Obituary: Ian Robertson ; Director of the National Army Museum and Champion of Free Museums Admission
Fopp, Michael A., The Independent (London, England)
IAN ROBERTSON became Director of the National Army Museum in 1988, at a time when few of the great publicly funded institutions could resist the temptation of Thatcherite policy to supplement their grants with admission income. As one by one his colleagues justified the charges and succumbed, he steadfastly resisted, maintaining resolutely that the people already owned the collections in his care and should not be required to pay twice to see them.
Robertson was one of a generation of museum directors who dealt with more change than any of their predecessors, or successors, are likely to know. He directed what, in commercial circumstances, would be considered a reasonable-sized business, whilst at the same time providing a public service within the constraints of rules set by government departments. He did this against a background of increasing leisure time and decreasing educational standards throughout society. His enthusiasm for the Army and its history and his willingness to share these with anyone and everyone are the key to the modern, successful National Army Museum.
He was born in 1943 into an army family, attended Highgate School in north London and read History at Queen's College, Oxford. Whilst at university, he was a member of the Officer Training Corps and later joined the Middlesex Regiment as a Territorial officer. His background, upbringing and commitment was steeped in history and the Army.
It was the history that won out and in 1965 Robertson began a curatorial career at the Chelmsford and Essex Museum. This cemented what would become a lifetime attachment to the county of Essex and Robertson became an authority on its local history and archaeology. When he was appointed Curator of the Passmore Edwards Museum of social and natural history in Stratford, east London, in 1967 he found the vehicle for his dedication to history and education.
At that time, the London borough of Newham could not have been easy to work with, but Robertson used all his skill, persuasion and charm to develop the Passmore Edwards and the borough museum services. East London's successful exploitation of its heritage owes a great deal to Robertson's early work in realising ambitious plans to create an interpretation centre in the museum's nature reserve in East Ham, which was opened by the Queen in 1983. The first museum project in London's docklands was started by Robertson and resulted in the opening by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother of the North Woolwich Old Station Museum in 1984. By this time he was Vice- President of the Museums Association; he became its President in 1986.
At the top of his profession as a local-authority museum director, there was probably little that could have attracted Robertson away from his beloved Essex. But in 1988 he was appointed the Director of the National Army Museum, which had moved its main operations from Sandhurst to Chelsea, London, in 1971. He could now bring together his academic talents, inspirational enthusiasm for history and devotion to the Army. …