Oral history of British science

Tootill, Geoff (Part 11 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 11: Discussion of TRE organisation, with reference to a 1940s organisation chart, borrowing a hot wire voltmeter from John Dain [short pause - entry of tea], [02:30] contact with people in own group in canteen, Flying Rockets concert party, secretaries, limited contact with senior staff, regarding people at the top of TRE as boffin in spite of being seen as a boffin himself. [04:52] Short story about being caught by the head of admin borrowing supplies for the Flying Rockets concert party. Remarks on ID cards and security. [09:42] Story about construction of illicit office central heating system by GT and DF. [13:25] Further remarks on boffins and being too junior to attend Sunday Soviets, not hearing about them till later. [15:56] Comments on the RAE: JL's renaming of the mathematical services division to preserve the dignity of mathematics. Anecdote about JL explaining how he would run the RAE like a university department. [18:53] Remarks about personally having little contact with other departments at the RAE but knowing many other individuals through the dramatics society. Remarks on analogue computers at the RAE and TRIDAC. [21:03] Detailed comments on computer use at ESRO for satellite data reduction and calculating satellite orbits. [27:12] Comments on tracking of HEOS satellite. Remarks on preparation for a satellite launch, French and American rocket launching ranges on equator and ESRO's facility at Kiruna, Sweden. [32:43] Remarks on a satellite being destroyed on launch, construction of backup satellites, story about a presentation to managers and Darmstadt dignitaries being interrupted by the destruction of the satellite. Remarks on working with Americans at ESRO, visiting USA, writing a report that impressed the Americans, having no contact with ELDO. [39:13] Comments on returning to the UK from ESRO to safeguard his pension, after extending his secondment to ESRO to complete the control station. Comments on being punished for his well paid and interesting job in Europe with a ministry job in London where he was unable to do any research. Remarks on his career compared to a colleague who returned from ESRO at the same time. [44:23] Remarks on getting a job with Derrick Barber [DB] at the NPL on the European Informatics Project. Remarks on scientific civil service grade and his promotion over his career. Remarks on working at Thames House in London on what he regarded as a non-job due to its non-technical nature. Detailed comments on producing technical vocabularies for industrial applications. [50:17] Remarks on working as a civil servant in London and quality of conversation in canteen compared to TRE. Remarks on DB and his car pool colleagues at the NPL. [54:12] Remarks on buying a flat at Teddington to avoid commuting, which confused NPL admin. [55:50] Comments on his children's education and occupations: Peter who went to Imperial College and worked for an Australian company; Steve who runs a firm for cleansing address records; [59:05] Colin who works in Canada in decals and membrane switches. [1:04:29] Comments on considering himself a professional engineer; the Institution of Electrical Engineering [IEE] and its successors; differences between scientists, who discover facts and test theories, and engineers who take such theories and apply them; technicians' qualifications; arguing at ESRO that corporate membership of the IEE was equivalent to a degree. [1:09:23] Remarks on working at the NPL: different atmosphere to wartime TRE but similar to RAE. Anecdote about DB discovering a statute that allowed him to have his horse stabled at the NPL's expense. Remarks on position at the NPL: on loan to DB's project, more senior to many staff as a result of headquarters experience. [1:14:10] Comments on European Informatics Network: nodes at the NPL, France, Italy, Germany and Holland; intended for packet switching research using Donald Davies techniques; functioning of network; problems delegated to NPL as GT was not directly concerned with technical matters. [1:20:22] Remarks on researchers visiting the network. Remarks on international liaison being his main area of concern, limitations of DB's UK experience and the importance of GT's international experience, communications with other groups. Further remarks on research purpose of network. [1:24:05] Remarks on Donald Davies, happy with leading an NPL division rather than doing admin. [1:26:40] Comments on view of future of networking and expecting it would replace telegram service. [1:29:06] Comments on problems with the system. Remarks on lasing with different groups in the network. [1:32:19] Remarks on having few interests outside work in this period and progression of network over his time there.

  • 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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