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Brian Mills: Interview 27 February 2018 56450
|Home > LEO Computers > Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) Archive > CMLEO/LS - LEO Comput ... s Society Collection > Audiovisual > Brian Mills: Intervie ... 7 February 2018 56450
Brian Mills and LEO Computers Society
Digital audio of a recorded interview with Brian Mills who worked as a programmer for LEO Computers Ltd, first in England then in South Africa.
Interviewer: David Phillips
Date of interview: 27 Feb 2018
Length of recording: 1h44m04s
Copyright in recording content: Brian Mills and the LEO Computers Society
Transcript editor: Frank Land, September 2018
Brian Mills DOB: 1933
Joined LEO: July 8th 1957
Abstract: After completing grammar school from a primarily languages stream, Brian completed his National Service of two years in the Royal Corps of Signals with the rank of 2nd lieutenant. A degree in Economics from Bristol University followed, completed in 1956. A number of jobs followed, some in marketing, one teaching Hungarians English for the Coal Board, but none of them wholly satisfactory. Tempted by advert to try for a job with LEO and following interviews by Alan Jacobs and Doug Comish, he accepted a job offer as trainee programmer and joined LEO in July 1957.
His programming career started with a number of payroll systems, tutored by Leo Fantl. Later he joined Leo Fantl in South Africa as systems manager on the LEO III in November 1960. Returned to England after two years to join the consultants’ marketing LEO IIIs, and included Freeman’s Mail Order amongst his successes. Shortly after the return from South Africa LEO became EELM, a move Brian did not enjoy, deciding to join consultants Coopers and Lybrand. This was the beginning of a long and successful career outside LEO embracing a number of companies, culminating with head of management services for British Oxygen. After leaving British Oxygen Brian set up his own venture capital business.Date : 27th February 2018
Physical Description : 2 digital files, audio
Brian Mills (BM)) interview 27th February 2018 Interviewed by David Phillips(DP) Edited by Frank Land Brian Mills - The LEO Programmerís Story ďlargely through CaminerÖ it was looking at the use of the computers all the time from a business needs point of view " (Editor: David Caminer OBE: (1915 2008) had a long career with J. Lyons, LEO and English Electric from the 1930s through to the establishment of LEO and beyond to the formation of ICL. He became known as the worldís first Business Applications Programmer.) Background DP Letís start our interview in this very nice house looking towards the South Downs, itís a fine view, and thereís snow and ice on the grass outside but itís nice and warm in here, in this, what is essentially your retirement home I presume? BM Not really, weíve been here thirty years, over thirty years. DP Right. Well letís start with a bit about you and your background. Can you tell me when you were born, where you were born, a little bit about your parents? BM Yes. I was born down there in Reigate in 1933. My father was a labourer, he used to dig holes in the road and carry bricks on building sites and that sort of thing. My mother was a supervisor in Sainsburyís and later became a kind of supervisor in a, what was regarded as an upmarket cafť, in Reigate. I didnít see much of my father in my late childhood because he went off to the war of course. DP Did he come back from the war? BM Yeah, he came back from the war. He didnít do anything noble. He was in the Royal Signals. I was six when the war started, eleven or so when it ended. And at that age I got what was then called The Scholarship, which was a year before the eleven plus was introduced. So I went from my local school to Reigate Grammar, which is now a very posh independent school. In fact theyíre opening branches in China I read the other day. But at the time it was a state subsidised grammar I suppose. Most of the pupils were private but there was a certain number of scholarship pupils like myself. About a year after I went there the Government introduced an Education Act (Editor: The Butler Education Act, 1944) which sort of nationalised the grammar schools and so the number of private pupils fell off and they had more state people. DP Well itís interesting. Did you show any particular academic abilities in those early days? BM Yeah, I was usually top in the class, or second top, until a bit later when rather cleverer people started coming in from other schools. So I did what was then General Schools, I got my Matriculation, (Editor: Matriculation is the formal process of entering a university, or of becoming eligible to enter by fulfilling certain academic requirements through an examination.) then two years