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Derek Jolly: Interview
|Home > LEO Computers > LEOPEDIA > Oral & Narrative Histories > Derek Jolly: Interview
Leo Computers Society
Interviewee: Derek Jolly DOB: 1930
Interviewer: Cyril Platman
Date of Interview: 11th April 2016
Joined LEO: Circa 1953-55
Abstract: After grammar school started training as an accountant, but decided to try something else and was interviewed by David Caminer, and Tony Barnes and offered a job with LEO I as an operator. Worked on LEO I, LEO II and LEO III. Became shift leader and then Chief Operator. Left LEO in 1974 to join Access at Southend. Retired aged 60.
Copyright: Leo Computers Society.
Restrictions: None known
(Recording to be added.)Date : 11th April 2016
P2 Derek Jolly (DJ) interview, 11th April, 2016 Interviewed by Cyril Platman (CP) Derek Jolly - A Chief Operator's Story “It's a very proud moment when I can say ‘I was there’” LEO I CP Perhaps you'd like to introduce yourself? DJ I am Derek Jolly, and I was the last Chief Operator of LEO I before I moved over to LEOII/I CP Okay, so perhaps you'd like to let us know a little bit about your family, education and so on? DJ I was born in Pinner, Middlesex in 1930 and I moved from there to Iver in Buckinghamshire. My first school was Iver Council School and it was from there that I had my finest report ever, age five and a half. It said something like this ‘pupils in class – thirty five, position – one’. It also said ‘promising boy, should do well’. I think my career possibly went downhill from then ever onwards! But then I moved on and I eventually took the equivalent of the eleven plus and I went on to Slough Grammar School into the ‘A Stream’. Through the years at Slough Grammar School I eventually passed the School Certificate with something called ‘Matriculation Exemption’. I was never quite sure what ‘Matriculation Exemption’ meant in those days because, again, it was early post war and we didn't get very much career advice. Probably I was probably too involved in cricket and hockey to worry much about a long-standing career. CP At that stage you're not worried about the future are you? DJ No, that’s the trouble. So basically we went out and found our own jobs. Well I decided I would be a chartered accountant, which seemed about right. So I got an interview with a chartered accountants firm in Leadenhall Street in London. I was interviewed and was offered something called ‘Articled Clerk’. They sent me the details and it was a reasonably looking salary, but then I looked at the small print and I suddenly realised that I had to pay them, which was not the sort of thing I had in mind! CP Yes. I remember those days because I had a similar experience, and it was quite a lot of money you had to pay I seem to remember in those days. It wasn't shillings it was pounds! DJ Anyway, so therefore I went down a notch and found another job at Southall Borough Council as an Audits Clerk, as a Junior Audit Clerk. I fancied myself going round with my green pen ticking everything around the borough. But my first actual live job was that I had to go round to the local council toilets in the borough and collect the pennies out of the machines. A particularly a worry for a young lad of seventeen was when he had to go round the ladies! The system was you had to rattle the railings at the top until a ‘wavery’ voice came up and said ‘it's alright to come down dearie’. And then you'd go rushing down there, count the pennies urgently as you really wanted to get out as quickly as you could. But then they would offer you a cup of tea while you're down there. That was life at Southall Borough Council. I did eventually get round to doing some green ticking and doing some proper auditing type of things. I then went from there to Central Middlesex Hospital in the accountancy section. But during that time, when I was eighteen, we all got called up for full National Service. I was called up and went into the Military Police to start with, then later on into the Special Investigation Branch of the Military Police. CP If we could just step back a little bit, I think we may have missed a little bit of information here on your family. DJ Oh, my parents? CP Occupation of father and mother, and your memories? DJ My father. Basically they were Suffolk people and he was actually trained as a butler at Finborough Hall, near Stowmarket. They eventually moved down to Pinner in Middlesex where he became a milk rounds man and then eventually to Iver where he continued being a milk rounds man. He also worked in the post office towards the end of his life. My mother took a job during and just after the war working in air traffic control in the Tele Printing Section. I think it was of RAF at Uxbridge. So that's basically my mother. But my father’s background, if you look back through his grandparents, and all through the Jolly line, were all listed as ‘farmer’ in Suffolk. I don't know what level of farmers they were but that's what it says if you look back over a few generations. So that's basically where I ended up in my