Tributes to Frank Blackmore
by Edmund Waddell and others...
Today I have the sad
duty to report the death of Mr. Frank Blackmore, in London,
Thursday June 5, 2008. Mr. Blackmore was 92.
Frank was born in
Algeria in 1916, to a British father and Swiss/French mother. He
received his engineering diploma from the School of Engineering
at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland (École Polytechnique
Fédérale de Lausanne - EPFL) in 1937, and worked at the Borough
Engineer's Department in Colchester, England until September
Mr. Blackmore joined
the Royal Air Force in 1939, served as a pilot during World War
II, and received the Air Force Cross in 1944. He retired as Wing
Commander in 1959 and was awarded the Order of the British
Empire in 1977.
With the Transport
and Road Research Laboratory (now TRL) from 1960-1981, Mr.
Blackmore headed a research effort to improve the efficiency and
safety of intersections, leading in particular to the
development of small roundabouts, mini roundabouts, and multiple
roundabouts. The effort included investigation of junction
problems, design of roundabouts and systems of roundabouts,
experimental designs on test track and public roads, and
lecturing in the UK and many other countries. Blackmore's
ground-breaking innovations at TRL were instrumental in the
technological development of modern roundabouts, and in
introducing modern roundabouts in the United Kingdom, France,
Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, Thailand, Iraq, Jordan, Norway,
and the United States. His work inspired a generation of
roundabout aficionados around the world. In the years since,
Frank's pioneering efforts in roundabouts have prevented
countless thousands of deaths and injuries worldwide - and will
continue to do so for decades to come.
Of men like Frank,
it was once said: "The gratitude of every home in our
Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except
in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who,
undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and
mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their
prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human
conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go
out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with
our own eyes day after day." (Winston Churchill during the
Battle of Britain, August, 1940.) Frank Blackmore was among the
rarest of the few, who - first in war, and then again in peace -
twice earned the gratitude of all humanity.
Ed Waddell USA
I worked with Frank from 1970 when I joined TRL
until I moved on to Berkshire County Council in January 1975. I
kept in touch for some years and he encouraged me with many
schemes that I introduced in the area during that period until I
moved to North Yorkshire in 1988. I next and last saw Frank at
his 80th birthday party at Finchampstead in 1996. I was just on
the verge of publishing Mini-roundabouts - Getting them
right! at that time. I had come very close to
leaving Engineering in 1993 after being made redundant twice but
I felt ultimately that I had a lot of knowledge that Frank had
taught me and that I had subsequently learnt on the ground. I
felt I could not let that go and am pleased that I pressed on.
However, it is not easy when the powers that be
seem determined to publish things that are not correct and I
know that Frank had his share of upsets with the "men and
women from the ministry"!
Frank is acknowledged in my work and was upheld
as one of the great pioneers of roundabout work at the Kansas
conference (May 2008). I hope that the tributes pour in and it will be
lovely to hear from others who were with him at TRL. I have the
fondest memories of a really good period in my early working
years with Frank and I am only sorry that I did not make much contact since 1996.
Clive Sawers UK
Je ne vous connais pas mais Frank m'a tellement parlé de
vous lors de ses nombreux voyages à Nantes qu'il me semble
être un peu de votre famille. C'est pourquoi, lorsque Bernard
Guichet m'a appris la nouvelle, hier soir, ma tristesse a été
grande et elle l'est toujours. Frank était un grand ami et il
m'a tant appris. Je lui suis si redevable. Il n'y a pas un jour
où je n'applique pas à mon tour les principes qu'il m'a
A Saint-Herblain d'abord, puis à Nantes et dans toute
l'agglomération nantaise, son influence est visible et j'ai
essayé d'amplifier son oeuvre du mieux que j'ai pu. Je peux
dire qu'en partie, je vis de ce qu'il m'a appris, même si ses
enseignements de bon sens sont souvent si mal reçus. On dit
souvent que Nantes est devenue "champion du monde des ronds-points"!
C'est grâce à lui. Par la suite, les ronds points inspirés
par Frank ont rencontrés les tramways et les équipes nantaises
ont eu l'occasion de concevoir de nouvelles innovations uniques
au monde. C'est encore grâce à lui. Jean-Marc Ayrault,
d''abord maire de Saint-Herblain puis de Nantes et aujourd'hui
Président de Nantes-Métropole l'appréciait beaucoup et c'est
très souvent que nous parlons ensemble de lui quand nous nous
rencontrons. Vous me permettrez de lui faire part du décès de
Frank. En fait Frank plane toujours au-dessus de nos têtes,
avec quelque chose d'éternel! Je l'entend encore nous dire - et
je relate moi-même souvent ses expressions - : " tu
ralentis les voitures à 15- 20 km/h à l'heure et tu leur fait
faire ce que tu veux!" ou "ce ne sont pas des ronds-points,
ce sont des "arrangements" (avec l'accent anglais)"
ou " tu évases les entrées, mais au dernier moment"
ou "n'oublie d'aller voir la nuit, les techniciens le font
si rarement", etc. Il était venu souvent chez nous à
Nantes lors de ses missions et il était de la famille. Mon
épouse Marie-Laure l'appréciait beaucoup aussi. Ces derniers
temps, après un long moment de séparation, je cherchais
justement à le recontacter pour qu'il revienne nous parler de
sa passion et curieusement mon assistante n'arrivait pas à
retrouver sa trace...
