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Geoff Pye: Interview, 3 August 2017 56449

 Home > LEO Computers > LEOPEDIA > Oral & Narrative Histories > Geoff Pye: Interview, 3 August 2017 56449

Geoff Pye and LEO Computers Society

Digital audio of a recorded interview with Geoff Pye, who was a programmer with LEO Computers, eventually running the London bureau.

Interviewer: Paul Bygrave
Date of interview: 3 August 2017
Length of recording: 1h40m41s
Format: 5 original .mp3 recordings 122.83MB (transferred to .mov video for presentation on YouTube 317.56MB)
Copyright in recording content: Geoff Pye and LEO Computers Society

Transcript editor: unknown

Abstract: Abstract: Geoff Pye (who died 2023) was brought up in near Ilford, East London, took a degree in Geography at Kings College, University of London, and after 2 years National Service, looked to start a career as a Management Trainee. Applying to Lyons, amongst other companies, he was diverted to the fledgling LEO organisation, interviewed by Ted Rowley and David Caminer, he was impressed, took the aptitude test and was offered a job as a programming trainee under the tutelage of Leo Fantl. 

After a period rising in the programming/system ranks, including secondment to the MPNI LEO II/6 in Newcastle changed tack to running computer operations taking charge of the first of the London LEO service bureaux and subsequently the EELM and ICL bureau operations. Following a brief interlude working for consultants John Hoskyns he returned to ICL as a senior manager for BARIC the joint service bureau company set up by ICL and Barclays Bank. As batch services were sold off to be replaced by INS, the ICL network services company, Geoff took up the reigns. More senior jobs in operations followed before retirement age 60.

Date : 3rd August 2017

Physical Description : 5 digital files, audio

Transcript :

LEO COMPUTERS SOCIETY -  Oral History Project
Interview with Geoff Pye by Paul Bygrave

[Paul Bygrave]: It is Thursday the 3rd of August 2017 and I am Paul Bygrave. I am interviewing Geoffrey Pye to give us the story of his involvement with LEO Computers from the earliest days.
Good morning Geoff Pye.  We are recording this interview as part of the LEO Computer Society Oral History Project.  The audio version and the transcript will be lodged at the central archive and made available to researchers and members of the public.  The transcript of this recording has been edited with the agreement of the respondent, Geoff Pye.  Mistakes have been corrected and some clarification added within the text.  Terms which may not be familiar to readers are explained in the end note.   Right Geoff, can I start by asking you where you were born and when?

[Geoff Pye]: Well I was born in Ilford, Essex back in 1932, which is eighty five years ago, so you can work out I'm eighty five years old now.

[PB]: You're looking pretty good for eighty five Geoff, I tell you. Going back a little bit over your early life, a little bit about the occupations of mother and father and do you have any memories that you are able to talk about?

[GP]: Yes, my father was born in the nineteenth century, so back in the eighteen hundreds, 1899.  And my mother was born in 1900.  And, my father, well both my parents were much cleverer than I was.  My father did a degree in history, but not at university, he did it by external study.  And he got a First Class and he was the first person to get a First Class Degree that year in history from external studies.  So he was quite good and he knew all his Shakespeare and all his poetry and everything else, and the classics.

[PB]: And your mother carried out a traditional role of the household?

[GP]: She was basically a mother but they were lived through the first world war, the one in 1914/18.   My mother was working in the Ministry of Pensions, looking after the pensions for soldiers who had been brought back to England from world war one.  And she was a clever girl as well.  And they married in 1924.  They had a son, my brother, 1927, and I came along in 1932.

[PB]: And where was their original home ?  Ilford, like yourself?
[GP] They both lived in Seven Kings, which is really part of Ilford, Essex from about 1924, and because the second world war then came, and all things changed in 1939 which meant my education was interrupted quite a bit.  We travelled around the West Country, evacuated from London, and strangely enough although I had been evacuated we actually got bombed out in the place we were evacuated to.
[PB]: Tell me about your early schooling and your educational background and aspects of that, further education and possibly university?

[GP]: I mentioned the war, I went to four schools by the time I was nine.  I started off at  the local school in Ilford, called Gearies School, but at the age of seven, when the war came, my parents decided to move my mother and myself and my brother to some cousins in  Great Malvern, who owned a farm.  So we were there for quite some time when I went to the village school.  My father stayed in London, he was a civil servant in the Exchequer and Audit Department.  And during the war he was attached to the Admiralty and they moved the offices down to Bath, and that was in 1940.  So he came down to Bath and we moved from Malvern to Bath and he rented a house there and I went to some schools in Bath.  I started off in the local school, which wasn't very good, so I was then enrolled into King Edward’s School, Preparatory School, King Edward the Sixth’s School, from the age of nine to eleven.  So I'd been to school in Ilford, one in Great Malvern and I went to two in Bath.  When I became eleven I passed the scholarship to the City of Bath Boys’ School where my brother was also a student; and that lasted until soon after the war.  What had happened was that because we’d moved out of the house in Ilford, it was vacant, and it got requisitioned by the council to put homeless people in it.  So after, when the war finished in 1945 we couldn't move back to our house because there were people still in it.  

[GP]: So eventually we came back in 1946 to Ilford and I transferred to the Ilford County High School for Boys.  Strangely enough, the school my father used to go to, my uncle used to go to, although it was an older building they went to.  My mother went to the girls’ part of the school, and my brother went there.  So, it was the County High School, so I finished my schooling in Ilford, Essex. 

[PB]: And did you specialise in those early days in any particular subject or any particular subjects interested you?

[GP]: Well in those days they had something called ‘The General School Certificate’, I think they're called GCSE’s now.  One where you took the normal subjects, about eight or ten subjects, and then when you went to the sixth form you had to specialise and I specialised in geography, pure maths, applied maths and physics. The sixth form was two years’ study for the Higher School Certificate.  I passed all my exams fortunately and then I'd decided to go to university.  I went to King’s College in London to study geography, trying to get a science degree in geography, specialising in geomorphology, which is the study of land forms, development of land forms.  And I chose King’s, London because the professor there, well two reasons, the professor there was an expert in geomorphology, he did a lot of research and written books, plus the fact, in those days King’s College was linked to the London School of Economics for geography and also for, to University College.  So we had the benefit of professors and lecturers in all three establishments.