early years, south, Central Middlesex Hospital, which, in connection with LEO, it was just round the corner from Minerva Road, where a lot of our stuff was actually put together. CP So when you step back to school days for a second, do you remember anything particular? Subjects and incidents, that might have bearing on what you studied, and that type of thing? DJ Not particularly, it was a wide, wide list and I didn't like it. I didn't really understand algebra or physics particularly. But my final school certificate was quite good; I got nine credits and a modest distinction in plant drawing, which I didn't make an awful lot of use of in later life I have to say. But that was Slough Grammar School which was a fine all boys’ school in Slough, where we had our little red hats and our little red jackets and we looked extremely smart I thought. You wouldn't recognise the place today I'm afraid. CP So in those early days had computers broken through to people’s consciousness? DJ That I don't know. What I do know is that when I was ‘de-mobbed’ from National Service I went back to Central Middlesex Hospital and it was there I saw this advertisement for a programmer. I didn't even know what a programmer was quite frankly, but I duly applied and got an interview. I was eventually interviewed by David Caminer (DC) who, after a fairly short interview, decided that my aptitude probably wasn't quite the right level required for computer programming. Another interesting thing that I heard about much later in life was about one interviewee, as a programmer with DC, had put down ‘conversation’ under his interests and hobbies on his application form. The story went round that DC leant forward and said to this unfortunate lad, ‘So converse’! And, so that's how I got there, but DC thought that I obviously must have shown some spark of something because he thought I'd be ideal in the operations area. And he sent me round for an interview with the senior person called Tony Barnes. I was taken on in LEO I operations. And then, from there, through shifts to shift leader and then I followed Bill Steele as the last Chief Operator on LEO I. During this time we were processing various Lyons jobs, for example a lot of tea shop orders. Other regular tasks were payroll processing for companies such as Fords at Dagenham. I remember most jobs starting with feeding a small pack of punch cards in. Were they called a synthesis orders or something like that? The input data went in via punch cards and increasingly by paper tape. Initially five hole, all prepared in our data prep room supervised by Marjorie Coles. Initial verification was for the data to be punched twice and fed into LEO I via twin paper tape readers which would stop for any mismatches. The operator’s job was to check against the original data, correct and continue. Occasional errors would creep through, either from data input or a misunderstanding by LEO I. One alleged fault was revealed when payroll staff at one of the companies, it may have been Fords, I don't know, complained that they had difficulty stuffing large numbers of pound notes into the pay packets. I'm not sure if that is true or not, but it was a jolly good story at the time. (the same thing happened on the Kodak payroll when I was at LEO II/1 due to a sticking print bar in the hundreds of pounds column on a Hollerith printer. Tony Morgan) CP There were lots of good stories about Ford payroll, I remember them well. DJ Another great claim to fame was, and I may have mentioned in connection to some other situation, was the annual dairy show at Olympia. LEO I was chosen to process data relevant to selecting various champion cows and goats. Olympia was virtually next door to Lyons, at Cadby Hall. And what I understand happened was that all the animals were there at, well I don't know where all the animals actually were, but all measurements were taken overnight at the show. Animals like the cows and goats were duly milked, and the amount of milk was entered onto data forms. They were rushed round to us at LEO I in the very early hours of the morning where they were all punched onto paper tape and then fed into the computer for instant processing. The results rushed back round. We thought the job had been done, there were congratulations all round, but then the following morning the headlines in the national press or in one of the major papers was something like this, ‘the animals do their bit but man and machine fail’. The problem was actually the milk yield per animal entered on the data form by the milkers. For example 3.6 litres or 4.3 litres. Unfortunately where the yield was a whole number, like 5.0 litres, the milkers forgot to enter the zero after the decimal point, e.g. 5 litres, and the data prep girls, who had been well trained to only key in what they saw, resulted in the program recognising that particular milk yield as 0.5 of a litre instead of 5.0 litres, which was the overall marking. It must have upset some of the favorites. We had visions of pitchforks at dawn! The job was corrected and re-run and I think we