Oral history of British science

Edwards, David (Dai) (Part 2 of 13). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Computer Software; Electronics

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Preston

  • Interviewees

    Edwards, David B.G., 1928- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 2: Remarks on teenage years, little social activity due to war, Saturday night hop at local club, going to university at 17. Remarks on starting University: 1945 RAG day at Manchester University; arriving in smoke filled Manchester; accommodation at St Anselm's hall, rationing, playing rugby and table tennis, meeting wife playing table tennis. Remarks on wife: evacuated to Canada from Preston. Remarks on how he could have worked harder. Remarks on girlfriend and later wife Betty, three children, died aged 50, met playing table tennis, dates. [06:55] Remarks on state science bursary, parents support. Remarks on social life at university: formal dinners, men only hall, societies, sport, drama. Remarks on playing soccer at Tonteg, rugby in secondary school, rugby for St Anselm's, University and Broughton Park teams. Remarks on: difference between rugby league and union; university RAG day with floats and cheap beer. [12:00] Remarks on YHA group holidays walking and cycling in vacations, people from overseas, ex-service mature students. Description of busy university days filled with lectures and laboratory sessions. Remarks on extra responsibility of comprehensive third year project. Story about almost being conscripted due to a paperwork oversight, research degree exempting him from national service, friend who was sent to mines as a Bevin Boy. [18:00] Description of lectures. Remarks on analogue computing laboratory in basement. Remarks on laboratory sessions in chemistry, history lectures by Professor Namier, handouts, books, being taught by ST in physics. Comments on laboratory sessions, building electrical circuits in classes. [24:30] Remarks on instruments used in laboratory sessions in optics and magnetics. Comments on lecturers: story about ST, difficulties copying down information from blackboard and connecting lectures together. [27:45] Comments about being lectured by FCW, lecturing style, inspiring nature of lectures, use of apparatus in lectures, cathode ray tube display, steep learning curve compared to other lessons. [32:20] Remarks on selecting electronics as an option in 3rd year, importance of FCW's classes to his career, FCW's contributions to American electronics publications. Comments on FCW's approach to electronics: emphasis on design, electronic circuitry style using voltage definition, contemporary low status of digital electronics. [37:50] Comparison of digital and analogue electronics. Comments on FCW and Tom Kilburn [TK] not discussing much of the their work at TRE and limited knowledge of work at Bletchley Park, with a story about TK flying over Canada testing equipment. Remarks on FCW circuitry combining analogue and digital techniques, and fancifully named Phantastron and Sanatron. [44:40] Remarks on FCW: gave DE a lift to 1949 Cambridge conference; wide interests, worked on jet engines and induction machines with Eric Laithwaite [EL], devised car gearbox, asked DE to build him a car fuel consumption counter; astute at recruiting people, with story about an interview; generous in giving credit, exemplified by later statements to about Alan Turing [AT] and Max Newman [MN]; story about FCW setting fire to laboratory with a jet engine experiment. [51:00] Comments on knowing little about analogue computing at Manchester at first but later researching history of differential analyser and learning about involvement of Vannevar Bush, Douglas Hartree and MetroVickers. Remarks on a paper on analogue computing by FCW and PB and Maurice Wilkes [MW]'s involvement with analogue computing. [55:50] Remarks on first learning about computers when he started as a postgraduate. Remarks on doing badly at physics part of degree but getting a first at electronics and having to have an interview, getting a 2.2 overall, doing well in first and second year examinations but not working hard enough on physics in third year. [58:40] Story about a meeting with FCW and Dr Braddick leading to DE helping to fix a digital clock for Jodrell Bank, and lecturing physics students later on. [1:02:55] Remarks on plans after degree, not wanting to do an apprenticeship, wanting to do MSc to correct poor undergraduate result, comparison with contemporary Tommy Thomas [TT], reflections on degree grades and opinions on current situation. [1:06:50] Remarks on:parents being pleased he'd gone to university, deciding to return to do research, using Glamorgan scholarship to do MSc, being appointed as a lecturer. Description of first day in the department, learning about computers from TK and reading his thesis. Remarks on learning about Babbage and the Moore School, limited information available on computers, TT's work on magnetic storage. [1:11:40] Remarks on TT: accommodated in Hulme Hall after catching dysentery, played rugby, travelled from South Wales with DE, interested in electronics, good friends with DE, went motorcycling together. Comments on importance of memory in computer development in late 1940s, challenges of CRT memory, TK's interest in building a small computer to test memory. [1:16:10] Remarks on activity when DE started: influence of Ferranti, expanding Baby computer, TK taking a holiday in August. Comments on first sight of Manchester Baby computer and thinking it looked a mess, comparison with later tidier Mercury computer. [1:19:45] Description of Baby computer and its components, with remarks on peeping at the CRT store's contents, heat of computer room and power arrangements. [1:24:50] Comments on: computing position in electrotechnic department, CRT improvement work, CRT research in response to a dispute with Canadian named Katz, orientation of department's work, such as servo mechanisms, to computer project, FCW's predecessor Willis Jackson moving to Imperial with his research team, facilities in electrotechnics. [1:29:15] Remarks on colleagues who were working on computing: Alec Robinson [AR], working on multiplier; colleague working on CRT amplifier; Geoff Tootill [GT] working with TK on Baby; Colm Litting, working on solid state materials; Cliff West, working on drum servo-mechanism; Mr Gerard and Joe Higham. Comments on lab technicians Remarks on relationship of electrotechnics and physics departments. [1:34:00] Remarks on: early users of computers in optics and crystallography, awareness of computers potential in business, lack of support for computing in some circles, with reference to later Atlas computer.

  • Description

    Interview with computer scientist and electrical engineer David (Dai) Edwards.

  • Related transcripts

    David (Dai) Edwards 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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