Oral history of British science

Tootill, Geoff (Part 3 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 3: Remarks on moving from TRE to Manchester, to live with parents in Oldham, and travelling to Manchester by bus. Mentions replacing Arthur Marsh [AM] in Manchester on FCW's computer memory project. Remarks on FCW's work on Cathode Ray Tube Storage [CRT] at TRE. Comments on: FCW's move to Manchester University; access to TRE components; assistants TK [TK] and AM; and on the postwar reconstruction competition. Describes how Superintendent Charles Holtsmith at TRE sent GT to Manchester as AM's replacement to allow GT to gain a better degree, [06:35] beginning work with TC under direction of FCW. Remarks on receiving an MSc and not being able to fund himself through a PhD as he had a family to support. Short story about secretly supervising another MSc student. Remarks on: the value of his TRE experience as an education in electronics; [08:43] later supervising students at the RAE; no job available for him at Manchester University. Mentions his wife, Pam, being a lab assistant at the TRE school and on L.G. Stoodley, [LGS] who later got GT a job as a lecturer at the Military College of Science. [11:55] Discussion of civil service grades, their adoption by the Military College of Science, and how GT's third class degree counted against him postwar leading to demotion to experimental officer. [14:56] Remarks on negotiating salary with Ferranti. Describes moving to the Military College of Science, Shrivenham, with the help of L.G. Stoodley [LGS] and visiting nearby Swindon. Comments on: reasons for typically remaining in a job for six years, not wanting to stay as a lecturer, later moving to the RAE Mathematical Services Department and working under Stuart Hollingdale [SH]. Remarks on cancelling an RAE computer project based on delay lines. [18:17] Remarks on: direct access and sequential memory stores, delay lines, cathode ray tubes, ferrite core stores, printed circuit flip flops and miniaturisation. Mentions working on transatlantic flight calculations. [21:42] Remarks on moving to work for European Space Research Organisation [ESRO] in 1963 and specifying computers for ESRO's data processing facility at Darmstadt and satellite research centre at Scheveningen, near the Hague in Holland. Comments on Dutch government building ESRO establishment further up the coast at Noordwijk. Remarks on facilities at Darmstadt in the Technische Hochschule before move to own buildings. [25:36] Comments on being in charge of the control centre at ESRO and its function in tracking satellites. Remarks on difficulties in calculating satellite positions due to atmospheric drag and solar radiation. Comments on large interferometer used to track satellites, interference free location in Belgium.[30:08] Comments on smaller satellite dishes, and equatorial and polar orbits of satellites. [32:34] Remarks on satellites use for scientific measurements and having an outside perspective. Comments on scientists responsible for satellite payloads. Remarks on relationship with scientists, involvement of national scientists, neutrality of being an international civil servant and scientists' committees. [35:12] Comments on FCW work on CRT memory at TRE and his transfer to Manchester. Comments on not knowing about this work at TRE and on secrecy at TRE. Further remarks on technical services, workshops and measuring services at TRE and borrowing a voltmeter. Remarks on the work of FCW' central circuit development department. [40:15] Description of the Phantastron, a 'fantastic and ridiculous' single valve flip flop developed by F.C. William's group. [44:25] Remarks on not having personal contact with TK and FCW at Malvern, but using their work, such as the Sanatron, the sanitised successor to the Phantastron, and learning about it through reports. [46:08] Mentions F.J. Ritson being a keen gardener. Comments on GT's involvement on the Flying Rockets concert party. Remarks on not being a talented musician and being unsuccessful at the trumpet due to problems with his landlady, but how grandson is a gifted musician. [48:44] Short story on acquiring a complete set of musical instruments from a band with Stanley Holland and learning to play to play the euphonium. Remarks on bridge club, chess club, societies and volunteer café at Malvern, as well as Flying Rockets. [53:31] Remarks on visiting E.K. Cole at Malmsbury, another factory making antenna dishes in the London suburbs, and RAF squadrons. Mentions never being posted outside the UK during the war, but almost being sent to the Middle East for operational research, before being transferred to TRE. [56:05] Discusses level of knowledge of computers circa 1945: previous experience developing a plotting table, not knowing much about digital computers when he moved to Manchester, familiarity with electromechanical calculators. Comments on initially finding use of binary in computers surprising. [59:30] Remarks on being sent to Manchester to work on digital storage. Remarks on TK deciding there was no point just making a store memory but that they would need to make a computer to show it worked properly.

  • 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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