escaped with some dignity in the end. CP Those early days of prep machines, we used a lot of punch card machines. It was… slip in a single punch card and there was just one keyboard with characters nought to nine. DJ Nought to nine, yes. CP And three over punch characters. DJ I think they were Hollerith hand punch machines. And, as I’ll mention later on, they were very, very useful and were with all the companies that set up to provide data prep services. Okay, back to LEO I, there was this British Rail Job, that calculated the distances between something like seven thousand stations in the British Rail Network. And this was one of the early overnight jobs involving data supplied on hundreds and hundreds of punch cards. I remember being on one of the first shifts doing this job with Roger Coleman, whose project I think it was. It took many weeks to complete the task, and I believe it was considered a success during my time at LEO I. The result was to sort out the distances between all the stations for some sort of charging. For freight and things. CP Roger Coleman came over to Fords, he was a manager I worked for at Fords at one time. DJ Oh yes, that was during my time at LEO I. Our overall managers were Ted Rowley and Peter Wood. Routine processing meant a three shift operation, this was manned by a wonderful group of people, including people like Midge Knowles, Terry Piercy, Charlie O'Brian, Dick Halford and many others. The one other processing memory at the time was the reconciliation summary at the end of any payroll application, or anything else. This had to be zero to show all was well in the process task. Often there was a cash difference shown which had to be resolved before release. For example something like, about a hundred and thirty six pounds, ten and eightpence in old money. But often the reason for the difference was where LEO I had lost or added a digit during processing. Digit position D12 is something like 32768, which if you divide that to two hundred and forty pence it comes out a hundred and thirty six pound, ten and eightpence,.which resolved the thing and everyone was happy. Most applications were covered by operating instructions, including indication by code on the LEO I control monitor, what action to do if it stopped. CP Did it display it in single binary bits? DJ In Binary bits, like, it would be 13.0 something or, then you'd look it up in the operating instructions and it would tell you what to do. From an operators point of view on LEO I, or indeed on, later on LEO II, the best news always was ‘end of job’, or ‘abandon’, [laughs]. We secretly liked abandon! CP Sixty three ... DJ Now abandon I think often applied to a lot of the rather special jobs that programmers did. They exhausted the system to see how far they could go with whatever it was. I've no idea, they all sounded ever so special and secret. CP Sixty three thirty one was the ‘end the job’, in our programmes at least. DJ Well it, it may have been, yes, sixty three, it could well have been. Other stoppages or failures of peripheral equipment needed attention from the engineers on site, which included splendid chaps, George Manley and Frank Walker. I remember one, less than technical fault procedure we always found somewhat amusing. This was engineers banging the units to see which valves or lights went out. One popular fault I recall was something called a ‘dry joint’, which I think printed circuits, circuit boards eventually cured. What else do I remember about LEO I? Extending from under the main frame was a large platform, which I believe held the mercury delay lines and these were fairly long, about three or four, five feet long. Mercury delay lines with I think something called a ‘Quartz Crystal’ at the either end. I vaguely remember trying to explain to occasional visitors and school parties how LEO I worked with pulses or no pulses in digit position going round and round at the speed of light, then slowing down through the mercury and Quartz Crystal and then being diverted for processing. It probably was not so, but whatever we said usually was accepted with a sagely nod or two. I think there was an element of truth in what I said that would hopefully help somebody somewhere. Towards the end of LEO I’s reign a bar mark reader appeared called ‘Lector’, which was used for applications such as Lyons tea shop daily orders. A bar mark in the wrong place or, or misread could result in say a gross of hot cross buns arriving instead of Swiss roll. LEO II/I and beyond Happy days at LEO I, then it was over to Elms House and LEO II/I. On to LEO II/I now, the smart new computer has its first chief operator! Again this was a shift operation where we continued processing jobs from LEO I and increasingly trial applications for potential LEO customers. I think this included firms like Greenwich Council, Freemans, Southalls. We also provided time for customer’s programmers to try out their own applications. Interestingly from my point of view, one such programmer from British Oxygen who appeared many years later as Head of the Operations