later I did the Higher School and Geography. I mean I was quite good at maths and stuff as well but I was in the Arts stream, as in those days the clever people were put in the Arts stream. Nowadays itís the other way around I think! So anyway I got to eighteen, and I got my Higher Schools rather like the later A Levels. And I hadnít thought about university, I didnít know what a university was. After school I was too young to go into National Service so I signed on at the Labour Exchange for a year and they gave me National Insurance stamps. But I stayed at school and I had a third year in what was then the seventh form. They said ďoh my goodness, we all think you ought to go to university but if youíre going to do languages youíve got to have Latin. Have you ever done Latin?Ē No, Iíd never done Latin, theyíd never suggested I should do Latin at my school. So I theoretically did a three months crash course to get ĎOí Level, or General Schools Certificate in Latin. Or rather I didnít! I wasnít motivated and didnít do anything and so didnít get it. All that to try to do languages at Oxbridge. So instead, then I went into the army! DP Can I just take you back for a bit? Did you have any, or do you have any brothers and sisters? BM I had a sister. DP And what was your sister doing during this time? BM She was five years older than I. She was going to go to Purley Grammar School but because when the war came they decided children couldnít travel that far so they brought her back to Reigate. But she was never particularly motivated, although she was quite bright I think. She didnít get on with my mother and so she ran off and joined the WRNS for four years and then came back and worked in a bank. (Editor: Royal Naval Service WRNS; popularly and officially known as the Wrens) was the women's branch of the UK Royal Women's Navy. First formed in 1917 for First World War). National Service & University DP Tell me about your time in the army. BM My National Service was two years in the Royal Signals. DP The same regiment that your father was in? BM Yes, and my aunt and my uncle and various other people. A sort of signals tradition, if you like. Anyway, for some reason they thought I was officer material so they gave me a commission, and I was looking forward to going to Cyprus or Singapore or somewhere exotic, or even Korea which was happening at the time. DP As what, a second lieutenant? BM Yes. DP What happened? Where did you go? BM Well that was the disappointing thing. As I say, Iíd hoped they had postings in Cyprus and Vienna, Singapore and Korea and all sorts of lovely places, but there was a bit of a scandal on the front page of The Daily Mirror about squaddies being scrubbed on the parade ground in Catterick in the snow and ice and so on (Editor: Catterick in Yorkshire is the base camp for Army training), so they decided more of us had to go to Catterick and keep an eye on things. So I got stuck in Catterick for the rest of my time! They had snow in June actually when we were there. But we were in shirt sleeve order on the parade ground because it was June, they thought it was summer, and the snow was coming down, anyway, but thatís neither here nor there. I did two years, 1951 to 53, the coronation and all that! DP Right. And you remained second lieutenant? BM Yes, the only people who got promoted were people in the Education Corps and doctors. They were all made captains. Everybody else was second lieutenant. I rose to the giddy heights of full lieutenant when I was in the reserve. I met Mike Josephs (Editor: also in Oral History archive), later of LEO, who was a lieutenant in the same reserve unit. DP You werenít tempted to stay on in the army? BM No. DP So what did you decide to do? BM Well, the regiment I was in, there were about eight or ten National Service second lieutenants, some of whom had been to university, some were waiting to go to university. So I got the idea of going to university, and made a very good friend called Peter Blacklaws, who is now dead. He came from Aberdeen. He got a BA and an MA from Oxford. He was a bit older than the rest of us. And I said ďwell I donít know what to do, I donít really like languages.Ē I didnít know why the school made me do languages, and ďanyway I canít get into most universities because I havenít got LatinĒ. So he said, ďwell I did, I think you should do economicsĒ. Well heíd got a friend, an economics lecturer in Bristol, and so I applied there to do economics. DP Did you know what economics was? BM No, not really. DP What did your parents think about this? You were the first to go to university? BM My mother came from a family of ten, I think, and none of them had been to university or even grammar school. My mother was thrilled to bits; she was always very proud of what she saw as my achievements. So she was very thrilled by that. And I was walking up and down Reigate High Street in my Sam Browne (Editor: the belt worn by a British Army Officer) for example. So that was all good. DP So you went to Bristol? BM Yes. DP You had an interview? BM Yes, I must have done. I remember interviewing with the head warden of Wills Hall of residence that I went to. He said, ďwell youíre a second lieutenant, thatís fine, youíre in.