Home > LEO Computers > LEOPEDIA > Oral & Narrative Histories > Peter Wharton: Interv ... d November 2016 53382

Peter Wharton: Interview 2nd November 2016 53382

 Home > LEO Computers > LEOPEDIA > Oral & Narrative Histories > Peter Wharton: Interv ... d November 2016 53382

Peter Wharton and Leo Computers Society

Digital audio of a recorded interview with Peter Wharton, who worked as a programmer at LEO Computers, later working on System 4.

Interviewer: John Daines
Date of interview: 2nd November 2016
Length of recording: 1h19m13s
Format: 2 original .mp3 recordings 72.59MB (transferred to .mov video for presentation on YouTube 40.99MB)
Copyright in recording content: Peter Wharton and LEO Computers Society

Transcript editor: unknown

Abstract: After West Bromwich Grammar School and graduating with a maths degree from Leicester University. Following the advice of a friend who had become a computer programmer, responded to a LEO job advert, was called for an aptitude test at Hartree House. Offered job as trainee programmer using CLEO, and with his background in maths was assigned to John Caldwell’s Mathematical Programming Group at Minerva Road. Worked on production of linear programming package for solving the transport problem principally for Shell. Notes that unlike the programming groups at Hartree House the Minerva Road group had not adopted a setoff programming, testing and implementation procedures. Moved to join programming teams in Hartree House, and in 1964 after merger with EE selected as member of EELM team to work on RCA Spectra 70 and in particular the design of multiprogramming software for what was to become System 4. Married fellow LEO programmer Sheila Milne. On return to UK moved to Kidsgrove. With formation of ICL advanced rapidly at Company level rising to Chief Engineer working under Technical Director. Became involved in collaborating with Universities including appointment as Visiting Professor at Southampton University and research collaborating with Durham University.

Date : 2nd November 2016

Physical Description : 2 digital files, audio

Transcript :

LEO COMPUTERS LIMITED  -  Oral History Project
Interview with Peter Wharton by John Daines

[John Daines]:  It's the 2nd of November 2016 and I am John Daines.  I am interviewing Peter, Peter Wharton to give us the story of his involvement with LEO Computers from the earliest days.  Morning, Peter.  We are recording this interview as part of the LEO Computers Society Oral History Project.  The audio version and the transcript will be lodged at a central archive and be made available for researchers and members of the public.  Perhaps you would like to introduce yourself?

[Peter Wharton]:   I'm Peter Wharton.  I started at LEO Computers in 1962.   I was born in West Bromwich, well I was actually born in a nursing home which I think is now most probably just above where the M5 crosses the A41, within shouting distance of West Bromwich Albion Football ground, who I now still support.  

[John Daines]:  What did your parents do?
 [Peter Wharton]:  My worked for a printer’s, K&J, in West Bromwich.  He was sort of a manager.  They produced envelopes and did proper printing and whatever, although they have now vanished from existence.  And my mother never actually worked] but she was a nurse during the war.  And her father owned a lot of bakeries in West Bromwich which is where we spent the war, we spent the war living with them.  And when my father came back in 1944 we moved into our own house.  I was the eldest of five children, one brother and three sisters.  So that was my very earliest days in West Bromwich.  I went to West Bromwich Grammar School, West Bromwich being one of the few country, towns in the country that had properly implemented the ‘Butler Act’, so we had a three tier system of Grammar School, Technical School and Secondary Modern School.  How I got into the Grammar School I don't know because our school didn't send many and I was one of two boys from our class that went.  And I just sort of meandered through a Grammar School life.  I found I could do mathematics fairly intuitively without having to concentrate so I ended doing that as my major subject in the sixth form and from whence I went to Leicester University to study mathematics in 1959. I actually came across LEO in my final year I had a friend who went to work as an actuary for Wesleyan and General in Birmingham . They had an IBM 1401, he transferred into that and started programming.  So when I used to come home in the holidays and see him he was telling me what he was doing and explaining and he was telling me, thought it was a wonderful thing to do and how he thought I really would enjoy this activity of programming and, you know, and flowcharting and things.  Anyway after I had taken my finals there were various notice boards around with people who had jobs and one of them was LEO.  So I applied. I went to Hartree House and we had these aptitude tests which were basically simplistic programming, doing flowcharting and then actually doing simplistic coding.  I remember being interviewed. I was sitting by her desk in a corner of an office with everyone, it was just an ordinary corner of a large office with other people in there.  And apparently, according to my personnel records I was also interviewed by John Slison, [00:07:00] both of whom thought I was extremely quiet and was, probably just suited to hiding away in the background doing whatever.  And I apparently expressed an interest in going to researchy type things.  So I was in, I was then sent to see John Caldwell, who was running the mathematical programming section.

my recollection of John Caldwell was going to see him at Minerva Road.  They offered me the job and I sort of accepted.