Division at Access where I was in 1975. After LEO II/I it was over to Hartree House, initially in terms sort of customer services type of activity and later concentrating in data conversion services. One big appeal of LEO was to facilitate large clerical tasks, stock controls, insurance files and the like. To get these under way required transferring large databases to the computer. These file set ups would be via punch cards and increasingly by verified paper tape. Some users set up their own units for routine processing but large take-ons needed use of outside agencies. Around this time several entrepreneurial data prep service companies appeared, to take advantage of the demand. We co-ordinated a lot of this work for LEO customers via these agencies also taking up any spare capacity on our own and customer data prep units. For example for Fords. CP I was trying to think of the supervisor’s name of the data prep place at Ford. It won't come back to me. DJ A very popular machine for these agencies was the portable hand punch. I think it was the Hollerith, which was also ideal for home worker use. And an awful lot of these firms had IBM or Hollerith machines with the full keyboards. But using the hand punch, which were fairly small, at home was ideal for out-worker use. They made an awful use of this sort of thing. It was ideal for people at home and it helped to get the stuff back in time. CP We gave out one of those hand punches, I remember, to one of our ladies who was retiring who’d started in that department. We managed to get a perfectly working one, had it all bailed up and beautiful and presented it to her. DJ But you could do this work while you were at home alongside say cooking the dinner you see. But I'm quite sure about the accuracy of the data at the end. That was the whole thing, security of data in those days! When you think about, there's all this data from all companies spread around hundreds of houses all round the country, or wherever. I doubt they could do that today, or you'd have to sign something. In those days they just sent pages of things to be keyed in. Again, it seemed to work at the time. Our own data prep unit at Hartree House was presided over by the splendid Mrs Davies. And one pleasant task I had was a request from Ralph Land to provide two keyboard operators to join his installation team, I think one installation was in Czechoslovakia, and the other in Poland or Russia, or somewhere like that. They thoroughly enjoyed it, and that was quite exciting. I, myself, remember going to Newcastle for a week as part of Geof Pye’s installation team for LEO II/6 for the Ministry of Pensions. What else do I remember about Hartree House? I remember the Royal visit to Hartree House where Bill Steele had to move out of his office for the installation of the Royal loo. I thought at the time it would be complete with purple seat and no doubt punctured with crowns. At Hartree House we also had some machines called Kimball Tag Readers. The Kimball Tag was a small punched cardfull of holes, representing a sale or some other item. And the Kimball Tag Readers would read it and then it would be transferred to either magnetic tape or something and sent to a computer for processing. Increasingly there were other methods of data preparation after cards and paper tape, like tapes to magnetic tape and things like that, those, these things did happen. CP Now, right, there's something there. Were you married there, or something like that? DJ Yes. I met my first wife at LEO. She was secretary to Doug Comish, I think they had an office in Elms House. Occasionally she had to stand in for David Caminer’s secretary and fairly recently I asked her if she had any recollections of working for the great man. All she could come up with was ‘his writing was terrible’! Then at the end of LEO, the opportunity came in 1974 to move to Southend to Access, the joint credit card company set up by NatWest, Lloyds and Midland Banks for early credit card processing, it was some sort of competition for Barclaycard. Again this operation processed large volumes of data, sales vouchers, payments and authorisations on behalf of the banks. Like the early days of LEO where most input data was prepared offline, similar early card credit processing of sales and payment out as vouchers was largely a manual, keyboard task, albeit in-house. Nowadays a much slicker operation due to character recognition, point of sale processing and the like. The banks all now run their own operations. Memories of LEO now are what? The trouble is you, when you first join you think of it as just as another job you see. Possibly not many of us fully appreciated the significance of what we were involved in in the LEO I operation. Although the programmers, or some of them were a strange breed and a breed apart. But now ‘seventy or so’ years on so few people seem to appreciate what computer life was like then. Occasionally computers come up in conversation and LEO gets a mention. It's a very proud moment when I can say ‘I was there’. I also appreciate how fortunate that I