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Carole Hynam: Working for Wills as a 15 year old in the late 1950s

I came to be working for W.D. and H. O. Wills in Bristol because although I had always wanted to go to Art School, I came from a family that had never gone into further education (because in our section of society you had to be very well off or gain a scholarship.) Even though I was always in the top three in an A stream, as it was called, my careers officer told me there was no chance I would pass the entrance exam for WD and HO and would probably get a job in a factory or a shop. Luckily I had already taken the exam otherwise I may have pulled out at that point. Things were pretty grim in 1957 as it was only 12 years after the war had ended and money was very thin on the ground and so instead of taking the job offered to me in an advertising workshop sending me to art school one day a week I took the position offered by WD and HO because it was offering £3 per week. I had heard my parents struggling with money and felt it would help them too.
I was chosen to work on ‘Leo’ as I had scored well in Maths in my Wills entrance exam. I really didn’t appreciate at the time how honoured I was to be selected to work on Leo as WD and HO had a huge number of employees and I had come from an ordinary Secondary Modern school to work alongside of grammar school girls and public school boys. There were four of us chosen to work - two of us 15 year olds putting in data and two 16 year olds who were scrutinisers to check our work with a manager in charge of us called Irene. She seemed very old to us 15 year olds but was probably in her forties.
The year was 1957/8 and the computer took up half of the general office. There was a great deal of suspicion from the other workers in the offices as I think they thought they may lose their jobs. We had an engineer called Reg who used to start the computer each morning and one programmer. As time went by more programmers were employed. The work was very spasmodic and we spent many hours just sitting waiting for our work to come in. The computer was very sensitive to damp conditions and if it rained it didn’t work at all well. I remember Reg telling us it had the same valves as an electronic organ and that’s why it seemed to play a tune on being started up. When fully trained our agility was important as we had to work at great speeds.
I stayed with WD and HO for just two years and then moved on to work for the NHS as a records officer. In hindsight I was probably silly to leave but at 16 I didn’t find the work satisfying enough. After a long and varied career, I started painting again and luckily for me it took off. I still paint and do the odd commission and have sold over two hundred paintings during my life.
I feel very honoured to have been part of the story of this wonderful invention, Leo. I regard it as a very important part of my working life and at 77 years of age am able to relate this fascinating experience to some of my son’s friends who are in the IT industry. How things have moved on.

Date : Unknown

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This exhibit has a reference ID of CH56465. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Carole Hynam: Working for Wills as a 15 year old in the late 1950s

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