Oral history of British science

Tootill, Geoff (Part 2 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 2: Lists childhood entertainments: playing with other children, owning a fairy cycle, playing the same game but with different names, climbing trees. Story about damming a stream with friend, Stanley Holland from elementary school. Mentions going to King Edward's High School, [03:24] remarks on owning Lott's Bricks and Meccano sets. [06:30] Mentions finding newspapers boring but enjoying comics: 'The Rover,' 'The Wizard.' Remarks on father's publications for the Cooperative Wholesale Society. Describes father's work as Midlands representative for the Cooperative Press when GT lived in Birmingham. Mentions Billy Richardson, Cooperative's editor. Remarks on Cooperative publications: 'Our Circle', a woman's magazine and 'Cooperative News.' Further comments on 'Cooperative News.' [09:09] Describes father's political outlook and comments on how it did not effect his job as a professional journalist. [11:07] Comments on societies at Cambridge University: the Tudor Club, made up of pupils from his former school, King Edward's, and the mathematical society, The Archimedeans. Remarks on secretary of Archimedeans, a Newnham College crypto-communist. Comments on becoming chairman of Archimedeans: short story about inviting MN to give an entertaining demonstration on topological theory. [14:43] Comments on student distractions at Cambridge: no money for pub crawling or visiting the Kardomah Cafe, visits to female friends at Newnham Collge and Girton College. Mentions relationship with Cathleen Blackman [CB], a communist. Comments on how communism was seen at the time: unacceptable in public life. Story about a trip to the Unity Theatre, London, not realising it was run by communists, and being denied entry until CB produced a Communist Party membership card. [19:51] Remarks on: the vegetarianism of CB's family and on reading a letter from her in a newspaper many years later; losing touch with many people from Cambridge and school. [21:55] Short story about dealing with C.P. Snow's organisation after graduation. Comments on how the two years at Cambridge benefited him socially and gave him a good grasp of mathematics. Further remarks on suitability of mathematics degree as preparation for a variety of jobs. [24:55] Describes being directed into working in operational research [OR] by C.P. Snow's organisation, the Scientific and Technical Register, and being sent to Stanmore to work for RAF Fighter Command. Comments on a trip to the filter rooms and operation room at Preston for training: Description of Chain radar stations technology and how they functioned as part of wider fighter command organisation. Remarks on: being billeted in Preston and on RAF Fighter Command at Stanmore [pause for arrival of coffee]. [34:26] Description of path from operational research to Telecommunications Research Establishment [TRE] at Malvern: having little sympathy for purely theoretical problems; interested in the work done at TRE; previously avoided radar research as he mistakenly thought he would just be a lab assistant; possibility of posting to OR the Middle East, but convinced superiors to send him to TRE as he was interested in electronics. [37:15] Mentions: recent move of TRE from Swanage to Malvern when he arrived; becoming friends with Richard W 'Dick' Field [DF], who worked on windscreen projection of radar images; secrecy at TRE, except for discussing circuit plans. Short anecdote about learning to drive and passing his driving test. Mentions: being allotted a Hillman van, visiting a Chain Home Low [CHL] station near Swanage. Short description of Chain Home Low's antennae and operation. [41:35] Detailed description of the lock follow capability of some radar systems. [43:55] Short description of ground controlled interceptor [GCI] technology and its use in controlling air defence. Remarks on being sent join the Air Interception [A.I.] Group at TRE as the RAF was changing from A.I. Mark 7 radar to A.I. Mark 8. Detailed description of A.I. Mark 8: installation on Bristol Beaufighter, nodding antenna driven by hydraulics at high speed, the navigator's display, the extent of its deployment when GT became involved. [50:56] Mentions visiting RAF squadrons, refers back to story in previous interview [52:00] Remarks on problems with 10cm wavelength of A.I. Mark 8 due to problems with atmospheric moisture and water droplets. Description of electronic valves and their use in airborne radar: [55:01] comments on the technical merits of the EF50 valve, also known as the Air Force Valve Receiving Number 91, later the Common Valve CV1091. [58:38] Further description of A.I. Mark 8: S-band transmitter receiver, remarks on magnetron, mentions the work of Harry Boot. Comments on radar technology transfer from Britain to the United States of America [The Tizzard Mission] and its negative impact on postwar British electronics industry. Comparison of American and British EF50 valves made by Mullard. [1:02:47] Mentions scissors effect problem on A.I. Mark 8, being kept busy full time by other problems and having access to workshops if he needed test equipment made. Mentions Douglas H Shin, the A.I group's wave guide expert. [1:05:00] Short description of a wave guide and the use of coaxial cable on A.I. Mark 8. Remarks on installation of radar in aircraft. Remarks on engineering, and reliability improvements in A.I. Mark 10, available in quantity from the USA. Mentions A.I. Mark 9 not being finished when the war ended. [1:09:17] Remarks on: making quite a lot of changes to A.I. Mark 8 but without affecting its installation in aircraft; war ending before large scale installation of A.I. Mark 10; [1:10:50] TRE changes over the course of his time there. Description of power supply problems leading to magnetron filament failure on A.I. Mark 10 and how he found it technically interesting finding a solution. Refers to a visit, mentioned in previous interview, to E. K. Cole at Malmesbury with Whitehouse from the Aeronautical Inspectorate Department, where his technical fix for the scissors effect had been quickly implemented on the production line, as another example of how his work affected the shape of A.I. Mark 8. [1:15:39] Sums up the good things about his TRE experience: first job, extremely enjoyable, mentally exercised, knowing who else to ask for advice. Further comments on advice from colleagues and the role of FCW within TRE as a central figure in communicating with department heads and developing new circuits. Comments