was in seeing the advertisement, ‘programmer vacancy’, it basically changed my life! CP In those early days my memory says things were called ‘Electronic Brains’. DJ That, yes. Oh there's another thing I forgot to mention, half way through our life at Hartree House we got involved with English Electric and their computers and data entry. They used different codes, KDF8, or KDP10 I think, on their computers. Again there was the problem of initial file set ups for them. So that often needed getting all the data punched on cards, or some form of paper tape, and then converted by some other machine in to their code, so that their computers could read it. CP Going back to the early days, did you work shifts, presumably on the LEO machines? DJ Yes, in the early days I had to do shifts, and it did have an impact to some of us. There was a twenty four hour, three shift operation which was, a week of days, a week of evenings, a week of nights. Then you had a week off. I think it was something relatively new when we started that and for us who worked there it clearly took priority over your your home life to some degree. I lived away, about fifteen miles away in Iver, Buckinghamshire you see. So it did put some strain on personal relationships I suppose. After a stint of run of shifts you're not always at your best! Definitely not. But I must add, I cheered up no end when I came off shift because home activities again included hockey, old time dancing, choral singing, church choir and bell ringing and all the sort of things that the young chaps did in those days! CP Shift work, I remember, gave you some opportunity to do other things because the week you were on nights you could actually spend quite a bit of time during the day doing things. DJ Oh yes indeed, yeah. But if, say, you're in a local stage play and they want a player in, they've just got to come in! Shifts did muck things up. But shift work was a hell of an experience in the early days, but as I say I was dead pleased when I came off it. So essentially that’s just a few memories of my life at LEO I, LEO II/I and life at Hartree House. I must say at Hartree House we got to use the Turkish baths in Porchester Hall or somewhere like that. There was a Turkish bath there that some of us tried and it was a frightening experience. And we'd eat a lot more curry when we were there, I do recall. These were before the days of real ale real ale that came in later life. CP I'm just sort of thinking of my time on LEO II, the engineers used to require an hour every morning to actually power the machine up. DJ Yes, they did. I can't really remember what they did but an engineer was very important. CP So what did you do then, we've got pretty much through all your LEO stuff, and you went off to work at..? DJ Access at Southend. In all banking organisations they build up several layers of management over the years. And then every decade or so higher authorities come in and decide they want a slice a few levels of management out. And we had the opportunity therefore to take early retirement etc., which I took at the age of, oh sixty probably. You talk to people now about Access, ‘Your Flexible Friend’, your credit card, and people don't know what you're talking about. That was the forerunner of the NatWest card now, also Lloyds card, Midland Bank card and so on. Everyone’s got a different card now, but in those days it was either a Barclaycard or an Access card. CP Yes, we didn't know where we were going when we were playing with early computers, we didn't realise all this was going to happen did we? DJ That is right, and I think to some degree that applies to things today where there's a report, on ‘driverless cars’. A bit of a joke, yeah. But again did people think it was a bit strange when we started? CP Well I can remember amongst my friends nobody understood what I was talking about. It was a unique, at the time.. A unique occupation wasn't it? DJ It was, wasn't it? CP Yeah. Keep going… DJ No, I can't think of anything else at the moment, of note. CP Well, let's have a look. Questions like the use of Xeronic printers? DJ I can't remember much about them. CP Well I, I remember them, and the thing is, at least the ones I think I remember, they had these wires in great bunches which formed, you know, the Matrix of the characters. (these were the Powers Samastronic printers on LEO II - Tony Morgan) DJ That, that's right. There was one printer, was it a Bull printer? CP Oh yes, there was a Bull, that was the one with the arms that came up. DJ That I remember. I was on LEO I, I think, we had a Bull printer. That was all brand new, and something different. CP With the plugboards to control them. DJ That’s right, we had the plug boards at the back and all sorts of things and I can't remember CP You used to have make the plugboards up from a chart, that's one of the things I did. I actually wrote a little programme to check plugboards. DJ That's right, the plugboards used to go at the back of the machine somewhere didn't they? CP There was a plugboard. If you had the Bull printer, the thing