[John Daines]:  That meant moving to London, obviously, yes?

[Peter Wharton]:  Yes, yes.  By which time this friend of mine who had, who had been working in Birmingham at Wesleyn and General, had moved to a job in ESSO, he was working for ESSO, programming ESSO, the computers in ESSO and he'd already got a place in London so I just came down and joined him.  I was sent on your introduction course at LEO.  I think they started off by teaching you CLEO.

[John Daines]:  So it was LEO III that you started on?

[Peter Wharton]:  It was, so I was starting directly on LEO III. But to teach you the logic of programming they taught you CLEO.  So I did CLEO to start with, and I assume towards the end they must have introduced you to the wonders of intercode.  

[John Daines]:  Yes.

[Peter Wharton]:  And so I did that for two weeks. I was then sent down to Minerva Road to join John’s group.


[John Daines]:  Yeah.  And that group was, what was its prime job?

[Peter Wharton]:  That group was called Mathematical Programming Group.  I can remember the first day when I arrived and I walked in and it was, there was a room full of people.  I mean they weren’t really rooms, they were sort of more partitions and there was a row of offices and you walked along there, John had the end one.  Anyway it was a bit like a Victorian school with everybody sort of sitting in rows and desks. I ended up sitting on the front row, sort of to my right, sitting there, who I became very friendly with and, was somebody called Dave Cole.  And further back there was Audrey Westbrook, and on the back row there was the three people who were doing CLEO, which was Barry Fox, Dave Harper and Tom Wansborough, who I all got to know quite well.  And next to them, there was six behind, was somebody called Nigel Dolby who ended up marrying Audrey Westbrook, and I did go to their wedding.  And, I can't remember anybody else in the room.  I'm, but the room must have been full of people.  Anyway, I was given this thing called Ford and Fulkerson by John
[John Daines]:  It was called what?

[Peter Wharton]:  Ford and Fulkerson Transportation Method.  That's the transportation programme.

[John Daines]:  Yes.  Yeah. 

[Peter Wharton]:  And there was somebody prior to me going who was one of the names I can't remember, I can picture him.  I think he was called Palmer, and had a provisional look at it and outlined that, what to do, so I took it as a starting point.  And that was it, but there was no particular, I had no major supervision.  They just said, ‘that's your problem, go and do it’.  So I sat down and started looking at, you know, but never having programmed anything for real in my life, how to programme, how, effectively, to provide a thing to scan through lots of matrixes, you know, so I had, I probably had to invent, invented, well I thought I invented, sort of, I had loops, three deep loops.  I, you know, IJ Loops to, within IJ Loops, within IJ Loops and scanning it, the three dimensional scanning of these matrixes and whatever.  And I was doing that for probably a couple of weeks when Chris Date joined me, he’d, he'd also joined and gone through the same process as me a week later, and he joined me and ‘the team’, doing Ford and Fulkerson, implementing this and we spent ages together doing it.  And Chris went on to become sort of the world expert in relational  databases and I’ll mention him later, more about him later.

[John Daines]:  Yes.

[Peter Wharton]:  But, so we were doing that for quite a long time and then Chris, I don't quite know why, I mean I got very friendly, oh well I'm still friendly with Chris, we still have communication although he's in California.  I, we ended up, no, he, where did, he, that's right he, he then, for some reason, I think, no, well he decided he didn't particularly like this programming.  I think he was quite good at it, but he was more, he has a sort of slightly more cultural inclination than me and sort of language and stuff.  So he then decided he wanted to move on and he moved into the training.

[John Daines]:  Yeah.

[Peter Wharton]:  And he started sort of teaching people and training.  And so, you know, and so I ended up doing that on my own and we finished it, well, this finished it in quotes, which I will qualify in a minute.  And I then moved, started to move on to something else with this Canadian who had been brought in called Ralph, who I never really got on with.  And we started doing some of these other programmes, which are in the same sort of area, which was trying to optimise distribution. 

[John Daines]:  Was, was this transportation work being done for a particular customer? Was it for Shell?