Ē So I stayed at Wills Hall. I must have been interviewed for admittance to the economics course but I have no recollection of that. DP There was a policy, was there, to take forces people? BM Well no, the warden was a colonel in the Territorial Army so he was prejudiced in favour of people with military connections. He wanted the prestige from all the men admitted, and he thought thatís the way of doing it.(Editor: For a time post war, preference for admission to Universities was given to applicants who had seen war service. In 1967, for example 90% of the University entrance was ex service with only 10% direct entrance from schools) DP So there, were there other conscripts. BM There were quite a lot, yeah DP So, you started an economics course? BM Yes. DP And how did that go? BM Well quite well really. I didnít really believe in econometrics. At Bristol, there wasnít much maths involved. It was mostly theory, Keynes and people like that.(Editor: John Maynard Keynes CB FBA (1883 Ė 1946), was a British economist whose ideas fundamentally changed the theory and practice of macroeconomics and the economic policies of governments). And yes I enjoyed it. I did quite a bit of essay writing. It was good, and I got involved in the students union and became treasurer and then vice president, secretary and so on. So I didnít spend as much time on my studies as I perhaps should have done! DP But you graduated? BM I graduated and when I went in for my post result interview they said, ďyouíre bloody lucky, you ought to have got a first but we had to struggle with the external examiner to get you a 2:1Ē, so I said, well thank you very much. DP Was it because you hadnít done enough work? BM Yes, I think so. What work I did was in the middle of the night and that sort of thing, and I arrived at the exams all sleepy. DP So had you heard of a computer? Did you know what a computer was? BM No, course not, DP Did anyone know what a computer was? BM No, not at all. My mother said, ďwhatís a computer?Ē this was 1956 when I graduated. And, of course, there was very little known at that point. I didnít go straight into computers, DP So you were now faced with getting a job? BM Yes, and they had the Ďmilk trainí, as it was known, employers came round and interviewed people and I got offers from Thomas Hedley, which is now Procter & Gamble, Shell, Albright & Wilson, who have disappeared I think, they were a big chemical company. Plus a couple of others. DP What were they recruiting for? What did they want, economists? Procter and Gamble BM Well I went to Procter & Gamble as a marketing trainee. They were looking for marketing trainees, management as well. They had a big management programme where youíd be sent around the world and things. I suppose they still do. Anyway, I went to Procter & Gamble and the first thing was to get knowledge in the field so there I was driving around selling soap to all the local little shops. DP How did you feel about that? BM Terrible. DP Were you a good salesman of soap? BM No, I donít know, I donít think so. The worst example, I think, was a place down there towards Guildford where a widow ran the shop. Her husband had died and left her the soap! And, from my point of view and the companyís point of view, the big advantage was she had a huge barn in which she could pile up lots of stock. And youíd go into this thing, it would have one end, Iím exaggerating slightly, but youíd get one end, youíd have all Procter & Gambleís soap all stacked up. Persil and Pride and all these things, and at the other end youíd have Unileverís. They were gradually filling this place with their old stock, all the salesmen were over ordering for her because she had the space to put it and she didnít know what she was doing. I thought that was pretty disgusting. DP Could she pay for it all? BM Yes. DP Or was it all on credit? BM No, she paid for it. And then we had things like giveaways, you know, you gave away things. The local Co-op, for example, ordered locally but paid for it centrally. So If you had a locum manager who had no long term interest in the shop his incentive was to buy as much as he could in order to get little giveaways. So we used to give them, well I remember a left-handed tomato slicer which wasnít any good to most people because the grooves were on the wrong side. DP I didnít know there was such a