[PB]: So, for my benefit who doesn't understand land forms; could you expand on that a bit more?  What does that mean?  What is it?

[GP]: Well how the scenery developed, how the fields, the hills are formed how the river valleys were formed, what effect the Ice Age had on the landscape and channelling out the rivers into wide ‘U’ shaped valleys.  And this Professor Wooldridge, he did a lot of research on what was called peneplains, which are flat platforms high up and what he was analysing was how the platforms were formed, and it was basically the river beds channelled into the countryside and the land rose over a period of time, 'cos the earth is changing all the time, it's moving. Going down in some places, you get The Alps coming out and you've got The Pennines coming up, you know, and it was the study of how that all came about.

[PB]: So during this career all the way through to university, were there outside of your educational aspects of those early days, any other activities or interests you developed?

[GP]: Well I was keen on sport, so I played football at school or I played rugby, because in the West Country, Bath, you used to play rugby, back in Essex they played soccer.  So I played rugby, soccer, hockey, sometimes, at school, cricket and I also played tennis.  And when I left school I used to play for the ‘Old Boys’, both in football, the second eleven I remember, and cricket.  I used to play sometimes on a Saturday and a Sunday, on a Sunday because fewer people played I was in the second eleven, and on a Saturday  it was the third eleven.   And, I didn't specialise in anything such as a good bowler or batsman, I was just an average cricketer in the middle on the list.

[PB]: And were there any other aspects of interest in those schooling days, educational days, anything to do with computing in those days?

[GP]: No, well it didn't exist, the computer industry didn't exist back in the 1940’s. I mean during the war computers were used for mathematical research type work, and if you read the history books about LEO it tells you how LEO developed and turned these computers into machines for commercial work, which was before I actually started with LEO.

[PB]:  Did you do any National Service?

[GP]: I did.  In my day you did two years’ National Service.  You could either do it when you left school or later if you went to university.  I chose to do it after university because I thought if I went to do two years in the forces I probably wouldn't like going back to studying.  So I was enrolled into the army, the Royal Artillery, my father and my uncle were in The Royal Horse Artillery in the old days and my grandfather, paternal grandfather, was a professional soldier in The Royal Horse Artillery, and he served out in India where he got married to the army school mistress and my uncle was born out there, and then he went on to South Africa and fought in the Boer War.  And he was at the relief of Mafeking and the relief of Ladysmith and he specialised as a farrier, looking after the horses.  In those days the field guns were pulled and dragged about by horses, they   weren’t mechanised in those days.   So that's why I was allocated I think, to the Royal Artillery. Partly because of the history of the family and also because they tend to allocate people according to their schooling and their education and geographers were put into the Royal Artillery.  So I spent something like ten weeks in Oswestry, Shropshire  doing basic training and then I got a posting to a Brigade Headquarters of the Ack Ack (anti aircraft).  So I was trained in field guns, which point horizontally, and got posted to an Ack Ack unit, which shoots up into the skies to hit aeroplanes.

[PB]: So in that period of your life, did you receive any career advice during those days of education?  And was there any career you were envisaging or thinking about at that time?

[GP]: No, when I was at school they had sort of vocational training exercise, where people came in and tested you and suggested what your good aptitudes were.  And I actually, well my father funded a session with a vocational guidance organisation in London and they put me through various tests, mechanical tests and what have you, and they wrote a report which was very non-specific, when I was  doing National Service, the end of National Service, I didn't really know what sort of job I wanted to go into.  

[PB]: Okay.  And, so how did your career start, having left National Service?

[GP]: What I discovered was that the universities had links with industry and commerce and I had discussions with them and they came up with a list of companies that were looking for management trainees and I applied to, believe it or not, about five or six companies for    management  training schemes.  Also I applied to the Colonial Service because they were doing surveying in Africa, aerial surveying, so that was something I considered.  There was  also  the London County Council, they all wanted management trainees.  And I actually I saw quite a few companies, but the two which interested me from this, one was British Tabulating Machine Company, punch cards, and computers. So that captured my imagination and  they offered me a job as a technical support or something, I'm not quite sure, and I didn't know what it involved, but I got interested in that.  And the last company I applied to was J. Lyons and Company and I didn't know what to expect when I went for the interview.  I saw a personnel manager in Lyons, had a discussion with him, and he suggested that I might be interested in computing, LEO Computers.  So I said ‘yeah, okay’.  I didn't know what a computer was in those days. I'd heard of electric, electronic brains and computers for scientific work, so I didn't really know what Lyons wanted a computer for.  Anyway, this personnel manager handed me over to Ted Rowley, he was manager of the LEO I operations, to show me what a computer looked like and how it worked.  I was then passed to someone in the programming department, a guy called Leo Fantl, who was one of three of the senior programmers at that time, and he explained programming to me.  And I ended up being interviewed by David Caminer who ran the systems and programming department.  (Editor: for profiles of David Caminer and Leo Fantl  see LEOPEDIA)
I had this interview with David Caminer and at the end of it I showed him my army passbook, the passbook is something you carry as a soldier in your pocket which has your name and your rank and details of things that you've qualified in.  But at the end there's a testimonial page, so I thought, well, I’ll show him this page, it's a personal assessment,  I thought it sounded quite good, and he read it with interest.  And at the end of the interview he said, ‘who is this chap who has signed this testimonial?’  I said ‘it's Brigadier Devereaux, my commanding officer’.  He said ‘Oh, he lives next door to me’, David Caminer lived in East Sheen at that time.  So he said to me ‘I’ll talk to the brigadier tonight and I’ll contact you again in the morning’, but he didn't actually contact me but one of the other personnel managers contacted me and I was offered the job. That was in 1955. I think that LEO Computers had been formed but it still operated as Lyons and I was paid by Lyons and regarded then as a   Lyons’ employee, working on LEO.

