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56600 LEO Development: Maintenance of Long Term Records
Notes, drafts and correspondence concerning maintenance and storage of long term records in the context of office management. Includes:
Research comments: The VG Reid letter to the British Council talks of an impending visit by 15-20 statisticians to see LEO I in operation at Cadby Hall.
The John Simmons-Lord Halsbury (of the National Research Development Corporation) correspondence covers the suggestion of setting up a national training centre in electronic computing. Simmons points out that LEO I was a "vital advance on anything else intended for clerical work" because the team knew what they wanted to achieve in practical terms with the computer. But Simmons concedes that it is the LEO team's "knowledge of how to use a computer on general clerical work which is unique", not their "manufacturing ability". The letter states that Lord Halsbury had suggested that LEO Computers should be "prepared, in the national interest, to impart this knowledge to others under suitable conditions".
Simmons' report on Lord Halsbury's visit to Cadby Hall gives us a status report on the development of magnetic tape as at the end of 1955, with Simmons clearly not of the opinion that it is suitable for long term storage, preferring instead, according to his 9th December letter, a record that "can be rendered instantly visible". In his report of Lord Halsbury's visit, Simmons states that magnetic tape is "almost undeveloped in this country" although it is much further advanced in the USA but points out the defects of magnetic tape using the Freemans Mail Order job that LEO undertakes as a case in point.
Simmons goes on in the report to lament that Halsbury does not regard "us as serious manufacturers of computers", although he does recognise the expertise LEO Computers has in "knowing how to use the equipment that has been built, whether it has been built by us or by somebody else". The possibility of the NRDC making funds available for setting up a training centre with LEO Computers is considered a real one and Simmons suggests that this would "surely be the best form of advertising LEOs".
Simmons returns to the subject of magnetic tape, saying that Lord Halsbury had reported during his visit that the NRDC had funded the development of magnetic tape by Pyes of Cambridge, although it had taken longer than had been hoped and was therefore out of date by American standards. Halsbury had offered to loan LEO Computers some Pye magnetic tape "to experiment with". A new and related piece of equipment is also currently being developed by Epsilon the report states.
Section 4 of Simmons' report assesses LEO's pioneering work against that being undertaken in the USA. He states: "Lord Halsbury is evidently of the opinion that quite a number of companies in the U.S.A. are using computers on what we would call clerical work, and using them satisfactorily. This is at variance with the brief reports we have had from Mr. Thompson [TRT], who evidently feels that while they are using computers on clerical work, such as payrolls, they are being used in such a crude fashion that they cannot except perhaps in or two isolated cases compare with what we should consider their efficient use."
He goes on to say "If we may assume that Mr. Thompson's analysis of the situation is likely to be better informed and, therefore, nearer the truth than Lord Halsbury's, it seems important that we should take steps to convince Lord Halsbury of this so that he does not feel that two years ago we may have pioneered something but that already we have lost our lead." and that this is perhaps a wider problem that they need to tackle than just Lord Halsbury's misunderstanding of the unique level of efficiency offered by LEO computers.
The correspondence tells us that Lord Halsbury's visit had come about due to LEO Computers' need to capitalise on what they had achieved with LEO I and Halbury's interest "in developing automatic computers so as to counter the American threat from the big companies like I.B.M. and Remington Rand". Simmons states in his 29th November 1955 memo to Major M. (presumably Montague) Gluckstein (Lyons Chairman from 1950-56) that "The whole LEO project is a piece of research" and that the NRDC should offer them support to continue that research, either through Halsbury being able to a) persuade a government department to purchase a LEO or b) gain an exemption from National Service for their trainee engineers "on the grounds that they were engaged on work of national importance" or c) through helping LEO Computers Ltd to become established in South American countries in order to sell computers there (also considered to be of national importance). Simmons asks Gluckstein if he might be "able to do anything during lunch to make Lord Halsbury's mind receptive to these ideas"! In Simmons' letter to Halsbury (of the same date) he suggests that the NRDC could sponsor LEO Computers' research into electronic computers more directly.
In the final report Simmons attaches to his letter to Lord Halsbury he suggests that secure recording and storage of the large amount of data that is output by a computer is essential and he explains in which ways that data would then be needed and used. He concludes that "magnetic tape does not seem to be suitable for the purpose" and nor does a magnetic drum store, preferring instead something which can be read by the human eye and is cheaper than punched cards. He suggests some form of reusable plastic card that could be marked by mechanical means and read at high speed by "photo-electric or other means". The earlier versions of this report are annotated by David Caminer and make amendments to Simmons' text.
The NRDC had been established in 1949 to stimulate industrial development, focusing in its first decade on capitalising on Britain's early lead in electronic computers - in which it ultimately failed.Date : October 1955 to February 1956
Creator : John Simmons
Physical Description : 1 file (26 pages), paper; typescript and manuscript
Archive References : CMLEO/DC/WF/LTR/1 , DTC/1/8
This exhibit has a reference ID of CH56600. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.