thing as a left handed one. BM Well, no, it was probably an accident in production, I donít know. Anyway, I remember one chap, I gave him two or three things which he gave away to his wife and son, and in return for that heíd order lots of boxes of soap, but I didnít think that was very ethical either! DP So you didnít sell much by the sounds of it? BM Well, yes, I think I did. DP So what happened next? BM Well Procter & Gamble and I, Hedleyís and I, decided we werenít getting on together. I was supposed to have six months in the field and then I was go to Newcastle and into marketing. And, you know, I didnít like this. I decided I didnít like retailers. It was the time of Suez, so I was driving around Aldershot and everywhere and there are all these army trucks driving around, painted bright yellow and thereís Anthony Eden on the radio saying, ďno, weíre not going anywhere near Egypt.Ē blah, blah, blah. Well why the hell are they painting the trucks yellow? And I didnít like that either. But of course the people running the shops did, they thought it was great, we were going to go and Ďbash these wogsí you know! So I didnít like the company for that, I didnít like the customers, I didnít like what they were doing. And they, I think, probably didnít like me, for similar reasons. So we parted after six months. I never did get to Newcastle and I was thinking to myself, why do I want to go to Newcastle anyway? They had told me it was a wonderful artistic place and all the rest of it and I bought the idea at the time. The Coal Board DP What did you want to do? BM What did I want to do? I didnít want to do anything in particular, I didnít know what I wanted to do. So I looked around for a temporary job and I got a job teaching English to the Hungarian refugees who were being expelled from Hungary at the time, after the revolution. DP 1956 I think. BM 1956? So there were all these coal miners coming here to work in the Coal Board and we had to teach them English in, Iíve forgotten what the method was called now, but it was a direct method, you just spoke to them in English the whole time and eventually the idea was theyíd pick it up. This took six weeks or ten weeks or something DP Did they? BM Well the ones who had PhDs and things did, the ones who were labourers didnít. And the PhDs would act as interpreters for the labourers, but that was not the idea at all. There was a Hungarian who made cakes, Egon Ronay, running a business here. He recruited a couple of those people DP Oh, right. A very famous restaurant critic, wasnít he? A Restauranteur. BM Yes, but we, what happened was the NUM (Editor: National Union of Mineworkers) decided they didnít want to have these foreigners, immigrants, coming in and taking their jobs and taking their women and all the rest of it, so they refused to let them down the mines. DP Sounds familiar doesnít it? BM So we carried on and did the training course. We used to have police burst into the classroom chasing Hungarian thugs, theyíd been fighting the night before and this sort of thing. They werenít all angels by any means! Anyway, after the six weeks course the Coal Board said, ďoh well, you better do it againĒ So we did another six week course with the same people, the same course, while they argued with the NUM. The NUM never did let them in but quite a lot of them went off and did open-cast mining. Others became motor mechanics and so on. DP What about you, what happened, what were you then doing? BM I was teaching them. DP You just, you stayed with this teaching? BM No, no, I was only there for six months. DP Oh, what happened then? BM I was a senior lecturer for some extraordinary reason at the Coal Board. Recruitment at the Coal Board was pretty bizarre. I mean I had a one-legged bloke who was supposed to be going underground, and the Coal Board hadnít noticed heíd only got one leg. I mean it was like Peter Sellers or somebody! DP Monty Python? BM Monty Python, yes. Anyway, they made me a senior lecturer. I had an interview at Hobart House. (Editor: Coal Board headquarters) I had a range of people under me, a retired brigadier, a retired headmaster, all sorts of people far more qualified than me to be a senior lecturer. They were only lecturers, which was quite amusing. It was just because the Coal Board recruitment was so chaotic. DP How did you get into computers? BM Well thatís the next thing. So here am I teaching the Hungarians and looking in the newspapers for job ads. I applied to the Civil Service for the admin grade (Editor: Administrative Grade, top grade in UK Civil Service) , whatever itís called, did very well on the written part of the exam. I was fifth in the country out of about four hundred people on intelligence stuff and one thing and another. But then when we had to go and have interviews