[PB]: So did that interview make any particular special impressions on you or was it typically a normal interview?

[GP]: Well quite in-depth. Quite penetrating.  People who worked for David Caminer found him very intelligent but he could be quite aggressive.  And the interview at times became aggressive, not because of our conversations.

[PB]: So having joined, having successfully sought employment with Lyons, then how did your career start with Lyons and computing?
[GP]:  The procedure in those days was that you went on a training course, it was a five week training course given by the LEO staff, it told you all about the computer, how it worked, how to code and I learnt about the input and output devices, because in those days you just had punch card machines and you had a tabulating printer, all mechanical, and paper tape.  So you had those sort of input devices and output devices, so you learned about that.  You learned about the methodology, you know, the procedures which Lyons had developed, starting off with the specification, going into a systems flow chart, programming flow chart, writing the code, all the annotation.  In those days you wrote in machine code, no languages in those days, just machine code, so you had to understand how the machine worked.  And then you did manual checking of code because a computer was a valuable commodity that was more expensive to run than paying programmers.  So if you wrote code you always had it checked by another person before you started trialling it with your own data.  So you produced test data and the results you expected, and you repeated that process until you were happy with the result of the program and the series of   programs, make sure they linked together, and you ended up with a parallel run, using customers’ data, the customer supplying the data and verifying the results.  So, to make sure that the customer was happy before they went live on the system.  So we were taught all that information and also a bit about the programs that Lyons had already written and were operational.  And the last stage, there were basically three main   programs which Lyons were running.  There was the Lyons bakery’s payroll,   hourly paid payroll, there was the tea shops job which, because Lyons had tea shops scattered round the country, quite a few hundred of them, and the tea shops job was to process the orders and produce production schedules and also delivery schedules.  And the third job, which was running on a regular basis, was to do with their tea business.  So there were three main jobs running when I joined.

[PB]: You say tea business, what was that bit, what it actually comprised of?  When you say tea business?

[GP]: Oh, well, the Lyons used to have out in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in Africa, various tea plantations and they used to blend the tea and sell it as tea brands and they used to do tea stocks   and blending programmes. (Editor:  The tea Lyons blended and packed came from three sources:  Lyons’ own tea plantations, the weekly Mincing Lane tea auctions, and tea from tea plantations in India and elsewhere brought by Lyons on long-term contracts. The Lyons tea brands were well known and popular).

[PB]:  So, you had this training. At the end of the training what was your first project?

[GP]: I was allocated to the payroll project and by that time Leo Fantl was running that project.  And there were one, two, three, about four other groups run by people.  There was Jim Smith who was running a mathematical, scientific section.  There was Frank Land and John Grover, more on production control systems.  So there were five, as far as I remember, also a chap called John Gosden who was doing a lot of research work, especially for the introduction of the next  machines coming down the line which was LEO II and LEO III.  So, I was allocated to Leo Fantl, who had in his team of the fifteen programmers in the whole office, quite a small collection, including Mary Blood and Pat Cooper, who supervised me on a day-to-day basis. (Editor: Pat Cooper later married Leo Fantl. For profiles Frank Land,  John Grover, John Gosden and Mary Blood see LEOPEDIA)).What I started doing was not writing programs  but checking programs and amendments to programs and answers to trial results to programs  written by Mary and Pat.  I was just checking their code and from a logic point of view, and slips of the pen, and making sure as far as we could, that the code was good before it was actually tested on the machine.  
[PB]: So a fairly responsible job at a very early stage really, I think?
[GP]: Well, no, it was at the bottom end because the person responsible was, in my case, Mary Blood, who reported to Leo Fantl.  She did the creative work, writing the original code and everything like that, so I just double checked.

[PB]: For how long did you carry out this role?

[GP]: It carried on for a couple of months I suppose and one of the jobs which was being undertaken when I joined was the payroll for the Ford Motor Company.  And most of that had been written and I was given the job of writing the program for tax year end procedures. At the end of every tax year, the company had to submit to the Inland Revenue, Tax Revenue, the hours, amounts of a person’s gross pay and tax and all that relevant other information.  So there was a special computer run at the end of the tax year to produce these documents to go to the tax authorities and also to reduce down to zero all the totals that had been held for each individual for tax purposes.  So that was the first program I was entrusted with.

[PB]: How long did that take you to write?

[GP]: I can't remember, but it was probably six weeks or so and then testing it.  And of course one of the procedures you had to do, besides writing and testing the program, was write the procedures for the operators to follow, operating instructions.

[PB]: Then you moved on to, after that?

[GP] What then happened about the beginning of 1957, the LEO II/1, the first LEO II model was installed and I had a sort of mini commercial   program for that.  It was a demonstration   program which would run on the machine so that the sales people could actually demonstrate to potential customers that their computer understood the requirements and a program actually working.  So I wrote this demonstration program, and of course the code on LEO II was a different code from LEO I.  The machine was four times faster but the mechanical equipment like printers and card readers were still the same speed So one of the jobs of the programmers, in those days, was to try and make sure that when you read a card you, you wrote the code so that you maximise the amount of time available to you between calculating something and reading a card or printing  a line of print.  Because a card reader read 200 cards per minute and punched 100 cards a minute and the printer was just a 100 lines a minute, it's very slow compared with the speed of the computer.
[PB]:  So that was critical, that one part of the program didn't get ahead of the other then?

[GP]: You didn't really want the computer held up waiting for a card to be read or a line of print to be printed. The engineers had developed a system by having buffers, input buffers and output buffers, to help to smooth that process. But you made sure when you were doing the coding that if you're reading a card, or punching a card or doing a line of print, that you spaced it out. The length of time it took to do a job was very dependent anyway on the speed of input and output.  But we tried to maximise its speed.   Following that test program, I was then allocated a project of my own to run, reporting direct to Leo Fantl.  And that was a job we did for Kodak, it was doing the hourly payroll for Kodak, together with a lot of payroll statistics.  