[Peter Wharton]:  It was doing for Shell, yes. Whether they ever used it I have no idea. Ford and Fulkerson is basically a linear programming, which is a sort of a generalised optimisation technique.  But optimise it is relying on only using . And there was Dave Cole, he was actually writing a proper, more generalised linear programming but he ended up going to Australia with customers for that and he came back and the person who went with him, called David Jones, ended up staying in Australia, and he's still there living in Melbourne.  

When I finished I said ‘John’, I said ‘I think it's finished now’.  In fact there was a major enhancement I did later. ‘Good’, he said, then I came down and I see him and I said ‘what's happened to all my programmes?’  And he didn't know and I'd never even thought about it before, you could be shot for it now, we’d just been, we’d been putting programmes into a run and it's been run on the machines at Minerva Road and the programme’s gone on to mag tapes, but there was no system of keeping the mag tapes.  So when we stopped sending stuff in they just  wiped the mag tapes and sent them off.  So there was no magnetic record of my programmes whatsoever, you know, there was no system for keeping the programmes.  So I had to completely re-transcribe from all the listings, the programme I had written, get it all typed up again and test the whole thing again from scratch.  And I think during that process what had basically been a monolithic programme, we chopped up into three. So I introduced a fairly sophisticated data entry system at the front end; I designed these forms for putting the data entry in with check totals at the bottom.  I mean, so I had a page which was then, 'cos they're basically they're putting in all numbers which is the definition of the, of the location to go round.  And at the bottom, so I put checked totals on each page.  So, so the, sort of the, so I was actually designing a suite.  So the, the first stage of the programme that sort of went through all this lot, and did the check totals and wrote that to a mag tape.  And the mag tape then went into the actual transportation allorhythmia, which every so often would dump itself on to a tape, and so if there was ever a crash you could start off with the current state of the tape and re-start from there.  And then that would, eventually produce an output, so the final say was an output tape which would be put into a print programme which could print the results offline.  As I say, which actually did work quite well in the end I thought.   But the interesting thing was you could re-start the programme. If you started and dumped it, when it ever re-started it didn't necessarily come to the same answer if you’d carried on completely, 'cos when it says it was optimising it was an approximate optimisation so it didn't work exactly.  Anyway, so that's what we produced and I have no idea whether Shell ever used it for real.

[John Daines]:  Yeah.

[Peter Wharton]:  There was never any feedback from Shell or any discussion from my end.  And I left that and we ended up in Hartree House.  

[John Daines]:  Right.  Okay.  Just for the record. It's probably worth mentioning that Minerva Road was effectively the factory.

[Peter Wharton]:  Yes.

[John Daines]:  And probably any machine time that you got at Minerva Road would have been informally used on machines that had been commissioned.

[Peter Wharton]:  Yes, yes.  Yes.

[John Daines]:  And, you're right, there was no disciplined system ensuring that. At Hartree House with the Bureau there were tape librarians and that sort of controls.

[Peter Wharton]:  Oh yes, yes. I’ve got a sheet which is the last programme that was ever submitted there, their return saying ‘tapes and things’ at Hartree.  Yes, I remember Hartree was far more disciplined.

[John Daines]:  People in the factory would come along with their little pile of tapes.

[Peter Wharton]:  Yes.

[John Daines]:  And they'd run it and, and go away with them.  

[Peter Wharton]:  Yes, as a young, innocent lad I just did what I was told and suddenly realised at the end perhaps there should be something a bit more systematic to this.  Yeah, Hartree House was quite good and the way we did it.  So I then moved to Hartree House.

[John Daines]:  Yes.

[Peter Wharton]:  Which in a sense was an interesting cultural shock as well as a sharp shock. I was then put onto something with John Harris.  We were given these planning programmes which sort of planned those until your stop date and end date.

[John Daines]:  Oh like, like PERTS?

[Peter Wharton]:  PERTS, that's it.

[John Daines]:  Yes.

[Peter Wharton]:  Yes, PERTS, that's what I'm thinking of.  It was a PERT programme that had been written in South Africa under the, I don't know quite under whose auspices, but it was, Ninian Eadie   was out in South Africa at the time.

[John Daines]:  Yeah.

