12 September 2005

JANE MERCER - CHAIR, FOCAL International 2000-2005

It is with deep regret we must inform you that Jane Mercer, Chair of FOCAL International, passed away peacefully on Sunday 11th September. Her husband Mike together with their children Hannah and Tom were with her at the time, and our hearts go out to them at their sad loss.

Diagnosed with cancer in June 2004, Jane had endured prolonged courses of chemotherapy with apparent ease. Until July this year, when her condition deteriorated, she had carried on with a full schedule of FOCAL duties plus footage research training courses all over Europe. More importantly, she had been able to enjoy frequent trips to her beloved second home in France with her husband Mike by her side.

Jane had led a full and varied career in media as a broadcaster, editor and BFI Press Officer, but it was in May 2005 that Jane's valuable contribution to the footage industry as a footage researcher and Chair of FOCAL International was acknowledged, when Jerome Kuehl, in the presence of Lord Puttnam presented her with the FOCAL International Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Jane will be very sadly missed by all who knew her, in particular by members of the FOCAL Executive and Administration who will be forever grateful for the inspiration and the encouragement she imparted, and not least for her friendship.

Jane Mercer with her husband Mike after receiving the FOCAL International Award for Lifetime Achievement in May 2005.

Extract from the FOCAL International Awards 2005 brochure:

Lifetime Achievement Award 2005 - a biography of Jane Mercer

This Award is a gift of the FOCAL Executive to one of its Members who has performed long service in the archive industry and is recognized in a general sense to have contributed to the promotion, good practice or understanding of the content industry. We are delighted to bestow this honour on Jane Mercer, Chair FOCAL International.

Coming to the profession of film research in the late 1970s was, for Jane Mercer, like coming home. For a start, it combined the two strands of her career up to that point, literally 'film' and 'research' though not necessarily in that order.

After a brief period as a secretary with Associated Rediffusion she moved to the publishing house of Routledge & Kegan Paul where she edited a magazine textbook for 16 to 18 year-olds. She researched the related project work, found the pictures, sub-edited the text (a skill later to be very useful when she edited FOCAL's quarterly journal, now Archive Zones) and even packed up the parcels of magazines for despatch to schools and colleges.

From there Jane moved on to the Central Office of Information, researching and writing booklets about aspects of British education for distribution abroad. However the work proved too dry and remote from reality for her and the next stop was the Research Department of the British edition of The Reader's Digest where her skills as a researcher, especially the 'ferret instinct' were really honed.

After three years it was time to move on and this was where the second major strand of experience began. Passionate about movies from a very early age, she applied for the post of Press Officer for the British Film Institute in 1970 - and got the job. In those days the work covered every aspect of the Institute's press and public relations from the National Film Theatre and London Film Festival, through its publications, Production Board films and Regional Film Theatres to the work of the National Film and Television Archive.

During her time there Jane was able to develop a parallel career as a writer and broadcaster. Her (one and only) book, Great Lovers Of The Movies (from Valentino to Redford and McQueen) was published in 1975 and in the same year she became the newly launched radio station LBC's resident film critic and also had a regular weekly slot for a while on the BBC's French Service, live in French. Her experience with television - she was one of a team of three presenters on BBC2's Film Night programme for six months - was much less happy.

Motherhood cut across all this in 1977 and it brought her at last to the profession she has practised and loved for over a quarter of a century. A fellow inmate of Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital in West London was Christine Whittaker, the doyenne of the film research community. She it was who suggested that the combination of Jane's research skills and knowledge of film made film research an obvious job for her. Shortly after returning to the BBC Christine recommended Jane for a contract she had been offered on the first of Yorkshire Television's Arthur C. Clarke series.

It was a huge learning curve but she found it enormously stimulating and challenging and could fit my work round her domestic life which in the late 1970s was not easy. Work on programmes and series for Granada, London Weekend, Central, Scottish, Southern Television, TVS, Meridian, TV-am and (after nearly ten years) the BBC followed. Her happiest and most fulfilling time was working on the BBC series Fame In The Twentieth Century with a team of film researchers that included people of the calibre of Tony Dalton, Val Evans and Belinda Harris.

It was in the Nineties that Jane's professional life developed in two new directions. Asked to do a seminar for the Short Course Unit of the National Film and Television School in 1994, she discovered her ability to communicate her own enjoyment and experience of film research to others. Since then she has taught regularly on the subject for the NFTS, the BBC, ITN and, most recently, PACT (the Producers Alliance for Film and Television) and EDN (the European Documentary Network).

The same period saw her work with FOCAL really get into high gear starting with membership of the Executive Committee in 1991 and culminating in her years as the Chair of the organisation (2000-2005). Recently she said, "I believe deeply and passionately in what FOCAL is and does and I think that the world of footage libraries and archives, unlike much of the media industry, has a community of aims and ideas and a generosity of spirit which makes working for it not only a great responsibility but also a huge pleasure".

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Jane, you will be very sadly missed.

FOCAL Executive, Administration & Members