on developing a circuit with respect to variability of components and valves. Description of different grades of components: resistances and condensers, now resistors and capacitors. [1:19:14] Mentions: laboratory facilities at TRE in the Test Gear Division, borrowing a hot wire voltmeter, from John Dain, also at Cambridge, to check the A.I. Mark 10 magnetron. [1:20:33] Mentions other Cambridge acquaintances at TRE: Douglas Shin, a skilled pianist and several colleagues from the Flying Rockets Concert Party. Mentions: recent death of office mate DF; RAF Flight Sergeant John Tuck Field, who worked with DF; the home made heating system in GT's office; [1:23:32] Bob Gordon, cinema organist from Wakefield who joined the Flying Rockets. Short anecdote about a Flying Rockets sketch. Story about Flying Rocket's Hammond Organ, on loan from a local landowning family, and Bob Gordon's problems in adapting to it from a cinema organ. [1:29:53] Comments on suitability of Malvern location for radar research. Short story about helping to fix a problem with the A.I. Mark 8 set installed in a hut on the roof of House 8. Further comments on the use of the radar roof hut for measuring results of modifications to radar and being able to see moving traffic on the road with the radar. Remarks on signal to noise ratio and how this restricts the range of radar. [1:35:38] Comments on scientific equipment available to him at TRE and its use: Avo Model 7 and Avo Model 40 voltmeters, Cossor double beam oscilloscope. Technical comments about resistance, stray capacity and time constants in circuits and its relevance for performance of radar's high speed circuits. Mentions importance of work at TRE in making systems robust. [1:39:51] Remarks about: good quality of RAF technical personnel; quality of F.C Williams' group's oscilloscope and how Williams and TK took it Manchester postwar for use in the computer development laboratory. [1:42:04] Comments about influence of TRE on GT: became a competent electronic development engineer, knowledge of Post Office relays and uni selectors. Further remarks on relays, uni selectors and stepping switches. Detailed description of use of stepping switches in telephone systems and in Chain radar stations: remarks on calibration of Chain station and how stepping switches were used in the systems to feed processed radar data to filer rooms. [1:49:06] Comments on: being familiar with telephone exchange systems from his training in Operational Research. Story about making a noisy antenna simulator for A.I. Mark 8 using relays. [1:51:46] Sums up some of the contributions of TRE to the war effort: use of A.I. in air defence, H2S bomber navigation radar, description of what an operator would see on a radar display. Mentions knowing Bernard Lovell by sight, but that he was higher up the hierarchy at TRE. Discussion of chain of command and hierarchy at TRE: informal; considerable freedom for testing ideas; cooperation with other groups possible via the group leader, Bill Burcham in GT's case; mentions A. I. Llewellyn being in his group; different grades of scientific officers, GT's rank of junior scientific officer.[1:57:25] Mentions experimental officers, lab assistants and technicians at TRE: Jack Bilbrook, technical officer with night school qualifications assigned to mentor GT when he arrived at TRE. Remarks on solving problems with overheating transmitter valve anodes of modulator on A.I. Mark 8, short explanation of pulse mode operation of radar magnetron. [2:03:15] Discussion of role of lab assistants at TRE: wiring circuits to plan, later role at Royal Aeronautics Establishment [RAE], directed by scientific officers, often educated at night school. [2:08:22] Comments on getting married to Pamela Mary Watson [PW], a lab assistant at the TRE school in the monastery at Malvern. Mentions: L.G. Stoodley [LGS], a lecturer at the TRE school who later recruited GT to the Military College of Science, Shrivenham on discovering his involvement with computers through PW. Comments on meeting PW through Flying Rockets concert party, on how PW came to work at TRE and her technical skills and training in shorthand. [2:11:54] Remarks on: feelings at end of the war, staying on at TRE, the possibility of joining colleagues from TRE working at the Atomic Energy Establishment at Harwell. Comments on becoming a senior lecturer at the Military College of Science, rather than staying as a junior scientific officer at TRE. Comments on his degree classification and completing a degree in two years. [2:15:29] Short discussion on how it was mistake for him to become a mathematician, realising during the war that he was an electronic engineer rather than a theoretical mathematician, retaining an interest in mathematics, how school masters did not consider engineering as a career option. Comments on parents attitudes to him going to Cambridge: mother strongly in favour, father against. [2:17:55] Mentions informing Chris Burton [CB] of his recent discovery of his early report relating to the Ferranti Mark 1 computer written at Manchester University. Remarks about realising there was a respectable academic discipline called engineering. Further comments on Ferranti report and short discussion of quality of GT's memory on technical subjects. Short comparison of electronic and mechanical and civil engineering: FCW's campaign to make electronics engineering more exactly planned, the trial and error nature of electronic design. [2:22:24] Remarks on parents' extent of knowledge of his secret war work and cycling home to visit them in Birmingham. [2:24:10] Comments on Military College of Science at Shrivenham, LGS's head hunting of GT due to his computer expertise, clarification of dates of move to Shrivenham. [2:26:24] Short discussion of transition from TRE to Manchester: opportunity to work for FCW and get a better degree, potential of being downgraded to experimental officer, comparison of pay grades for different grades of experimental officer and scientific officer. [2:29:05] Remarks on: birth of son, Peter in 1948, marriage to Pamela Mary Watson in 1947, her job at TRE, not discussing technical matters with her. Short story about factory pollution in Manchester covering baby Peter with soot in their back garden. [2:33:54] Concluding comments on how TRE changed over his time there: story about editorial in a classified technical magazine circulated within TRE not matching his mood at the end of the 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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