[Peter Wharton]:  And he was the one who brought it back.  And we were given this large clever programme, and told to sort it out and get it working over here.  And it was phenomenal, you know, it had been written by some very clever programmers and was phenomenal, it, so we spent, the two of us spent a long time trying to sort bits of it out.  I mean in the end certain core elements we, ended up just throwing away and just replacing them.  And so I was doing that, I mean I had started, remember I had started in LEO in ’62, so we, by now we've sort of got into ’63, and so, and I, so that was what I was doing workwise.  So, say, cultural wise, the interesting thing was, 'cos working in Whiteleys, or above Whiteleys, yeah, in Bayswater, it was tremendously different from working down at Minerva Road.  

[John Daines]:  Which was a factory estate.

[Peter Wharton]:  Which was a factory, I mean, and remember Minerva Road is sort of out...

[John Daines]:  Harlesden.

[Peter Wharton]:  Is out Harlesden way, and I was living in Wood Green.

[John Daines]:  Yeah.

[Peter Wharton]:  Which is, 'cos I'd come in, I'd come in on the tube and sit on the tube, got all the way up, all the way out again on, but to start off with it was a novelty 'cos I'd never, I hadn't been to London, I'd been to London once in my life before I moved to London.  So I mean and so I did quite, yeah I managed, I'd get on earlier so I'd tend to get a seat and I'd just, just used to sit and read, and I read quite a lot on the tubes then.  So, anyway, so, but, but, so we moved to, came back to Hartree House and we’re in this wonderful area.  We were given Luncheon Vouchers. So we used to have these magnificent lunches, you know, so that got me into curries.

One of the things I remember, I think I remember from my early, my, my course, the what I, which, whether this is true or not I don't know.  But when you were doing your course you were given a mentor who was somebody working, when you were being trained you were given a mentor and you, and when you're doing stuff you'd go and see them in their office, and I don't know what his name was, but the, my understanding was and whether I thought it at the time or been told since, was the, whoever it was I was dealing with later left and became a member of the well, phenomenally well-known pop group called ‘The Animals’, who were based in north east.
(Note from Peter Byford: The man he refers to as an "Animals" man is Dave Rowberry , who was keyboard player with the Mike Cotton sound before joining The Animals. He died in 2003 aged 62 . He was reckoned to be the best paid software programmer per hour worked because he was usually off sick with migraine - actually late night working of course. Everybody except his boss, Ernest Roberts, knew why Dave was so often off-sick.)

Towards the end of this stuff at Hartree I was getting a bit bored and my friend who I'd been living with, he moved back to Birmingham and so I ended up moving over to Ealing with some other, one of whom was an ICL person called Brian McNeil, who was a programmer but he worked in sort of direct customer support.  So I moved over there and, but I was getting a bit bored so I actually applied for a job at Dunlop, which is where my friend had moved to, 'cos they had a LEO III computer.  I went up for an interview and one of the attractions was, 'cos my friend was there, was Brian, Tim, Brian Herman.

[John Daines]:  Peter Herman.

[Peter Wharton]:  Peter Herman was there with a very good reputation and my friend thought he was God.  Anyway, I went up for the interview, I didn't actually get to see him, so we had this fairly useful interview.  When I came back down, much to my surprise and slight annoyance, but I didn’t tend to get annoyed, John Caldwell called me in and said ‘what's this going off on an external interview?’  So they'd obviously told the company that I'd applied for this job, which I'm not sure was pucker really, but, anyway, so I didn’t know whether they even offered me a job or not but I didn't follow it through particularly, I was just sort of feeling I needed to spread my wings.  

Towards the end of 1964, by which time LEO must have been taken over by English Electric, but I'm not sure of the exact date of that and, we were English Electric LEO.  Anyway, I was called in to John Watson and they said, ‘would you like to go to America?’, 'cos I was unattached.  I came up to Kidsgrove for a meeting with a group of people who were trying to decide about what we’ll do in America, which was to go to look at Spectra, so it would come back as System Four.  

[John Daines]:  Now that's to go to RCA because...

[Peter Wharton]:  That was to go to RCA...

[John Daines]:  Had strong links with English Electric?