and see whether we could use our knives and forks, chat all that sort of thing, I didnít do so well. So they didnít offer me a job in the admin grade, although they did offer me special grade job which was with Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise. Sort of all the mathematical and logical stuff. And they were right of course which is what my school should have spotted in the first place, but they didnít. So, anyway, I didnít want to do that, so I said ďnoĒ. LEO Computers Then I was lying in bed one Saturday morning, rather late, and I had a look at the job ads. And one, I donít know what it said, but the key thing was there was no need to fill in an application form, just drop in for an interview. DP Who was advertising? BM LEO Computers, and I thought, I donít know what a computer is, but you can go there without having to complete a form, thatís got to be good. DP Were you were living in London at this moment? BM Yeah, I was definitely in London, that weekend at least. DP So you dropped by? BM So I dropped round to Elms House, met Alan Jacobs and Doug Comish (Editor: Comish in LEO Oral History archive), who gave me the interview. They were in a great hurry because they were all dressed up, they were going off on a motorbike to Twickenham. And I thought, this all sounds quite interesting here. So I joined them as a programmer. Everybody was a programmer in those days, all the LEO staff unless they were engineers. DP Did you take a programming test? BM Yes, I must have done, because we certainly had programming tests, I remember giving them to other people. My wife failed it in fact in South Africa, but... DP Well, weíll come on to her later. So you became a programmer of LEO in about 1957? BM I can tell you exactly when, because, this is a letter that I wrote to Wally Weaving, (Editor: another prominent LEO employee) who died in the last year or so. He was at Bristol University too and was the vice president of the union before I was. This was a letter I wrote thanking him for his wedding invitation, 1957, 10th of June. He gave me this a couple of years ago when he came over here with his wife from Australia where heíd been living at one point. He came over here and he said ďlook, I found thisÖĒ and gave me this, astonishingly he kept it for forty years. However, I decided to dedicate myself to electronic computers with LEO Computers Limited, a subsidiary of Joe Lyons, Hammersmith, and I started on July 8th, 1957 I joined LEO Computers. DP Who was there with you at that time? Can you remember the sort of intake? BM Yes. My intake was Michael Jackson, Helen, who he eventually married and became Helen Jackson, I canít remember her second name (Editor: Helen Clarke). Who was the rest of the intake? Itís extraordinary, I canít remember, I can remember the supervisors that were sort of above us. Alan Jacobs was a year or two before I think. There was Arthur Payman, Geoff Pye, John Lewis, Ian Crawford and McLeman, who was always called Mac, I canít remember his first name (Editor: it was George). Who else? I donít know! In the room at the same time was Sam Walters who became a professor at LSE (Editor: Sam Waters after a spell at the LSE as a lecturer became a Professor at the University of the Southwest) and had no education whatsoever (Editor: but subsequently took a maths degree and finished with a PhD in Thermodynamics), he was a protťgť of Leo Fantl, who liked to bring on people. We sat in this gold fish bowl type room next to LEO II/1 in Elms House.There were three lines of desks, the bosses sat with their backs to the window and then we had all the rest of us in two rows facing them. Youíd start in the back row and youíd get promoted to the next row. We were all in the Lyons Grading System, have you heard all this before? DP No. BM No? Well we were counted as management in Lyons because they were puzzled how they were going to pay all these graduates all this extra money when all their troops were getting paid practically nothing! So they had to call us managers, and I think the top grade was F1. I think I ended up as an F1, I started as an F4 or something like that. And, anyway on the front row were people like Leo Fantl. He was a terrific guy and, you know, a great educator. There were Jim Smith, Frank Land and Doug Comish, some others I canít remember. Mary Blood was on almost that level. And then there were the rest of us, as I say, like Jackson and so on. Early Payroll Systems Development At LEO DP So what were you first tasked to do? BM I was on the tail end of the, of a payroll project, Kodak I think it was, Kodak payroll, in Leo Fantlís team. These people had named all their teams and Leo specialised in payroll and so I did the reconciliation programs and things and.. (Editor: a feature of LEO practice at