Oral history of British science

Tootill, Geoff (Part 1 of 12). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Computer Hardware; Electronics

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Wokingham

  • Interviewees

    Tootill, Geoff, 1922- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Geoffrey Colin Tootill, [GT] born Chadderton, Oldham, Lancashire, 4 March 1922. Mentions mother liking the names as reason for choosing them. Comments on early memories at home in Birmingham. Lists addresses lived at in childhood. Mentions parents move to Manchester while he was at college. Remarks on father's promotion to editor within the publishing arm of the Cooperative Wholesale Society and comments on titles worked on, 'The Cooperative News', 'Our Circle', and a magazine for married women. Mentions being an only child and [07:25] starting Cambridge University on C. P. Snow's graduate programme for war work [08:13]. Remarks on having to do 3 year course in 2 years, mentions being in Officers Training Corps. [short pause - mic problems] Discussion of father, Frederick Tootill [FT]: worked for Cooperative Press, self taught journalist, [13:35] in Royal Engineer's band during First World War. Remarks on music: description of clarinet, [15:43] how Second World War stopped GT learning the trumpet but how grandson, Duncan Tootill, and granddaughter are musicians. [19:32] Remarks on: father, family walks around Oldham, public transport and family not having car. Fathers' journey to work via public transport from Coppice Street to office, Long Mill Gate. [21:51] Describes neighbourhood and family home in Oldham; [23:44] details heating and gas lighting. Anecdote on hazards of electricity in their Oldham home and father's home in Failsworth. [25:21] Description of mother, Alice Tootill, school teacher before marriage. [28:27] Remarks on grandfather a headteacher at grammar school on Grammar School Road, Failsworth, and his family. Remarks on influence of school teacher mother on young GT. Remarks on: Grandfather, Grandmother, GT's family. [brief pause] Further remarks on family background and influence on upbringing. [32:23] Comments on relationship between parent's families and incidence of auburn hair in the family. Mentions not being that aware of social class [pause] [35:00] Short discussion on interview. [36:50] Discussion of GT's school days: school at College Road, Bournville, mentions being bullied at school and being a year ahead. Remarks on influence of Cadbury's on Bournville, short anecdote comparing Quaker meeting house to Church. Remarks on parents' religion, anecdote on confirmation, considering himself irreligious. [40:55] Short discussion on subjects at school: liked maths, physics, languages; disliked history. Remarks on relationship with other children at school and backgrounds. Comments on: social class while visiting relatives in Oldham, uncle's shop, poorer children wearing clogs. [44:03] Comments on reasons for enjoying maths and physics but disliking history until recently due to others' interest in his experiences. Remarks on not getting the chance to study chemistry, enjoying challenges of languages. Story about headmaster's influence on FT resulting in GT's specialisation on classical subjects at school. Remarks on entering sixth form maths rather than science. Story about University of the Third Age meeting demonstrating his engineer, rather than mathematician outlook. [50:58] Describes path to University at Cambridge as mathematician, remarks on views of engineering status, remarks on two year mathematics tripos. Remarks on winning several scholarship awards before starting at Christ's College Cambridge aged 18 and obtaining a third in maths tripos. [53:55] Comments on influence of war on university life, feelings on outbreak of war. Story about putting up black out curtains on the outbreak of war. [56:28] Arriving at Cambridge lodgings. [58:02] Discussion of previous evacuation of GT's school to Repton College. Mentions mother's influence on his evacuation. Cycling from lodgings in Midway to Repton. Story about long distance cycling from Birmingham to Oldham. [1:01:38] Remarks on cycling as a means of transportation. [1:02:20] Remarks on pocket money and spending it on comics. [Short pause] [1:03:20] Not wanting to be a lab assistant led to decision to start work in operational research; remarks on visit to Telecommunications Research Establishment [TRE], Malvern, and subsequent transfer to work on radio location research and development, radar. Remarks on realising he was an engineer not a theoretical mathematician. Introductory course at Malvern and abbreviations of radar. [1:06:23] Mentions joining air interception group [A.I.] Detailed discussion of working of airborne radar A.I. Marks 6, 7 installed on de Havilland Mosquito and Bristol Beaufighter aircraft, their use in interception.[1:13:59] Developing electronics knowledge through making audio amplifiers. Story about building an electronics experiment for a sixth form demonstration involving an electric train which stopped when triggered by a photoelectric cell. Remarks on: reading practical and amateur wireless, libraries. [1:17:30] Remarks on: maths course at Cambridge, lecturers' view of applied maths, finding applied maths easy, teaching methods, pure mathematician supervisor, and changing supervisor to J. Howard Wilkinson [JHW]. [1:20:24] Further comments on JHW and other lecturers at Cambridge, story about a Max Newman [MN] topology lecture. Remarks on being in a mixed class and other students being better mathematicians. Mentions pressures of two year course. [1:24:27] Remarks on punting in Cambridge with ex-pupils from the girl's side of his old school, King Edward's School for Girls, Birmingham. Remarks on being fond of a vegetarian communist language student, Cathleen, who tried to recruit him, GT being vaguely left wing. Comments on pacifist school