[Peter Wharton]:  All the other people who were at that meeting were Sheila, 'cos she’d been running the master programme for LEO, and there was Victor Hodge was the king of the languages.  And there were people from up there ; the Croppers, Peter and Hilary Cropper, who had been working on languages.  And there was somebody called Alec Robbins who was, I don't know what he'd been doing up there, but they'd all been working on the KDF9E. They were basically operating system people, which I had no idea about at all.  Anyway, I think I was just a body really from the, the LEO point of view, they needed to put bodies in.  Anyway, I came up and there was, I know, a certain level of reservation about whether this was appropriate for me 'cos I had no experience in the subjects we were talking about.   Anyway, they didn't make an immediate decision about when I was going to go.   And so we wandered into ’65 and, I think the first lot they went over, it was probably April or May and then they decided I would go. I'd never travelled in my life really,   I mean, going to America! And they said ‘we will pay you’,  you will transfer to English Electric, New York and we will pro rata your salary so you are sort of on parity.  So I went from earning sort of eight hundred, nine hundred pounds a year, to earning something like nine thousand dollars a year.  Which, I mean even converting back was a phenomenal salary rise, you know.  Anyway, I was then transferred over. I actually flew over, I think, in the June of that year, June ’65.  And there were two of us, Peter Wallis. We flew over together.  I don't know why he'd been delayed although he was slightly paralysed so it may be they were a bit worried about his health.  Anyway, we flew to Philadelphia and were met by Malcolm Shelmerdine in his car. I remember looking at this, as we drove out, I thought ‘oh, I'm in America’.  And so we went to RCA. There was Sheila, Martin Davidson,  over there as it happens with his French girlfriend who had come over with him.  Peter Dury, Cropper, Alec Robbins and Alan Peck, Mike Kingsbury. Malcolm Shelmerdine was there looking after us.  But Mike Kingsbury from English Electric came over as the senior manager in charge of us all later.  And we all went in, we were all put in this hotel to start with then, Cherry Hill, next to the RCA place there.  And then, while we settled in and we were given an allowance, and we each got a nice, what I thought was a big American car, it was actually a small American car, but it was a lot bigger than any English car I'd ever driven. We eventually moved out and rented apartments a bit further out of the city.  I was sharing with Alec Robbins, and Sheila was sharing with somebody else and the Croppers were there.  We actually then spent the ’65 Christmas together as well, which was a major thing. 

But we were distributed around different projects.  Initially we studying OS/360 documentation for RCA 'cos as I say they were basically just trying to copy the OS/360 system, building their own hardware and were writing their own software as well to replace it, as opposed to other people around who just ran pure hardware emulators. Fujitsu wrote a pure hardware which ran IBM software, 'cos they'd decoupled into.  I'm not sure exactly what the function of my group was but I think we were looking at a paging machine, in the end.  But to start with I spent my time looking at  documentation and learning.  I very quickly realised, given with the Americans, as long as I was a page ahead of them in the document I was reading I could out talk them.  Most of the people over there were there for a year and they came back sort of June’ish in ’65.  But in the meantime Sheila and I had got together and we’d been off on holiday together and so we got married over there in May 1966, I better get that right, 1966.  So this was our fiftieth year, wedding anniversary this year.

[John Daines]:  And that's Sheila Milne, as was?

[Peter Wharton]:  That's Sheila Milne as was, yes.  We came back in the October and my youngest sister said that after I got, I got married with Sheila ‘the quality of my presents for them significantly improved’, so rather than whatever it was I used to send them.  

[John Daines]:  But you were working on System Four. Software design? Architecture or….?

[Peter Wharton]:  Well it was a combination of the two.  It was a mid software design age but sort of not hardware design, it was system design.  So one of the things I was working on to, right towards the end, was the proposal design of a paging system.  So I did research into what pages, 'cos you know the Atlas had been over here but the, the American systems had started proposing a two dimensional, where you have segments and pages.  So you'd got a two dimensional addressing structure.  I'd done research into that.  I think it was Carnegie Mellon had done a lot of pages on that.  In fact Peter Cropper and I actually went up for a demonstration in MIT who had a timesharing system which wasn't paging, where they just have chunks of programme. They had lots of terminals, and it was phenomenally advanced for the time.  They'd dump the whole lot out and dump another one in and so different terminals could generally read timeshares as opposed to multi-programming.  Basically, the LEO III concept was you had three types of programme running at any one time.  You had a slow input thing reading cards, you had a fast mid suite doing processing, and a slow printer programme, so they could all multi programme in a genuine sense, although I think LEO called it timesharing.  They had multi programming, they worked well together keeping all the different activities in sync.  At the time the American systems were fairly serial and they'd only just got into proper multiprogramming type systems.  So, technically speaking this is the end of my LEO career 'cos we’re now at English Electric.

[John Daines]:  Yes, yes.

