Oral history of British science

Tootill, Geoff (Part 10 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 10: Remarks on joining the RAE because it was a vacancy in a research organisation. Comments on work at RAE: first job cancelling computer project started by some one who left for a job in industry, writing a book with SH in spare time, working on air traffic control system most of the time. Further remarks on solving air traffic control problems in an Atlantic communications gap, height separation, altimeters, Met Office forecasts, but not having any brilliant ideas [mic noise]. [05:30] Remarks on computer facilities at the RAE, provided by an English Electric computer, probably a DEUCE, using mercury delay lines. Remarks on having a reputation of being a computer expert, use of the computer to provide computational support for other RAE departments. Remarks on the director, James Lighthill [JL], who had been at Cambridge with GT, was a skilled pianist and married a girl from GT's year at Cambridge. Short story about solving a problem with JL's car at a drinks party. Short story about JL instructing his daughters on piano whilst shaving. Remarks on: meeting JL when started at the RAE, the change of name from Mathematical Services Department to Mathematics Department as JL didn't like to think of maths being subordinate. [0:12:20] Comparison between TRE and RAE: Junior post at TRE, with two staff reporting to him, including an RAF flying officer there to learn about night fighter radar and an experimental officer; being downgraded to experimental officer during the postwar reconstruction; further comments on postwar reconstruction's effects on scientific civil service ranks; opinion of RAE when he was at TRE; heritage of RAE, including reference to William Cody and Cody's tree. Further remarks on differences of attitudes toward progress at RAE and TRE. [0:16:50] Mentions being delighted to start at the RAE to escape teaching and having a solid scientific civil service grade. Remarks on work at the RAE being all development, but having student apprentices. Comparison of student apprentices compared to craft apprentices. [18:20] Remarks on development of computing since his pioneering days. Short comparison of programming at Manchester and the RAE. Remarks on work of Tony Brooker in higher level programming languages, but programming in machine code at the RAE, status of machine code programming today. Mentions being acquainted with Tony Brooker at Manchester. Further remarks on programming DEUCE using punched cards. [23:05] Remarks on writing a Penguin book with SH, SH's previous book, the division of the book with SH concentrating on history and GT on hardware. Remarks on the success of the book, its revisions and translations, death of SH, not doing a further revision as the subject had expanded beyond the limit of a paperback. [27:20] Remarks on SH: mathematician, who devised a system to avoid aircraft collisions based on system used by ships. Detailed description of system, its publication in 'Mathematical Gazette' [mic noise], use of system over Africa and Atlantic. [32:07] Remarks on: not achieving that much at the RAE, writing technical reports. Comments on directing work on magnetic tape recording, with the an experimental officer who he wrote a report with. Mentions secrecy of work. Remarks on RAE facilities: laboratory, office, equipment, workshop, drawing office, technicians. [37:29] Describes a laboratory setup of relays used to simulate a radar component. Remarks on colleagues at RAE, similarity to Military College of Science, differences to TRE. Short story about disagreeing with a TRE journal article about service to an ideal and feelings at the end of the war. [41:42] Comments about MW' job at TRE as head of department providing help to services. Remarks on: GT's role in modifying radar equipment; dealing with manufacturers, Ministry of Aircraft Production and Ministry of Supply, RAF. [46:08] Short story about being called to an RAF base by a technical officer to take responsibility for grounding an aircraft due to technical fault. [49:52] Comments on TK's façade of a dour Yorkshireman. Short story about Kilburn being in a hurry. Further remarks on working with Kilburn and the soundness of his ideas. Short story about the dour Yorkshireman façade cracking on an Anniversary of the Baby computer.

  • 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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