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Brian Hobson: Reminiscences

I am glad that you, (Hilary Caminer), were able to attend our recent "LEO do” as chaotic as it was! You asked if I would explain the origins of our group and also to help you understand our Lyons/LEO relationship as it seemed rather confusing. I will do my best. 
The meetings started when Norman Beasley retired from Lyons in/around 1982. Norman had been a member of Lyons/Leo from the early days and was Operations manager on LEO 1, LEO II/1, and LEO III/7 before becoming Computer Consultant to the Lyons group of companies. Norman lived in Chalfont St Giles (I think this is correct) and Peter Bird (Lyons Programming Manager) and Alex Tepper (Lyons Operations manager) would go to visit him fairly frequently. Carol Hurst, who was at our meeting, also lived nearby and had also left Lyons would join the others making a foursome. 
In my Lyons career I started in Operations as an operator (employed by Norman) and later became a consultant working with Norman. When Alex Tepper was promoted to Head of Computing for Lyons I became Operations manager and joined the gathering. All Lyons computer staff are quite a close knit group and various members moved into senior positions within other companies within the group as Accountants or Head of Computing, etc. Tony Thompson, who you met, became Chief Accountant for various companies, Alan King (now passed away) became head of Lyons Maid computing. They joined in our meetings and gradually as time went on our group has continued but with varying members, as old ones passed away others came to know of us and joined.
Peter Bird was the mainstay organiser as he had the most contacts. Cyril Lanch is a fairly newcomer to our group but did not step back quick enough when volunteers were sought to carry on Peter’s organising! Hopefully that explains our group, now for the LEO/Lyons feelings – difficult!
History of Lyons and computers. Lyons built a computer to do work for Lyons Electronic Office (LEO), staff working on the computers were Lyons staff. With the success of computers Lyons formed a computer company LEO Computers Ltd but the staff although working for LEO were still Lyons staff at heart. When the company LEO was sold the computers remained at Lyons and were operated by Leo staff until they chose to remain at Lyons or were replaced by new Lyons staff.
Lyons computer history goes from LEO I through Leo II/1, LEO III/7, LEO 326/46 and eventually to IBM computers. Our attachment to LEO may be explained by the fact that the original computers were still in use at Lyons long after LEO had been sold and in many instances the staff working them were the original staff. When LEO was sold the computer department became LEO and METHODS, then Lyons Computer Services Ltd (LCS My best analogy would be: If you had a daughter and she got married she would still be your daughter and a member of your family although she would have joined another family, you would continue to be proud of her. The same is how our computer department feel.
When LEO was sold the computer department became LEO and METHODS, then Lyons Computer Services Ltd (LCS), and finally Lyons Information Systems Ltd (LIS). As you may now gather we were very proud of our heritage but so was the computer industry. We as a Computer Bureau (which we had been from day 1 of computers) strived to continue to be at the forefront of computer usage and computer and peripheral manufacturers were very keen to be associated with us offering us very competitive deals to use their equipment. Our computer department was frequently put under the microscope by the main Lyons Board as the newer family Board members felt that computing was expensive but on every occasion the auditing companies, including IBM, were in awe as to how we are able to do so much with so little and still lead the world. 
An example of this was back when Lyons had a fire on the Xeronic Printer in the LEO III/7 computer room. We made an arrangement with the Post Office (as it was then) to use their LEO III (overnight) in Charles House which was just across the road from us. Our shift of 6 operators replaced a shift of 20+ operators. 
I cannot remember the trade magazine that did a piece on us as we were the first company to wire an entire building with various departments on different floors to use Local Area Networks linked into the mainframe. Also, one of our external customers was a large American personal tax company which had a large computer centre in the States but wanted a worldwide centre based in London. We installed a duplicate of their system onto our computer, they provided no computing staff as all maintenance etc. would be done from the States we only had two user/managers with us. Their system was difficult for their users to manage and I spent a lot of time supporting them because of the complexity of their system.
Eventually I volunteered to improve it for them and wrote a few simple programs and restructured their system making it much more efficient (saving hours a day of machine and their input time). The computer staff in America were interested in what I had done and came over to see for themselves, they were amazed and the CEO asked permission to adopt our version of their system to replace their own!
My own involvement with Lyons started while I was at school. My brother, Colin, whom you met was an operator at Lyons on LEO II/1 (but employed by LEO Computers) and I used to go with him to work some evenings or when I was not at school. I was able to help operate the LEO II computer (unofficially of course) and met the engineers on the LEO III/7. When Colin moved to Hartree House I also used to go there as well and helped out on the LEO III installed there. I loved the job and it really appealed to me so when I left school (in 1966) I went for interviews at Lyons and ICT (as it was then). Norman interviewed
me and offered me the job (it helped that I knew several of the staff by name which impressed him!). 
I worked my way up from trainee operator to Ops Manager until the closure of the company in 1991. I won’t bore you with my life history of the roles I held and of the changes in company structure that I made over the years as most of this was during our IBM period.

Date : 18th December 2018

Creator : LEO

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH53406. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Brian Hobson: Reminiscences

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