[Peter Wharton] And so from there we came back. Although we were both based in London, technically, we’d come back to Kidsgrove, which is what we did.  We only went into Hartree House to say goodbye.  And we then transferred up to Kidsgrove.  

[John Daines]:  All the benefits of cheaper housing?

[Peter Wharton]:  And so we stayed actually in Kidsgrove in a place called Mary Hill Close, where we stayed in a company house in this little sort of cul-de-sac, and we were in one house, Barry Fox was in a house just across the way, 'cos he'd obviously relatively moved up here, and there was somebody else a bit further on who I got to know a lot more later, called Roy Smethurst.  He was with LEO and, and Roy is now a star in English golf, he is the current, current captain of the English Seniors’ Golf, he is President of Cheshire Golf.

And I was put onto LEO, sorry, put on to System Four index sequential.  Alec Robbins who had been over there was looking after all the other things like serial and stuff, but I was doing index sequential.  And another person eventually joined me called Fred Smith and we sort of did it together.  And we did this grand thing called Index Sequential, which was initially based on what IBM had done.

But the initial direction I got from how to do it was from somebody called Alan Bowers who had 
done the initial reviews of the sort of things to do. I sort of took it over and we decided we wouldn't do it the same way they did, which was phenomenally static.  You had a, different modes whether it was this mode or index mode, and this, that and the other.  We did our own underlying data structure 'cos we decided the IBM one was inefficient.  Whether it was or not I don't know, it, and it was, I can't remember.  The way they did their, their overflow we thought was, was potentially inefficient and we, we designed a slightly more subtle one. Which we thought was more subtle anyway, and we did that.  

By that, I mean most of the index sequential stuff was interesting and in many ways what that index sequential did, each one of those is not significantly different to the way a lot of relational databases work.  'Cos they have them indexed.  But I have no idea how the current relational database are so flexible, 'cos you know the you can change anything. Where  on my index sequential it would have been a phenomenally static process of having different indexes or, you know, you only had one index and that keeping that up to date was bad enough. Nowadays you can have indexes all over the place and relational databases.  But the other thing, the technical thing about the System Four IO, which is significant for long return as well, was what we had done pretty well copied, as had I, because, and ICL, was a command chain structure for doing IO’s, which was effectively a very clever programming structure, which you had to have for the way their discs were working, 'cos you'd have a command saying ‘search for a header’, and then you'd have another command immediately afterwards with ‘thread the data’, and you could do clever things, you could test the data in the command chain.  So between Fred and I, we invented some extremely clever command chains. 

And I became a great advocate of command chains.  And, I don't know whether it was my fault, although I was a strong proponent of it, later on,  when I finished index sequential,  I was temporarily seconded, moved into another room which was pseudo research, but I was then sent again, people seemed to like sending me off.  I was seconded from Kidsgrove with Brian Warboys, down to the New Range project.

[John Daines]:  Yes.

[Peter Wharton]:  And Brian and I spent, effectively a year going down Putney under Mike Forest’s sort of tutelage.

[John Daines]:  So, if we just summarise, we've got to about 1968’ish, ’69?

[Peter Wharton]:  Yes, we've got to about ’68 now, yes.

[John Daines]:  ‘68/’69.

[Peter Wharton]:  Yes.

[John Daines]:  So you, you've been through LEO and learned those basic lessons.

[Peter Wharton]:  Yes.

[John Daines]:  You've gone through System Four. Could, could you summarise  where you went after that and, and how, perhaps, did, did the LEO ways of working influence you as you went on?

[Peter Wharton] I went down to New Range where, amongst other things, command chains found themselves in New Range.  They were one of the first things that Ed Mac, when he came in, threw out because he decided they were too expensive and the whole new IO system that came in, threw out command chains, which allowed them to make the IO hardware cheaper 'cos command chains were too expensive.  No, to summarise what happened after that, I went into the design team, and I started off doing a specific area of VME, then moved to the general design team where I ended up working for Brian Warboys and managing the whole group of system designers. The VME management structure was very stylised, we had a very strong central design team who, dictated is probably too strong a word, but had dictatorial powers.

[John Daines]:  Yeah.

