Oral history of British science

Tootill, Geoff (Part 5 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 5: Description of AT and comments on assisting him with his work. [03:08] Remarks on others involved with Manchester computer: Dai [D.B.G.] Edwards, Gordon Thomas, on Tom [Kilburn] gaining a PhD, Alec Robinson's [AR] work on a multiplier. [5:29] Remarks on not appearing in computer publicity photos as he was collecting parts from Malvern the day most were taken. Comments on AR taking a matrix of photos of the computer stitched together, on GT not being a keen photographer. and on the coverage of the 'Illustrated London News.' [08:26] Remarks on not being too interested in public opinion of the computer. Comments on Dai Edwards [DE] and Gordon 'Tommy' Thomas [TT] taking over from GT when he left and their roles on the computer project: DE, systematising circuit designs; TT, magnetic wheel storage, supervised by John Clifford West [JCW], a lecturer in the engineering department. Mentions a little of how the computer was seen in the electrotechnics department. [11:35] Comments on FCW' involvement with the computer project and his direction of the laboratory. Short story about JCW demonstrating a ball bearing suspended by a magnet to Mrs Winterbotham the cleaner. [14:11] Remarks on his feelings on the computer being switched on for the first time. [16:09] Detailed comments on the expected uses of computers in weather forecasting, atomic energy calculations through three dimensional partial differential equations. Remarks on the start of the computing service in Manchester, comparison with the situation at Cambridge, and aim of Manchester work not a computing service but more powerful computers. [20:50] Remarks on leaving Manchester University in 1948 to work for Ferranti for three months designing the Ferranti Mark 1 computer. Further remarks on designing the Ferranti Mark 1, dictating a report to a dictaphone, recently discovering a copy of the report, and informing Chris Burton [CB] of the Computer Conservation Society. Remarks on CB's role in replica Manchester Baby project and GT's current work on producing a new copy of the report for the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. [24:53] Mentions doing the logic design of the Ferranti Mark 1 before leaving for the Military College of Science as a senior lecturer. Discussion of Ferranti's construction of the Mark 1, with aid of photographs supplied by DE, and its differences from the Manchester prototype. Comments on the higher frequency power supply of the Mark 1, [28:03] its console and never seeing a real Mark 1 after doing the logic design of a large sheet of paper. Remarks on producing a new report on the logical design of the Mark 1. [29:40] Comments on designing and workings of a computer, with reference to Charles Babbage. Remarks on FCW attitudes to abbreviated computer terms. [32:38] Further comments on the design of the computer with reference to accumulator, hardware divider, multiplier, control. Remarks on: relationship between control, cathode ray tube memory and regeneration of store; deciding on a single memory because it gave the greatest flexibility in use; timing of the regeneration of the CRT store and the computer working on a four beat cycle. [38:07] Remarks on solving problems with CRT memory and Ferranti making an engineered commercial version of the CRT store that was impervious to interference from trams. Comments on European computer research facilities being preoccupied by designing interesting computation circuits, such as by using decimal instead of binary, and viewing memory development as a problem that had been solved. Mentions visitors to the Manchester, including [Louis] Couffignal from France. [42:33] Short story about demonstrating the Manchester computer to a physics professor and eminent visitor on a Saturday morning, securing extra funding [Possibly P.M.S. Blackett and Benjamin Lockspeiser] [46:19] Further remarks on P.M.S. Blackett. [50:36] Remarks on TRE influence on the Manchester computer project, FCW' circuit techniques division, TRE's role more widely in electronics development. Short comparison of TRE with the Post Office Research Establishment Dollis Hill's involvement with electro-mechanical systems. Mentions later mergers of TRE. Comments on TRE experience on GT: taught him circuit development, project management, direction of junior staff. Remarks on TK learning electronics at TRE but GT already having electronics knowledge. Mentions being delighted to be working with EF50 valve and detailed further comments on EF50 and its use. [54:38] Short discussion of GT's MSc thesis, [56:40] 'Universal high-speed digital computers: a small-scale experimental machine': single word memory, not typing it himself, using parts of it in later teaching, writing a thesis by hand but later being able to use a Dictaphone when designing the Ferranti Mark 1, being supervised by FCW with assistance from TK, but not needing much supervision. [01:02:09] Remarks on publishing on the Manchester computer in the Institution of Electrical Engineering [IEE] journal, now the Institution of Engineering and Technology; FCW and TK wanting his contribution to their publications. Discusses a 1953 survey paper on computers supplied by Dai Edwards, with remarks on: Brian Pollard, of Ferranti and TRE; cathode ray tube storage. [1:05:27] Remarks on reading journals, “Proceedings of the Institution of Electrical Engineers,” already being familiar with background information on electronics, learning of transistors. [1:07:58] Discusses patenting of Manchester computer technology: Visits of a ministry patent officer; National Research and Development Corporation [NRDC] and its predecessor, being given a derisory four shillings and tuppence when the patents were licensed to the Americans as he was a civil servant; commercial exploitation of British ideas by IBM; IBM's outlook on computers compared to punched card technology. Remarks on later use of punched card as input to RAE's English Electric computer. Further remarks on division of patents between the team of FCW, TK, DE, AR, TT. Mentions Ferranti patents on high frequency power supplies and limited life of patents on valve technology. [1:16:22] Comparison of work at Manchester and TRE and the differences between his work modifying existing radar technology for service use and developing experimental computers at Manchester.

  • 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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