that date was not specialisation by the senior people but the wide variety of tasks they took on. Thus LEO Fantl, certainly head of the payroll group was engaged in a variety of other tasks Ė in particular ones which had a mathematical context such as calculating the error generated by mathematical procedures. DP And can you just take me through that process? What were you physically handed to do? BM Yes. Iím trying to think where it started. DP Thereíd be the systems analysts who would be looking at Ö .. BM No, we didnít have systems analysts, everybody was called a programmer. (Editor: LEO Computers Limited introduced the term Ďconsultantsí for those of its senior programmers involved with potential and actual customers) And somebody would write a book... (Editor: A Job Specification) DP Youíre looking at a fairly large tome now. BM Yes, somebody would write a book like this, this was March 1960, British Transport Hotels and Catering Services Payroll. So somebody, who I suppose was called senior programmer, would go out and visit the client and find how their payroll system worked and end up writing all this stuff. DP Now, youíre opening up what looks like a fairly substantial document. There it is, a Ďschematicí, what would you call this? BM What did we call it? Just a flow chart I think. (Editor: The normal procedure was for the senior programmer acting as systems analyst to prepare a requirements specification which had to be signed off by the client followed by a job plan including flowcharts. The procedures and documentation were developed by David Caminer who insisted on the preparation of detailed specifications. An important source for the specifications was the clientís own documentation and job descriptions especially for applications involving little innovation such as payrolls) DP And then elements of it would be given to the programmers to code? BM Yes, there are probably ten programs in here somewhereÖ pay calculation, tax, annual tax return, reconciliation to prove it was accurate and so on. (Editor: the very restricted size of computer memory made segmentation of programs necessary) ďDP Which bit were you allocated? BM Well I started on the reconciliation program which was at the end taking the results of various programs and arranging them into a control account, left hand and right hand and then checked that they all balanced and that they were consistent. DP So were you familiar with that accounting process? BM No, I had no business training. It was all done by logic and analysis. DP What about the actual programming? This was coding at this stage wasnít it? BM Yes. DP How were you taught to code? BM Iím not sure but I must have been taught but I donít remember being taught. We would have a short course which would go through all the different instructions each instruction represented by a different number. (Editor: The instruction codes can be found in Peter Birdís book, LEO: The Worldís First Business Computer. Learning programming apart from formal training relied on a system of mentorship in BMís case probably from Leo Fantl). DP And how did the, those numbers get transformed into something the computer would understand? BM Well, they got punched into paper tape or cards by a data prep operator and I think they were more or less a representation in the binary pattern. So the 7s and 3s from the instruction code etc. were all converted to binary. DP But this was done by the computer itself? BM Yeah, the computer had a card reader or a paper tape reader. It read and the computer interpreted the holes that had been punched. DP So you write your program, it would then need to be tested wouldnít it? BM We werenít allowed to use the computer ourselves until everything had been checked because the computer is a valuable thing. Our time was the cheap thing! So we tested programs on the desk. You went through it as though you were the computer. DP Did that work? BM When you already thought youíd dug out all the bugs, everything had to be rechecked. I mean thatís one of the big principles of LEO, everything had to be checked, you never relied on anybody. If somebody did something then theyíd have it checked by somebody else. The flow charts were all checked, the coding was all checked. So when it had been thoroughly checked and rechecked and all the bugs identified, and it had gone up to the next row of desks and they said, ďyes, thatís alrightĒ. There, at that point, you were allowed to get this all punched onto cards and actually put it into the computer. DP Were you there when the cards went into the computer? BM Yes. DP Youíd see then if it worked? BM You were there all night quite often, because the computer would break down or it was full up with something else, you might have to stay all night when your programme was