Anna, je vous prie d'accepter toutes mes condoléances. Je
prie et prierai pour le repos de l' âme de Frank, en me
rappelant nos passionnantes discussions théologiques (même si
nous n'étions pas toujours d'accord!). J'ai bien noté la date
du samedi 14 juin à 11am. Je serai avec vous par la pensée,
croyez le bien. Je vous embrasse affectueusement ainsi que tous
les membres de votre famille.
Yan LE GAL.
I do not know you but Frank spoke so much about you on his
many trips to Nantes that I feel a little like your family. So,
when I learned the news from Bernard Guichet yesterday evening,
it was with great sadness. Frank was a great friend and he
taught me so much. I am very indebted to him. Never a day passes
when I do not apply in my turn the principles he taught me.
His influence is visible in Saint-Herblain d' access,
then in Nantes and in all the Nantes agglomeration, where I
attempted to amplify his work as best I could. I can say in
part, I live by what he taught me, even if his good sense lesson
is often so poorly understood. It is often said that Nantes
became " world champion of roundabouts"! This is
thanks to him. Thereafter, the roundabouts inspired by Frank met
the trams and the Nantes teams had l' occasion to conceive new
single innovations around the world. This too is thanks to him.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, d' ' access mayor of Saint-Herblain then of
Nantes and aujourd', now President of Nantes-Metropolis, greatly
appreciated Frank and we often speak of Frank when we meet. I
will inform him of Frank’s death. In fact Frank always planes
above our heads, with something d' eternal! I He still speaks to
us - and I often use his expressions myself -: "You slow
down traffic to 15 - 20 km/h with l' hour and you make them do
what you want! " or "They are not roundabouts, they
are " arrangements" (with an English accent) " or
" You widen the entries, but at the last moment" or
" Never forget to visit at night, to assure the technicians
make it if visible" , etc Frank came often to our home in
Nantes during his missions, and was part of the family. My wife
Marie-Laure appreciated him too. Lately, after a long
separation, I tried to contact Frank to return and speak to us
about his passion, but curiously my assistant could not locate
Anna, please accept all my condolences. I pray and will pray
for the rest of l' heart of Frank, by pointing out our
enthralling theological discussions to me (even if us n' were
not always d' agreement!). I noted the date Saturday June 14 at
11am. I will be with you by the thought, believe the good. I
affectionately embrace you and all the members of your
Yan LE GAL.
translation of the original French text on the left.
Wing Commander Frank Cuendet Blackmore
Maverick mini roundabout inventor
received from Anna Blackmore (daughter)
Frank Blackmore was the innovative,
outspoken and determined Traffic Engineer who was responsible
for introducing the use of right hand priority and who invented
the mini roundabout and the multiple 'Magic Roundabouts'. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/content/articles/2008/03/28/swindon_magic_roundabout_2008_feature.shtml)
Giving way to the right and mini-roundabouts are so much a
feature of our lives now it's hard to comprehend how radical
they were then and also to appreciate the battle he had to fight
to get his ideas accepted and implemented. However, he did win
his battle and an O.B.E.
He was born and brought up in Fort
National, Algeria, of a Swiss/French mother and a British
missionary father, who may have helped instill in him his life
long habit of putting others before himself (which endured even
through the ravages of dementia). From an early age he delighted
his mother by inventing little devices to solve practical
problems (such as a fly trap constructed from matchsticks). He
was bilingual and held dual nationality until obliged to give up
his French passport during the WW2 German occupation of France.