friend in Friend's Ambulance Unit and how he was sympathetic to view but convinced war had to be won. [1:28:49] Mentions: possibility of joining air force or army, difficulties of joining navy; secrecy of TRE before introductory visit and subsequent transfer there. [1:31:00] Describes being given fully developed A.I. Mark 8 and his role in rectifying its faults. Comments on training and good quality of RAF technical personnel. Mentions not wearing uniform. Remarks on visiting squadrons. Story about visiting squadron to fix technical problem which technicians could have fixed but were reluctant to take responsibility for as their commander would be unhappy if aircraft declared unserviceable. [1:34:41] Remarks on good relations with military due to his expertise and drill experience in Officer Training Corps. [1:35:10] Mentions Officer Training Corps changing name to Senior Training Corps to be less elitist. Description of his time in the Senior Training Corps. Story on quality of GC's oral memory and use in passing rifle examination. Mentions gaining signals certificate and giving talk on workings of wireless set. Short description of workings of wartime wireless set. [1:39:10] Story about father building wireless set and young GT being interested in it and later learning what the parts were. [1:42:41] Remarks on building a crystal radio and listening to dance music at night. Comments on Midland's Radio interrupting music for the news in German, driving him to build a valve receiver so he could listen to other stations. Story about building a time switch for radio using an alarm clock and parts of Boys Electrical Set. [1:46:18] Comments on parents not being that interested in science but GT finding science interesting when growing up. Mentions becoming a mathematician rather than a scientist as a handicap to career. Further remarks on alarm clock switch for radio. [1:48:58] Describes job at TRE, in charge of aircraft installations. Comments on factories making radar, mentions E.K. Cole in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. Remarks on process of visiting factories. Description of radar technical problem, scissors effect, affecting beacon display of A.I. Mark 8 and how he resolved the problem. Story about working with Whitehouse from the Aeronautical Inspectorate Department [A.I.D] at the E.K. Cole factory to implement fix but discovering factory had implemented it as soon as they learned of it. [1:55:51] Short anecdote about working with Whitehouse to diagnose another problem with radar. Further remarks about E.K Cole's radar production line and story about popularity of canteen with visitors. [2:00:35][Short Break] [2:01:04] Remarks on impact of rationing, catering arrangements in TRE canteen, story about building himself an electric hotplate for office, sending coupons to mother. [2:05:49] Remarks on his office and division of Malvern into houses. House 8 office, House 5 hostel. Comments on suitability of House 8 for testing radar on Severn Valley traffic. Short anecdote about Malvern master horrified at laboratory in former bedroom. Remarks on GT's laboratory, office and office mate, Dick Field [DF]. Story about devising an office power supply and electric heater from ceramic resistors and convincing the Ministry of Works it was a dummy antenna. [2:14:34] Remarks on supervision, group leader, A.I. Mark 9 and A.I. Mark 10, and being left to his own devices. Remarks on dealing with bureaucracy in implementing modifications. [2:16:43] Description of TRE organisation: mentions army radar establishment at Malvern Link and secret TRE countermeasures group. Comments on secrecy within TRE. Mentions Frederic Calland Williams' [FCW] circuit techniques group's circulation of circuit designs, mentions Tom Kilburn [TK]. Remarks on secret countermeasures group, House 7. Remarks on being friends with people at his own level. Mentions working a six day week. Mentions not visiting the cinema in Malvern and having to make their own entertainment. [2:21:30] Describes the Flying Rockets Concert Party and taking it on tour in Worcestershire villages [entrance of Mrs Tootill] comments on magicians, Alec Tuchings, sketches, chorus. [2:24:11] Describes electrical stage lighting system built by TRE personnel and its relationship with Post Office calculators in Chain Home radar stations. Describes telephone queuing system GT built for concert hall. Remarks on work feeding into recreation activities. [2:30:05] Remarks on: his involvement with A.I. Mark 8, supervising production and problem solving; limited involvement with A.I. Marks 9 and 10, also known as SCR-720; scientific method's limited use in work at TRE. [2:31:59] Anecdote about being shocked at a security lapse by a superior showing him photographs of new American radar. Remarks on American contingent in House 7 and on component supply. [2:35:39] Remarks on little involvement with American technicians and working on A.I. Mark 10 with only the manual for help. Detailed description of magnetron failure problems with A.I. Mark 10 in British aircraft and his solution. Remarks on borrowing equipment from John Dain in another group, drafting modifications to RAF squadrons. [2:42:44] Remarks on: dealings with RAF squadrons, sharing of ideas and techniques within TRE by F.C.W's group and technical memorandum. Remarks on working individually and on demands of war on their work. [2:46:15] Remarks on: enjoying building test gear, quality of F.C. William's group's oscilloscope, his colleagues at Malvern, workload and [2:50:51] atmosphere at TRE, feelings about radar use in war.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Geoff Tootill, computer engineer who was part of the team that built Baby, the world's first stored program computer.

  • Related transcripts

    Geoff Tootill interviewed by Tom Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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