[PB]: Were you responsible for this project?

[GP]: Yes.  I did the flowcharting, I did quite a bit of the programming, I had some programmers allocated to me.

[PB]: Do you remember how many?

[GP]: Well at least a couple, I can remember there was a guy called Sam Walters and another Mike Josephs. (Editor: Sam Waters and Mike Josephs had successful careers first with LEO and then outside, Sam in academia where he rose to be Professor of Computing at the University of  the West of England and Mike as head of computing for the London Stock Exchange. More details of their careers can be found in LEOPEDIA.) There might have been one, two, another one, I'm not sure.  But there was a potential problem: what was a little  bit special about this was that I think Kodak were a bit itchy about what would happen if the computer broke down, so they asked us to do a standby program. So I wrote this, we had produced these series of programs with LEO II, but they wanted a standby to run on LEO I in case of a problem.  It required the different LEO I code so...

[PB]:  At that point in time you didn't have a second LEO II on which to run, it was just the one?

[GP]: Just the one. And  we didn't do the complete suite of programs for LEO I, just the core    program of calculating the pay slip, just to run on LEO I.  And that slightly compromised the design of the system for LEO II because the LEO I computer, that had 2048 seventeen bit words whereas the LEO II had nineteen bit words.  So we had to design the punch cards so they could be read by  by both the LEO I and the LEO II.   In practice it was never used. And there was one or two false alarms when we thought it might be used because in those days computers weren't quite as reliable as they are now.  

[PB]: And was this a weekly payroll, or an hourly payroll?

[GP]: It was an hourly payroll - run weekly.

[PB]:  In those days if you didn't actually get the employees pay out on time, you'd run into serious problems with the unions and the employees wouldn't you?  So it was sensible to have the backup, I guess?

[GP]: Oh yes, of course it's essential to have a backup. But that was the first customer we came across that wanted that requirement.  And subsequent ones didn't. But mind you, as things developed, quite a few LEO II’s were produced and many, many, many LEO III’s, although the practicality of using another LEO II and another LEO III is probably not very great, because  the customers are actually using them themselves. (Editor: In practice many LEO customers, including Lyons itself, had mutual back-up agreements with other LEO installations, and these were deployed on a number of occasions, notably when there was a fire at a LEO III installation)

[PB]:  Having completed the Kodak payroll, how long did it take to actually go from the start of a project to operational implementation?

[GP]t was a matter of months. Three, four months, something like that.  It might have been a bit longer, I can't quite remember the actual details, certainly less than a year, much less than a year Following that I was allocated quite a major project, customers were actually purchasing LEO II’s to run themselves on their own premises.  And I think it was in 1959 the Ministry of Pensions & National Insurance (MPNI) bought a computer (LEO II/6) and it was the MPNI’s ‘paper factory’.  It was a big sort of bungalow town with quite a lot, something like fifty, probably, single storey buildings, linked with corridors and there they did all the paperwork.  The idea was to put the computer in there to run their payroll and statistics applications.  It's the first LEO government project and I was allocated that.  The concept that LEO had in those days was that you set up a training course for the customers’ staff and in this case there was something like a dozen people from the MPNI, from executives downwards, to analyse the computer, including potential programmers.  And what we tended to do was to train these people, let's talk about programmers in particular, together with our own staff to develop the  programs.  And then installed them for the customer on his own equipment, on his premises. That was quite a major project for me.  

[PB]:  When did the customers’ programmers get involved with the application- the payroll system?  Was it they who joined you at some stage in the project?
[GP]:  They came in at the very beginning. They had something like five or six programmers, plus the MPNI guy who joined me as the manager running it.  I had one LEO programmer helping me Colin Baker, who worked for me.  And what we did was to supervise them, doing the flowcharting and doing the coding and then, eventually, the testing on the machine when it was actually installed in Newcastle.  So we started off in London, we were based in Hartree House and Cadby Hall  where the LEO I and the LEO II were. So I was based there for two or three months and then the computer was installed in Newcastle and then we moved to Newcastle to complete the work and to test it, on the computer.

[PB]: At that time in the industry were there any aptitude tests to determine whether a person was suitable to become a programmer?  

[GP]:  There were aptitude tests, they were introduced for potential LEO programmers as well, people working for LEO.  But going back to the MPNI. It was a very complicated program because they had very complex structures and payrolls, all encompassed in a very big comprehensive rule-book called the ‘establishment code’.  And we had to link a magnetic drum, for extra storage, to the computer.  And also, for the payroll.  In the past we just printed payroll slips, which were then put into pay packets with the money.  On this occasion they wanted pay bags, with a pay bag incorporating the pay slip.  So we had to have an alphanumeric printer, and we had a full alphanumeric printer.  (Editor: LEO I and the early LEO IIs used numeric only tabulators and had no backing  store. LEO II/6 was provided with an alphanumeric printer from Bull the French punch card and computer manufacturer and a magnetic drum for backing store). There were two problems that emerged; one was that the magnetic drum was late, it wasn't manufactured by LEO, it was bought in from another company, and it was delivered late.  So I had to try and test the programs without a drum. So I devised a system of using punch cards, reading the information, which all should have been on the drum, on punch cards to test the programs.  And then, of course, when the magnetic drum came along, got installed, the code had to be slightly changed so information could be read from the magnetic drum instead.   It made it complicated because  you had to work out what pieces of data the program had to find to make sure you had the right punch card available to be read. A bit of a problem with the Bull printer, which the commissioning engineers had to solve, was that if we have a pay bag, thread through a computer on sprockets, one side of the continuous paper going through the printer is double thickness and the other side single thickness, which is the flap to seal the envelope.  The engineers took some time to solve that problem. 
During that time, I spent several months commuting to Newcastle.  I used to catch the Sunday night Sleeper Train from London up to Newcastle and come back late afternoon on the Friday. That was good fun, I quite enjoyed that.  

[PB]:  And how many people were doing the same journey with you on that project then?