He studied engineering in Lausanne, Switzerland and came to work
in Britain in 1936. (A famous family story is of his dramatic
dash to Colchester in the midst of his final exams, how he
managed to persuade a pilot to fly him from Croydon to Friday
Woods airfield in Essex, did his interview, got the engineering
job, flew back to Croydon thence returned to Lausanne to finish
his exams.) In the war he joined the RAF and, as a pilot of
Wellingtons, was closely involved in the early successful
testing of the Leigh Light. This was used at night to spot and
destroy the German U boats, which were attacking the allied
convoys across the Atlantic. Another famous family story is of a
war time emergency forced landing he made on the beach at
Ardnamurchan Point, on the West coast of Scotland (which some of
the locals remember to this day) where there was nothing but a
telephone box, and how they had to be rescued by sea. He was
awarded the Air Force Cross in 1944. After the war he remained
in the RAF until 1959, working for the Air Ministry in London
and then for a time for NATO, in France and finally as Air
Attaché and interpreter at the embassy in Beirut, where he had
some 'clandestine' duties. All we know of these was that he
recorded, via holes drilled through the wall, conversations in
the neighbouring apartment, which was occupied by Russian
In 1960 he joined what was then the Road
Research Laboratory (RRL). There he developed an interest in
junction design, and became keen to work on improving traffic
flow to clear bottle necks, and in the firm belief this would
help to reduce accidents. This interest grew into a passion, out
of which the mini-roundabout was born. Revolutionary at that
time, these have since become commonplace, both in the UK and
other countries. Initially he worked on his designs unofficially
and in his own time, because he was something of a maverick and
his ideas were too radical to be taken seriously. It was a long
hard battle and it wasn't until he got his suggestion accepted
to introduce right hand priority at junctions that he began to
gain credibility. The inspiration came in France where he saw
right hand priority, in a right hand drive system, causing ever
increasing congestion at major intersections (he once climbed
the Arc de Triomphe, not to admire the view of Paris, but to
observe the traffic below). Then the first mini-roundabout* was
laid in Peterborough in October 1968. His passion became an
obsession and family holidays were regularly punctuated with
stops at intersections while he took photos from every possible
vantage point. (The family holiday snaps were the dullest in the
history of holiday snaps, containing not people, views or
tourist sights, but cars, roads and traffic signs!). He devised
a system for taking photographs, of the whole of a junction in a
single frame, by using a camera mounted on a crane above the
junction with the lens pointing upwards into a concave mirror.
His main idea was that the mini roundabout should be just a
guide to make clear to users which driver always had priority at
the junction and how to pass each other, if approaching from
opposite directions and turning right. Thus he simplified it
down to a mere white circle painted in the middle, which one
could just drive over, if no one else was using the junction. He
also used mini roundabouts to aid flow at large junctions,
creating the multiple roundabout. Two of his projects are the
so-called Magic Roundabouts in Swindon and Hemel Hempstead. Both
of which have their enthusiastic supporters and their vociferous
detractors - people love them or hate them.
* Only in
1975 was a mini-roundabout defined as being fully
traversable; it is understood that the Peterborough scheme
was what we would now describe as a small roundabout of
approx. 6m central island diameter. The first true
mini-roundabout was probably the one Frank installed in
South Benfleet in May 1970. This was closely followed by his
schemes at Upton
Cross, Dorset (June 1970) - a double mini-roundabout,
and Eastcote, NW
London (two mini-roundabouts in July 1970). All remain in operation and can be
seen clearly on satellite images. (Links as shown open in a
new window.) The Truro
double mini-roundabout installed in May 1971 also
remains with only the slightest modification.
In 1975 he won the last Wolfe Award for
his work on roundabout priority and in 1976 he received an O.B.E.
After his retirement he continued as a Consultant at the TRRL
and on projects in Bangkok, Baghdad, Nantes in France, and
Socially he was a shy, self effacing and sometimes
almost embarrassingly generous, (once quite literally offering
someone the shirt he was wearing and which they'd admired). He
also had very much his own way of doing things, could be
argumentative, stubborn and difficult.
Frank Blackmore, Civil Engineer, born
Algeria 16th February 1916, died London 5th June 2008, aged 92.
Married Ginon Dufour 1939, widowed in 1942. Married Eva Johnson
1945, divorced 1969. Civil partnership with Eliane Lavallée
from 1970 until her death April 2008. Leaves three children by
his second wife, 5 grandchildren and 3 great grand
He will be very much missed.
I have warmest feelings for this
great gentleman. He reminded me of my father when I last saw
him. This was during a visit with his daughter Anna to our home
in Santa Barbara a few years ago. I truly miss his smiling face.
I urge those who are fighting
the good fight for roundabouts to remember Frank Blackmore.
Against much resistance and conventional wisdom, Frank won very
early on in the U.K., France, and Switzerland, and we will win
in the U.S., Canada, and all other countries where we persevere.
Eventually the well designed modern roundabout will become
accepted as the safest type of intersection wherever high-speed
roads or high-flow roads cross.
To win with roundabouts, we
need Frank Blackmore's spunk. Frank never let authority get in
his way. If he is in heaven now, he is telling God how to
redesign heaven's intersections.
Leif Ourston (Ourston
Read Frank's obituary in The Times online...
If you would like to add a tribute to Frank, please email
me and I will add it to this page...
to return to Mini-roundabout.com
The above tributes all came in very
shortly after Frank's death in 2008