with all the arms that came up, then on the right hand side of the printer there was a cabinet which you put the plugboard in. CP Well, how do you think we’re doing? DJ I think we've probably covered most of the stuff that I can, that I can actually think of. CP So, how many different LEO machines did you work on? DJ As operator just LEO I and LEO II/I. Yeah. Because I was offline when I went to Hartree House and then I got mainly involved with, in later life, data conversion services for, I think a company they formed, called ‘Baric’. CP I remember the name. DJ It was a combination of Barclays and ICL. I think that we were under that sort of umbrella at the time. In fact there were several companies that I recall, English Electric, LEO Marconi … CP Yeah, there were quite a few LEO’s about, I mean Fords had two, they had one with tape decks and one without tape decks. But, I'm not supposed to be being interviewed, it's you being interviewed! DJ [Laughs] You know I cannot remember a lot of the details, and some of the stuff I might have got slightly wrong. But I think the essentials are there of life on LEO I. CP So did you ever join The British Computer Society? DJ Yes I did, I was all enthusiastic at the time, and I applied on the basis of my data conversion experience and because there weren't a lot of people that did a lot in that field then. But I think I was eventually accepted. But then I didn't actually follow it up because you had to pay and I thought that you had to take lots of exams and things. I thought at the time, because of one’s various activities, that was not for me, so I did not pursue it. CP Well, I'm just looking through the questions to make sure that we've bled your brain totally! DJ It is an ageing brain I have to say! CP So when did you retire? DJ When I was sixty, let me think, sixty, about 1990. CP And what did you do in retirement? DJ Oh in retirement, oh well, again, the initial thing on retirement you think ‘gosh, how can they make me redundant after all these years?’ The sense was that you had to rush out and get another job. Unfortunately my wife Anne suggested I should take up more wifely activities around the house and out locally. So I was sent out to join the local Women’s Royal Voluntary Society (WRVS), and did Meals-on-Wheels deliveries, Books-on-Wheels deliveries, and various other things, all with the WRVS. I had an allotment, which thankfully I've just given up this last week. An interesting thing Anne and I actually took over was a well-known house in Rayleigh called ‘The Dutch Cottage’. It's a listed landmark in Crown Hill, and we were there for twenty years. We had to be open to the public every Wednesday afternoon, or by appointment. I must say after twenty years you can go off parties of school children! And also with helping various people up and down the very steep staircases that were in the Dutch Cottage. In fact Cyril you'll see it down Crown Hill, you'll drive past it, on the left hand side down.. CP I've seen it. DJ You'll have seen pictures of it. Thankfully we've been up here in Rayleigh ten years now and we’re close to the town centre and love it. So we are involved in church choir, local Southend Festival Chorus, and church side generally. CP So have you been in touch with any LEO colleagues ever since you left? DJ Not generally, maybe in the early days, but the fact is that that I moved away from there down to Southend. Had I stayed up in that area then one would have kept in contact. There was contact for a few years afterwards, but with living what, fifty miles away from the London area… so basically, no other than at the reunions. The big thrill is that you get recognised at those. CP So how many reunions have you been to? DJ I think I've done three now, three or four. Anne comes to them and actually likes them. She probably likes them better than I do, I think! CP So, in the end, what remains with you of the experience of LEO? DJ You know, I did say that we didn't appreciate what we were doing at the time. I did mention that earlier on. As I say, it was that proud moment when I could say ‘I was there’! CP OK, the LEO Computer Society would like to thank you Derek very much for your time and reminiscences. Footnotes: Page 3 David Caminer OBE: (1915 – 2008) had a long career with Lyons, LEO and English Electric, from the 1930s through to the establishment of LEO and beyond to the formation of ICL. He became known as the world’s first Business Applications Programmer. Page 11 WRVS: The Royal Voluntary Service (known as the Women's Voluntary Services (WVS) from 1938 to 1966; Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) from 1966 to 2004 and WRVS from 2004 to 2013) is a voluntary organisation concerned with helping people in need throughout England, Scotland and Wales. It was founded in 1938 by Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading, as a British women's organisation to recruit women into the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) services to help in the event of War.
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