[Peter Wharton]:  There was a, a very formal interface about writing proposals. The Offspec  (I think OSTECH – jd) designers as we were called, our system team, were sort of supposed to be ‘kings of the world’, well they thought they were ‘kings of the world’, and so I ran into some of those.  And when Brian moved on again I then took over the whole team, ran those for several years.  So in a sense, after that what tended to happen my career got, as I went higher my responsibilities got wider but the depth of them got thinner, which, to some degree, was intellectually less satisfying.  I mean from an ego point of view it's quite satisfying, but intellectually it wasn't.  And so I did that and so a bit of bouncing around, so after all that I moved on.  I then eventually became System Authority for the whole of what was mainframes and had a sub-set of my Offspec OSTECH people working for me.  

[John Daines]:  Right.

[Peter Wharton]:  And then eventually that level moved up to be company level so I was the Company System Engineer, which is a funny title 'cos it's, engineer doesn't really apply to that level.  It was a cross between a Systems Engineer/System Designer and I was directly working for the ICL Technical Director, which was Andrew Boswell at the time.  So, in theory, I had some undefined level of authority over the system level for the whole company.

[John Daines]:  That's when you were Chief Engineer?

[Peter Wharton]:  That was when I was Chief Engineer.  As part of that I started dealing with universities. By which time Brian Warboys had gone to Manchester.

[John Daines]:  That's to Manchester University?

[Peter Wharton]:  University.  But I also then became a visiting professor down at Southampton University through somebody called Peter Henderson. That was for a few years.  And so I broadened out. I had taken over the responsibility for our role in BSI. At the time BSI had a thing called ‘DISC’, which was the sub-committee, looking after all IT standards.

[John Daines]:  Yes.

[Peter Wharton]:  It had been set up by an ex ICL person called Chris Cheetham.  And so I was joining in that.  I, I would, did quite a bit of work with Durham University, somebody called Keith Bennett, who, who ran a thing called a ‘Software Maintenance Department’ there.  During this period as well, probably be just before Brian left, I became an ICL fellow. We did create things like the distinguish engineers thing but approximately once, two monthly the six or seven fellows at the time, we all used to go and have an evening dinner with Peter Bonfield who was a CEO.  

So eventually I retired, however I carried on working, doing some work with ICL through the fellowship scheme and some other things.  One of the things, my last Will and Testament to ICL as it were really, was I raised the year 2000 problem.  It's, this was just before I'd left we’d, somebody had raised this issue with me so we did a lot more detail investigation and decided this was going to be a fairly significant problem and I ended up doing a presentation to the Board, describing what the year 2000 problem was and as a result of that presentation, ICL set up a whole project run by Alan Rowley to deal with the year 2000 problem. I got the whole company together and every development in the company had given an assessment as to what their software was going to be affected by, which was quite dramatic really.  

How did the LEO experience affect me?  As I said, I think the major impact on my career was going to America 'cos that changed what I was going to work on, the skill set, and to some degree my whole sort of interaction with people and debate.  But from an initial teaching point of view I feel, I, with sort of benefit of hindsight, that it may well be that the, the way I was taught to programme, sort of pre-set my neural network. Learning CLEO first before I got to languages taught me the initial value of a higher level abstraction to understand what you’re doing.  My daughter was at university, Brunel, doing a computer science course. One of her boyfriends said, ‘when I'm programming we sit at the computer and I write this basic and I do it.  Your daughter sits down and writes out in advance what she wants to do, where it's going to go’.  And I thought, ‘oh, well I've achieved something in life’.  

[John Daines]:  Thank you Peter. What a wonderful end to what's been interesting.  This interview with Peter Wharton has been recorded by the LEO Computer Society and the Society would like to thank Peter very much for his time and reminiscences.  The interview and the transcript form part of an Oral History Project to document the early use of electronic computers in business and other applications, but particularly in business.  Any opinions expressed are those of the interviewee, that is Peter, and not of the Society.  The copyright of this interview in recorded form and in transcript remains the property of the LEO Computer Society 2016. 


Provenance :
Recording made by the LEO Computers Society as part of their ongoing oral history project.

Archive References : CMLEO/LS/AV/WHARTON-20161102 , DCMLEO20221231003-04

Related Topics:
This exhibit has a reference ID of CH53382. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

The video above may be subject to copyright of the original author and is present only on this website for non-profit educational purposes only. If you are the original copyright owner and wish to have the media removed from this website please contact us using the relevant contact email address listed on our contact page.





Click on the Images
For Detail

Help support the museum by buying from the museum shop

View all items

Founding Sponsors
redgate Google ARM Real VNC Microsoft Research
Heritage Lottery Funded
Heritage Lottery Fund
Accredited Museum