[GP]:  From LEO only Colin Baker.  All the other MPNI programmers were staff from Newcastle anyway. So that while they were in London, they stayed at a hotel. So we reversed the process, I stayed at a hotel during the week when I went up to Newcastle.

[PB]: When did that project end?

[GP]: That project ended for me in 1960.  I remember when I came back to base in London, everything had changed.  When I went up to Newcastle we were in Cadby Hall and all the programmers were in an adjacent building, Elms House.  When I came back, all the programmers had moved to Hartree House in Queensway in London.  And about that time, the person I was reporting to, Leo Fantl, went out to South Africa. We had sold a LEO computer to Rand Mines in South Africa and he went out to install that and run it also as a service bureau.  So I came back and had a different boss.
The other change which took place soon after that was that the activities of LEO got split into two. I'm talking about the systems and programming.  Not engineers and development engineers and what have you.  The activities got split into two, one was conventional bureau activities, where we did work for the customers and ran it on our own computers.  And the other side was where we were selling computers to customers, like the MPNI, LEO II machines, where we were developing systems to run on those computers. So the two separate activities were the bureau operation and the Computer installations.  So that happened about the same time.

[PB]: In your time with MPNI, in this modern day and age we tend to think of a systems analyst looking at the project and designing the requirement, and the programmer sitting and programming it.  It sounds like you were the systems analyst and the programmer? In this the case?  Was that true?

[GP  You had three different sorts of people, you had the engineers who developed the equipment and maintained the equipment.  You had the operators who operated the work on the computers.  Then you had the systems and the programmers, and there was just one combined job.  So systems and programming came under the heading of programming. But obviously when we’re talking about some, the separate part of the organisation looking after customers’ installations, things changed on that side in that you had consultants who analysed the requirements of these potential customers. (Editor: job descriptions changed as the business evolved and as individuals developed special skills. Individuals with an understanding of how business systems worked became known as Consultants and they consequently took the lead in selling computers). On the other side, the non-bureau side you had consultants and you had teams of programmers to assist, to write  programs and assist the customer writing  programs. Then, of course, you had the operators who were normally the customers’ staff.  

[PB]:  You came back in 1960 from the MPNI job? And where did you work from then?  What office were you based in?

[GP]:  I was still based in Hartree House when I came back. Before that it was Elms House, so we came back to new premises.  And I worked for a Jim Smith who was in charge of all  bureau activities and software development, machine software and applications software. I worked for him to look after all the operations side, so it was looking after LEO I and LEO I in Cadby Hall and Elms House. The first LEO Operations manager was Peter Wood, who was looking after that.  We had an installation by then of LEO II/5 in Hartree House and Bill Steel, was still running that.  And then LEO III came along and was installed and became part of the bureau and I had Bob Woodward looking after that.  I didn't set it up, Terry Piercey actually set it up, but it was handed over to the bureau as a running concern.  And then we had a very big data preparation department, produced the paper tape to feed data in to the computer. Derek Jolly used to run that for me.  So that went on for quite some time.  And then at a later stage the programming department came under my auspices, which was run by Helen Clarke. So we had operating and Programming.  And at one stage John  Lewis came in, as my boss, to run the organisation. (Editor: Helen Clarke later married Mike Jackson.  For profiles of Peter Wood, Derek Jolly and John Lewis see LEOPEDIA).  By the time of the merger with English Electric took place, which happened  in 1963.  By that time I was looking after the totality of the bureau and reporting to T.R. Thompson. That was the end of LEO as a separate entity, following the merger with English Electric. So it was the start of phase two of my career really. 
We all thought it was a merger.  In hindsight, looking back, everyone thinks it might have been a takeover.   A lot of the senior people in LEO weren't very happy, to put it mildly.  I was on the bureau side so, English Electric had a guy called  Cliff  Robinson, who I started reporting to.  He was, in English Electric responsible for bureau activities and software development, and in the new structure, he carried on with that and took over the LEO bureau business as part of his empire. What happened to start with was that I started reporting to him but the two bureaus were completely separate, manned separately   the English Electric bureau, which was based in Kidsgrove,  and they had   KDP10’s and KF9’s  computers.  Whereas, of course, we had LEO computers.  So they were incompatible anyway.  I was the only senior LEO manager in that part of the new organisation, all the others were English Electric managers, looking after Kidsgrove, and in their element up there.  hat went on for a couple of years  or it could have been longer, and then they decided to integrate the two bureaus.  The way that they decided to do that was to turn it into a functional organisation.  So you had a programming section, and you had an operational section and  I was put in charge of operations to try and integrate the two.  So I was looking after the equipment in Kidsgrove and also the equipment in London, from an operational point of view.  But I wasn't all that happy, I didn't think  really changing  to a functional organisation was particularly good.  I didn't like the culture in English Electric.  It was totally different from that of LEO, where you had quite a lot of authority to get on with the job.  English Electric seemed to be much more a big company culture and authority seemed to be stripped away from you, so I wasn't all that happy.  And what put the kybosh on it for me was that they decided to move all the senior managers, locate them all in one place, which would be Kidsgrove.  I really didn't want to particularly move to Kidsgrove.  And I thought, ‘well, is that a sensible move anyway for the business’, because most of the customers were London based.  And I could see that, before too long, we’d be coming back to London, and I didn't want to double move.  So all these thoughts were going through my mind. Then I got a call from a company called John  Hoskyns and Company, which is a management consultancy company, set up by John  Hoskyns two or three years before.  He was setting up an additional company on the software side and I was approached and asked if I wanted to join this new company, which was called Hoskyns Systems Research.  And the job on offer was software development, software engineering.  It sounded very interesting; based on IBM equipment. IBM 360’s.Which I hadn't been involved in before but basically I had managed one or two different types, but you know, a computer’s a computer. And it's just the technicalities which are a bit different.  So I joined them in 1968.  I’d just spent four to five years with English Electric LEO.  It was in 1968 I joined John Hoskyns and I was there for getting on for three years and then I had a call out of the blue from Ralph Woolf who I knew from the past because he was a former English Electric employee.  He asked me to come and see him, which I did’ but by then the company called ICL had been formed.   That had been formed in 1968 whilst I was with John Hoskyns.  It was putting together into one company all the considerable parts of the English Electric computer industry and ICT. (Editor: A Government sponsored attempt to unite the fragmented UK computer industry into one ‘champion’ to face the onslaught of competition from the US computer industry).
What Ralph Woolf  told me was that had been asked to set up a new company called   BARIC Computing Services and this was sixty percent owned by ICL and forty percent by Barclays Bank.  And he asked me if I'd join him and run one of their Sectors ; and I yearned for LEO.  I think David Caminer coined the phrase ‘once a LEO type, always a LEO type’ and I jumped at the chance of  returning to some of my roots.  Ralph Woolf was structuring the company into two or three main Sectors.  What he’d inherited were all these diverse machines, Kidsgrove machines, LEO machines, which were running out of life, and he set up  what he called ‘ Systems Conversion Sector’, whose job was to migrate all these systems on to current systems.  It sounded interesting and I joined him in 1970.
[PB]: In ICL or BARIC ?

