Oral history of British science

Tootill, Geoff (Part 6 of 12). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Computer Hardware; Electronics

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Wokingham

  • Interviewees

    Tootill, Geoff, 1922- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 6: Mentions A.M. Uttley, Jack Copeland, Peter Tootill. Comments on being at a loose end at the end of the war until his supervisor asked him to join FCW group in Manchester. Comments on becoming TK's partner in developing the TRE memory store work at Manchester and deciding to build a computer. Remarks on: earlier work of Charles Babbage; building the Manchester computer and the importance of the subtracter; [05:29] Louis Couffignal and the tendency to consider that the computer storage problem had been solved by the delay line. [06:20] Detailed comparison of designs for adder-subtracter by GT, using logic gates, and TK, using an analogue system. Remarks: on attraction of adder circuits to others; [09:37] Remark on Manchester Small Scale Experimental Machine computer's labelling of 'Baby' by journalists. Comments on Baby's cathode ray store, writing a program to search for prime numbers and TK's test program to find the highest factor of a number. [Short pause – phone] [12:01] Short description of function of adder and subtractor units. [13:25] Comments on the building of the Manchester computer, Tom designing plans on the train from Dewsbury, GT designing at his parent's home, GT working on Saturday mornings. Remarks on demonstration of computer to P.M.S. Blackett and a civil servant [Possibly Benjamin Lockspeiser], and its importance in securing extra funding. [16:30] Remarks on GT's father's changed attitude to GT going to university, his mother being in favour him going to university, getting an MSc out of the computer project rather than PhD like TK, not being able to afford to do a PhD and support his family. Mentions remaining as a civil servant from TRE while at Manchester, whilst TK became a member of university staff. Remarks on GT's later teaching of computing at Military College of Science. [19:36] Remarks on post war secrecy and his parent's attitude to his work at Manchester university, mentions becoming better at describing computing to wider audience and developing a range of talks for different audiences. [Pause – Phone] Remarks on explaining computer with reference to comptometer. Comments on his and TK's longer term view of the potential for computers. Remarks on holding data and instructions in the same store, use of computers in weather forecasting, atomic energy calculations, likely small numbers of computers in Britain, Europe and United States. [25:25] Remarks on testing units of the computer as they built it, fault finding, and previous experience from war work. [27:54] Remarks on TRE's computer project under A.M. Uttley, its fault finding techniques, and Uttley's interest in computing circuits. Remarks on time pressure at TRE and developing electronic devices. Remarks on wanting to build a computer at Manchester first and a sense of competition with other computer projects. [33:17] Mentions Cambridge computer group under MW, the National Physics Laboratory, Tom Pinkerton and Lyons' computer. Remarks on the experimental nature of the Manchester computer compared to others, and a recent article in the Wokingham Times on the limited utility of the Manchester computer. Comments on Manchester computer project's eventual aim of producing a general purpose computer, as realised in the Ferranti Mark 1, which was used by other organisations outside Manchester. [37:15] Remarks on GT being on loan from TRE to FCW and on FCW contract and access to TRE electronic components: resistors, capacitors, valves. Remarks on neither he nor TK having an office, FCW' office and secretary, nicknamed the fairy because there were few women in engineering departments. Remarks on engineers and technicians within electrotechnic department. Remarks on Kilburn and GT's competence with electronics despite only having maths qualifications. Mentions work in department, such as magnetic levitation at Manchester and eventual application in Mag Lev vehicles, JCW's research on drum store. [42:40] Remarks on meeting other members of staff over lunch, informal nature of department, FCW contribution to the computer project. Remarks on a typical day at Manchester University: testing latest unit by providing input signals from existing units, role of wireman, rectifying errors. Describes building up computer from units and testing as they went along until they had the complete Small Scale Experimental Machine. [46:51] Describes differences in outlook between mathematicians, who just wanted a computer to write programs for, and engineers, who wanted to make a working general purpose computer. Remarks on being frantically busy and on the friendly atmosphere at Manchester University. Remarks on lab stewards and a trip to visit a student dentist on a Fulbright scholarship. Mentions a few overseas visitors and being interested in accents. Further remarks on role of laboratory steward and wireman. [51:43] Story about correcting a program on long division sent in by AT from the NPL. Further remarks on AT's untidy appearance. Comments on working with AT at Manchester, TK's opinion of AT, attitudes toward homosexuality. Short story about AT asking GT to check his working on a large calculation. Remarks on helping AT operate computer. [57:08] Mentions later users of the computer. Remarks on AT's assistants, one of whom was in GT's year at Cambridge and AT's approach to management. [59:23] Remarks on his wife and son joining him at his parents after his job in Manchester was made permanent. Short description of parents house in Oldham. Clarification of his parent's address: Mentions his parents living at 98 Grange Avenue and GT and family living in relatives' house at in Coppice Street, Oldham. Mentions having a home of their own when he moved to the Military Collages of Science. [1:03:25] Remarks on family life in Manchester, working long hours and working at home. Comments on joining Ferranti, interrupting his civil service pension arrangements, disputes about his salary and leaving after four months to work at the Military College of Science. [1:06:25] Further remarks on recruitment into Ferranti to design the Ferranti Mark, and Ferranti's hopes that he would stay on to supervise the building of it, which he did not. Remarks on logical design of the Ferranti Mark 1. Remarks on not being invited to stay on at the University as the only vacancy went to TK. Comments on post war civil service reconstruction, his undergraduate degree result counting against him, and demotion to senior experimental officer. Comments on dramatic promotion on rejoining the scientific civil service, civil service ranks. Remarks on his qualifications making him desirable as a lecturer. [1:11:43] Comparison between the work of experimental officers and scientific officers. Mentions a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh to the Military College of Science. Comments on family home in Shrivenham, originally married soldier's quarters then married officer's quarters, poorly insulted. [1:15:39] Remarks on not wanting to by typecast as a lecturer and wanting to return to research and development. Remarks on reading to keep up computing knowledge at Shrivenham: 'Proceeding of the Institution of Electrical Engineers', 'Nature', periodicals from the college library. [1:17:30] Comments on wartime work not counting toward his academic progress and the value of his MSc. Mentions: 'ungratefully resigning' from the civil service to work for a commercial firm; nature of the Cambridge MA; being a member of the IEE and the Institution of Electrical Engineering and Technology. Remarks: on joining the IEE as a graduate member, becoming a full member after an interview, importance of being a member of professional institution. [01:22:00] Short discussion of his MSc interview with MW, the lack of other suitably qualified academics to examine him. Remarks on knowing MW from TRE and on MW' work there. [1:26:20] Remarks on: the Cambridge computer project, familiarity with the work at Cambridge, John Pinkerton's work for Lyons, and JHW's work at NPL. Remarks on another project for a small general purpose machine [probably Andrew Donald Booth's] and it's use of a magnetic drum. [01:27:59] Remarks on working for a commercial company: better salary, commercialisation of research, different atmosphere at commercial firm, clocking in, split of development and production staff, working at Moston, sharing a laboratory, differences to having his own laboratory and office at TRE, shared with DF. Mentions Ferranti job title of development engineer, reporting to divisional manager and section leader. Remarks on wanting to leave Ferranti due to the salary, and Ferranti assigning J. Thomas to shadow GT in case he left.

  • 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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