[GP]: This was BARIC.  It was partly owned by ICL and partly by Barclays.  I think one of the impetuses for forming  BARIC was that Barclays had a lot of small commercial customers, and I think the idea was that a lot of them would like bureau services, in particular payroll, so I think that was the impetus for setting up BARIC.  And, as part of the deal, we inherited some systems from Barclays itself, not the main banking systems but things like unit trust business.  So we took over their computers to operate and also support the programs, called Facilities Management.

[PB]: What computers were Barclays running in at the time that you took over?

[GP]: I think Barclays  had IBM equipment.  But this was new business, packages, by that time packages had come along, in fact, back in my bureau days, I can remember having a conversation with T.R. Thompson about payrolls and about executive payrolls, which were far simpler than  hourly payrolls, which had a complex structure.  I remember sort of formulating this idea that you could have a standard payroll program, and we got partly towards it by modifying existing payroll.   We took an existing application and modified it. So it was like a forerunner of what is now a payroll package.  Which was a halfway step.  I ran that business sector for  a couple of years or so.
[PB]: And where were you based when you were running that?

[GP]:  I was in Newman Street in central London, just turning off Oxford Street.  We were based in Newman Street for that duration.

[PB]: And those packages, what hardware were they running on?

[GP]: It would have been the ICL 2900 series I'm sure. You know, when you get to eighty five your memory tends to fade a bit.  Anyway when that had been completed the company was restructured on a profit centre basis.  So we had bureau activities in London and we had bureau activities in a lot of provincial places like Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Scotland.  
We also had something called ‘network services’ based on a System  4/75.  That wasn't much of a success, because it was really before its time, before companies saw the need for it in the UK. It was taking off in America because Ralph Woolf visited America on several occasions and that's one of the reasons why he set up this network system on the 4/75.  We had those basic three sectors and, so I ran that one for quite some time.  And then about 1984/1985 network services were back in. ICL realised that network services were the future and a company was set up called ‘INS’, International Network Services, to exploit that.  For a while we supplied the equipment on which it was run and supported it, that was based in the business park in Feltham in West London.  That went on for quite some time and then in 1984 or 85 a decision was taken by ICL to sell all the batch business  - that's all  which wasn't network orientated.  Anyway we decided to sell the batch business, commercial and scientific, to a company called CMG and so we’d hived off the network business to International Network Services, thus giving the project to implement the move of all the batch business to CMG. What we were transferring was the whole business.  This involved some of the sites, it involved equipment, it involved the customers. And at that stage we had something like 1200 to 1500 customers, and we had between 150 – 160 staff. I was liaising with the CMG headquarters, Derek Edwards, who, strangely enough, had worked for me at LEO on the payroll side.

[PB]: Were CMG based at one particular location, or were they multiple offices?

[GP]: No, they were basically in one or two locations.  Some of the business was moved to those locations but other locations they retained where they were not actually on ICL premises, where it was on third party premises they took  that over as well.  And that project went on for, I don't know, it must have been about six months or so.  So I was liaising not only with CMG headquarters but also the area managers who were receiving this business.  And we succeeded in transferring ninety nine point nine percent, and I think we just lost one customer who didn't want to be moved across to CMG.  We didn't lose any suppliers and we only lost one or two members of staff.  So it turned out to be quite a successful move. At that stage the MD of ICL was Peter  Bonfield and I can remember having meetings with him and he was quite pleased with the result.  But it was horrible this was, I had landed myself out of a job.  

[[PB]: So when did that finish, that work?

[GP]: That finished in 1985. But it coincided with another major project. Which was signed up in the network services part , which was retained by ICL, which was a project for the National Bingo Game Association, NBGA.  In those days playing ‘Lotto’ was quite an entertainment for people and there used to be a lot of Bingo centres; a lot of people playing Bingo around the country. But the problem was that the business was dwindling, people were losing interest and the prize money wasn't very great. Because if you went to play Bingo in a Bingo hall there might be a hundred people, or so, the prize was quite small, maybe a £100 at most.  The idea was that if you could link several hundred bingo halls together to play a national game you could multiply the winnings tenfold, twenty fold, to reinvigorate the business.  So I was put in charge of this Bingo project, which was to bring online all these Bingo halls to play a national game.

[PB]: Had you ever played bingo yourself?

[GP]:  I think at Christmas.  Christmas or something like that but not as a proper activity, certainly not for money.  What happened was that the Bingo halls would run as usual but at a set time, every day all the Bingo halls that had joined this scheme would be linked up to our computers and play one game nationally. But the problem was that we had the main frame on which to run it but we didn't have a network to link these Bingo halls together and we didn't have the local OPD (One-Per-Desk) device available locally so they could link into the mainframe.  At that stage ICL had come up with a desktop computer, which was called an OPD, One-Per-Desk.  It was a little computer with a telephone, and the theory was that every manager would have one of these on his desk, instead of a normal telephone.  The OPD had been developed by ICL but hadn't got Post Office authority to link it to the telephone network.  We were faced with quite a project, we had the end date, we had a mainframe, we didn't have any programmes, we didn't have a network and we hadn't got this certification for the OPD.  They were quite exciting times. But we actually met the deadline and I know that people in high places like Peter Bonfield, as the main director of ICL at the time, were a bit concerned because of the high visibility of this project.  If it failed it was a national failure. 
I can only recall once when it failed, one night:  the problem had nothing to do with the computer or the systems or the network, but water.  We were based at a place called Feltham at the time and the structure of the buildings was a typical factory structure, which I didn't realise at the time.  You had these pitch roofs with a gutter between the pitch roofs, which were internal.  And we’d had a lot of rainfall and one of the down pipes got blocked and the water flooded into the false ceilings over the computer room.  We didn't know this had happened, until the weight was sufficient for the .whole ceiling to drop through.  It flooded the computer room and affected the computer on which the mainframe computer was running, but not too seriously and that got sorted out very quickly.  But one of the things we had set up was a control centre, staffed by the National Bingo Association, to actively liaise with and to control all the different Bingo halls and that got badly flooded.  So we missed one night.

[PB]:  What was the duration of the project, going from start to operational implementation?

[GP]: Probably about six, seven months.  One of the biggest things was we had something like eight switches to install and link up around the country.  Building space had to be found for these switches, most of which were in ICL buildings, but some had to be found elsewhere.  Installing switches was one of the main things, and the thing that I've already mentioned was getting certification from the GPO, what is now called British Telecom to link the OPD’s into their system.  

[PB]: And how many people were involved in this project?

[GP]: On the programming side, there were about four people.  We had to write a mainframe program; it was quite straightforward. We had to write a program for the OPD’s. (Editor: A useful account of the OPD is provided by http://www.rwapsoftware.co.uk/oneperdesk.html)

[PB]: So you finished this project and then what are you going to do next?
[GP]:  What happened was that I got moved into ICL proper, part of ICL’s structure, and I joined their networks division.  One thing we had to retain was the service to support the company that had been set up by INS, (International Network Services), and we had a number of facilities and management contracts where the customer bought our equipment and we were operating it for them and providing their programming for them.  We had about four or five round the country.  I started working for a chap called Brian Reece who reported to John Gardner who was then running ICL UK.  I think ICL had really decided that the future was in services, certainly not in manufacturing.  And I think also that Fujitsu started taking a financial interest    progressively invested in it, finally taking it over. It is now called Fujitsu, and my pension is paid by Fujitsu.(Editor:  ICL was first taken-over by Standard Telephones and Cables in 1984.  That was not a success and Fujitsu took over the company stage by stage owning 80% by 2090, but closed it down as ICL and absorbing any remaining business in Fujitsu Computer Services in 2002)

[PB]  What did they understand in those days what services was, or what it encompassed?

[GP]: Operational support, customer service. I was asked to start building up the network services business up again because we’d lost all the batch business as I mentioned before as we had sold it.   I was asked if I'd develop that, and while doing that I started developing a standby service because, especially with   International Network Services, they couldn't withstand any period of non-availability.  So I set up a standby equipment for them, actually located in Feltham at that time. We started also offering it to our external customers, because various applications were becoming more and more critical to the success of the company and were operating in real time.
Anyway this ran on quite merrily.  And then ICL decided to buy a bureau business. I forget what the name of the company was, but part of the deal was not only buying the business but to make sure it went through bringing in the managing director of that business as well.  So all the bureau type business was taken out of my hands and passed over to the new organisation and I was left with the disaster standby, which I was asked to develop. At that time we had a large 2900 which we kept totally empty, together with office space and terminals.  So if a customer had a problem he could just move in and take over. Obviously during that time we had managers from the different companies that signed up for this service come in and test their procedures and make sure if they had an emergency that it worked successfully.  Then we decided to develop a mobile service and we actually organised something which had  had a cab and a big trailer with a computer inside the trailer. We had a small 2900 machine so we could actually drive it to the customer’s premises, if they've got a big car park, park it in the car park.  It had our special electricity point to plug it in and hey presto.  We signed up quite a few customers for that and then it developed a stage further for very small systems, like a DR600,   where we had  one or two spare ones, which we could actually ship out to customers’ premises.  That ran very successfully.

[PB]: Do you remember how many customers you had for this set of services?

[GP]: We probably built up about, I can't be precise, fifty or a hundred customers. We had people like The Bank of England - some quite high prestige customers coming along, and one or two customers in the City who wanted the whole works.  This was quite successful that ICL decided to expand it very very quickly and bought another company. A specialist standby company called Sherwood’s, who were in Salisbury, and the deal was similar to the bureau deal in that .they brought the managing director in as well.  I became his deputy, that was a consolation.  But also I was approaching sixty and I retired about nine months after it had taken place. The managing director retained me on a year’s consultancy. So it tied in quite well with retirement at sixty.
[PB]: Consultancy basis?

[GP]:  Just to make sure that everything was OK.  Quite a lot of changes took place over those years.

[PB]: It certainly wasn't boring you?

[GP]: No.  So I spent all my time with LEO or its successor companies, apart from the two or three years outside with John Hoskyns. I had quite a satisfying career, although it came to halts at various points in the journey.

[PB]:  After your year of consultancy have you done any other work since then in retirement?

[GP]: No, not paid work. I've done lots and lots of voluntary work.

[PB]: What voluntary work have you been doing?

[GP]: The one which I got very engrossed into was to do with a Day Centre.  We were living in quite a prosperous village here in Hampshire which had a Day Centre and it had clients from the surrounding villages.  The problem was actually getting them from their homes to the Day Centre. So we set up a minibus service, all staffed by volunteers, drivers and escorts to go round and pick up, in the morning, clients from their homes, bring them to the Day Centre and they'd spend the morning, lunch, afternoon at the Day Centre and then we’d take them home in the evening. So this was a service we operated five days a week, Monday to Friday.  To start with we had only about five or six drivers, volunteer drivers. And the same number of escorts.  So I was a driver, my wife was an escort and we did that for quite some time, I became  the  treasurer and then started having to run the whole thing. So that went on until I became about eighty.  So I did it for about twenty years.

[PB]: It's a second career.

[GP]: Unpaid. I used to drive once a week.  We had of five or six drivers, and I always did Thursday’s. That went on for quite some time.  I then became quite interested in art, watercolour, pastels, oils and became fairly accomplished at that, and quite enjoyed that.

[PB]: Have you managed to sell anything?

[GP]: I didn't want to sell them. Because the ones which I didn't want to put on my own walls weren't good enough to sell, and those I put on my, on the walls were the better ones, so I didn't sell any.  Fortunately we haven't had to move house and make wall space. My wife was very keen on the silk and gold thread and tapestry type work, so she's put her things up in certain rooms, I've put mine up in other rooms.

[PB]:  When did you get married?

[GP]: 1960, August. 27th. I still have to remember that date.  Yes, so we've been married quite some time.  Fifty seven years this August, later this month.

[PB]:  And children?

[GP: I've got two sons.  They both went to university.  My elder son,-   he's now in his middle fifties -  took a degree in hotel management and for a while was in hotels, ending up as general manager for a hotel for a company called Moat Houses, in Shepperton on the outskirts of London.  He then went into personnel type work as he found that more interesting. He set up his own company about five years ago as an HR consultant, helping customers when they want to make organisational changes. My youngest son, who has just turned fifty, took a degree in graphic design.  He was retained by his lecturer for a year to help out, because he had a private business as well.  And then he decided to trust his luck out in the Far East, so he went out to Hong Kong where he had a friend and within a matter of a few days he got a job with J. Walter Thompson, the big advertising company, as a graphic designer.  He progressed with them and another company he joined to become creative director at these companies.  Then about eight years ago he was invited to join a graphic design company in Singapore as MD and creative director.  But then he decided, ‘well, I'm earning all this money for the owners’ I might as well do it for myself.  But he found it quite a struggle setting up from scratch. However he's making ends meet.
Both my sons have taken the plunge and said ‘I'm off’, ‘work for myself’.  ‘Set up my own companies’.  My eldest son he just works on his own as a consultant.  My younger son, the graphic designer, he obviously has to employ staff, so he's got staff of about twenty or thirty people, which is a far bigger commitment because you've got to have premises, you've got to hire staff, possibly fire them, get the business, the whole kibosh of running a company.  He's a bit more entrepreneurial than I was.  I never worked for myself.

[PB]: Throughout your career, your whole career, did you feel you had good work/life balance given you worked for different companies, very busy, quite serious projects, quite, some substantial projects that must have taken up quite a lot of time?

[GP]: There were occasions when I worked through the night.  Either to get things done or something was going a bit off the rails. Or, in the very early days, I helped out. In the early days LEO I, I think, was just running on a two shift basis, which meant it wasn't working at night.  But there was a big project which LEO had for British Railways.  Some of the programmers were asked if they could work some nights, operating the computer to run this application. So I did that.  (Editor: The job was to calculate the station to station distances of the whole British Rail network.  See profile of Roger Coleman in LEOPEDIA). You didn't actually work 9 to 5, you were very much project based in those early days. And you just went home and you came in running, if required.  So you worked, theoretically, a lot of overtime, and in fact in my whole career I've never been paid a penny in overtime money. But you just worked it.  Because it was project orientated, you were engrossed in what you were doing. 

[PB]: And the fact you are married fifty seven years, your wife clearly ...

[GP]: Put up with me!  But it’s now twenty five years since I retired

[PB]: Of which twenty years you spent running the Day Centre?

[GP]:  I stopped running that minibus service was when I became eighty because you couldn't get insurance at that age. Or, if you could it was very expensive, because not only are you driving a minibus you've got passengers on board. So I decided if I wasn't involved on the ‘coal face’ I'd give up.  Which I did.  But twenty years is quite a long time.

[PB]: Are you currently a member of any societies, computer related societies, or any other societies?

[GP]: No, I used to be, I used to be a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. But that wasn't a professional qualification and I was a Fellow of the British Computer Society and a Fellow of the British Institute of Management, as it then was called.  It's changed its name I think nowadays.

[PB]: Did you go to the LEO annual reunion?

[GP]: Yes.  It started off very informal, meeting up in pubs once a year or once every second year. And I didn't attend them all but it came more formalised with the setting up of the LEO Computers Society. Interestingly enough, our current chairman. Peter Byford was, he told me at the last meeting we had that I recruited him to the company. I can't remember that.  And the,  Bob Stephenson who was a senior operator in the bureau for me,  he's their web site manager.  And of course you’ve got the  two Lands, Frank Land and Ralph Land. And, now they're keen members and so we used to meet every two years. We got one this year (April 2019), just after eighteen months. I think they're a bit worried that, people falling off the end. (Editor: to some extent this is compensated for by new people joining LEO Computers Society who have no direct association with LEO but are fascinated by the LEO history)

[PB]: Yes, there's only a finite amount of time left for everybody, so to speak. 

[GP]:  I think that's one of the reasons why the Society is doing these Oral Histories. I found when I looked at my family history that if only I'd asked my mother or my father or my grandfather various things I'd know a lot more about the family.  But you only think of these things when it's too late.  So the LEO Society is getting the timing better.
[PB]:  This interview with Geoffrey Pye has been recorded by the LEO Computer Society and the Society would like to thank him very much for his time and his 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 Geoff Pye, and not of the Society.  The copyright of this interview in recorded form and in transcript remain the property of the LEO Computer Society 2011.  Thank you very much Geoff.
[GP]: Thank you.

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

Archive References : CMLEO/LS/AV/PYE-20170803 , DCMLEO20221230005-010

Related Topics:
This exhibit has a reference ID of CH56449. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

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