run. DP Was being tested? BM Tested yes. DP Would you sometimes find faults at that point? BM Always. Sometimes it would get as far as about the first instruction and stop, completely! Sometimes it would get through and produce results which looked alright but when you looked at them they actually werenít. The machines were tiny in terms of their memory, oh I canít remember what it was. DP But the machines physically were enormous. BM They were physically enormous, the memory was six foot long tubes of mercury in the floor, youíll remember those from LEO I. These expanded when the sun came through the window and mucked up all the data. They were absolutely enormous, but with tiny, tiny memory. I have to tell you that our problem at LEO I was when the tea lady used to come through with a heavy urn of tea and buns and all the rest of it. This could set off vibrations that used to affect the oscilloscope that we would be looking at. It could make everything disappear! So we had to be careful when the tea lady was in the vicinity. Well, as you say, youíre looking at an oscilloscope. On LEO II the screen was like a small television screen and all you had on it was binary patterns and you could tell, for example, when a magnetic tape reader was playing up, as they did sometimes, and all the data went in upside down! You could see from the pattern that it was upside down because you always had a long identifier. If that was at the bottom of the screen instead of the top youíd know that the machine, this particular tape deckÖÖ. The tape deck recorded in fixed lengths of tape and in order to economise or speed it up, it would write on a block of tape and then skip the next one and then write on another one. And then when it got to the end of the reel it would reverse and come back and write in all the blank ones. So you had two sets of data on the same tape intermingled if you see what I mean? And, of course, if the timing went wrong in some way, you found you were reading the wrong one and it was upside down, of course, because the tape was going in the wrong direction. DP Is this an operator problem then? BM Well, no, itís a fault on the reader, but it could be solved by operators. Iím ahead of myself here, Iím in 1960 probably. The operators were very good at detecting, from the sound, what the tapes and things were doing and youíd hear a cry going out, ďsheís going round the end weíre going round the bend!Ē. And the operators would rush over to stop it going round and coming back again, so they only used one half of the tape, in other words, and they stopped it doing the other half because that was not reliable. But they did that by the sound the machine made. DP But, in spite of all that, you managed to achieve completing the payroll system? BM Yes. DP Where was that payroll run? Was it on the LEO II at Hartree House? BM Yeah. That was it, LEOII/5 I think. (Editor: the payroll BN worked on was that of Greenwich Borough Council as a service job on LEO II/5) DP So did you stay at Hartree House? BM Elms House, (Editor: Part of the Lyons Cadby Hall complex) that was until we all moved up to Hartree House, after two or three years. Anyway, so after the first payroll I then went on to more interesting bits of payroll. Then I became a supervisor in charge of doing complete payroll jobs. Then later I did the Lyons tea shops payroll, which was quite interesting. I think I was entirely in charge of that. DP Ah. Did you have much contact with the Lyons management itself? BM No, not very much. Although we did some because the manager of the tea shops payroll department, I suppose, once reported back to my mother who he lived near, that I was a terrible chap! So we must have had some sort of contact. DP Now tell me about that? What was that about? BM I donít know, I chose not to find out, but I imagine itís just because I was asking lots of questions. DP Anyway, he actually contacted your mother? BM Well he lived next door or quite close or something. But anyway, that job was a great success. Then I did the Kodak payrollÖ no, that was an earlier one I did, well I did some other payroll, and then, surprise, surprise, I was actually put on a different system. I did the sales invoice accounting system for Ilford, who were the sort of British Kodak. (Editor: Ilford purchased LEO II/9 in 1960) DP Still on a LEO II? BM Yes, still on LEO II. DP What was the machine like to work with, was it reliable? BM Not really. Some of them maybe were on later machines. These first jobs, that I was talking about, they were run as a service bureau. Later on we were doing programs to be delivered with the hardware to the customers own machine. I did the Greenwich payroll for Greenwich Borough, well it was a consortium actually, Greenwich and Lewisham and various others. (Editor: Metropolitan Boroughs consortium, LEOIII/4, 1963). The machine was set up in an old alms house, which was a sort of chapel, somewhere in south east London. We used to go around testing there which was quite interesting. They didnít have proper air conditioning and would open a window and try to cool it down. But, anyway, so that was done on later LEO IIIs. By then theyíd got better memory, and were more reliable because they had core memory instead of mercury delay tubes. DP Were you involved in any way with the actual development of the machines? BM No. DP They didnít involve programmers? BM Programmers never at my level never spoke to design engineers. I suppose it was Caminer who organised all that. DP This is David Caminer? He was, what, the commercial director? BM Well, yes, I suppose so, or systems director, originally he was everything! DP When did you first come across Mr. Caminer? BM Well he was my boss when I joined, or my bossís boss. DP Because you havenít mentioned him previously. BM No, well he was a bit remote, and the others were even more remote. I mean one of the weaknesses of the whole enterprise was that the commercial objectives and the Ďorganisationí and so on, were never revealed to people like me. We didnít need to know what anything cost and we were not given any budgets for producing these things, just do it! And we didnít know whether we were making a profit or loss. You know, there was no information. Anthony Salmon must have been the chairman of LEO Computers, as the Lyons familiesí man. Then there was T.R. Thompson, Iím not quite sure what his role was, but he used to buzz around and be important! I stood with him in a computer exhibition once at Olympia and he said ďitís amazing all this, all these huge cupboards, on all the different stands as far as you can seeĒ he said ďand itís all resulted from meĒ. (Editor: T.R. Thompson was in effect Chief Executive of LEO Computers Limited). DP Perhaps Mr Thompson was right? Did it all result from him? BM Well in the sense that LEO was the first business computer and these were all business computers. (Editor: TRTís claim was based on the report he and Oliver Standingford wrote in 1947 suggesting the Lyons management should explore the possibility of using computers for the Lyons business) Then we had Caminer. And under him we had Leo Fantl, Jim Smith, Doug Comish, Frank Land, etc. Under these we had team leaders like Alan Jacobs, Geoff Pye, and me eventually. Then the project programmer was down here, so we were all a bit remote from what was happening up there. Nobody told us anything as I say. I mean a prime example of that is this thing here, which I was given as a job to do. I was in charge of dealing with British Transport Hotels and Catering which was hellishly complicated. DP Itís a specification about two inches thick. Payroll? BM Yes. It covered everybody from golf professionals at Gleneagles to the people in the restaurant cars serving tea and all the rest of it. It was huge and had very, very complicated scheduling systems where if somebody didnít turn up on the restaurant cars then somebody would get promoted into his job and somebody else would be brought in from somewhere else. These all changed their jobs and their pay and all the rest of it. It was very, very complicated, a difficult job. DP How long did it take you from getting the flow charts to actually producing Ö? BM I canít remember, about a year I should think. But this was very, very complicated. I produced this complicated specification but the chap I was dealing with, the client, was not quite Ďup to ití, so it was quite difficult. It had a lot of bugs but we eventually made it work. Then, to my amazement they said, ďoh well, weíve thought about it and we donít want itĒ! DP Why not? BM Well, it then turned out, I hadnít known, that the whole thing had been sold to them as an experiment. Leo Fantl or somebody had said, ďlook weíll show you how it could work and you can then make your mind up then whether you want itĒ which is what they did. They didnít tell me that. So in here Iíve got things like a seven year PAYE routine (Editor: the pay as you earn tax system which deducted income tax from an individualís pay), you know, PAYE changes every seven years for some reason I canít remember, and Iíd built all that in. The whole thing would run another fourteen years or something. So the whole venture was a total waste of money! DP And never used? BM Never used. DP What did they use? BM Well they did it all manually. DP Well, okay, so that was your first three years. So, just tell me a bit about the people in the companies for which you were working on their behalf. How did they find working with software people? BM Well, they probably thought we were all a bit nuts! The way it really worked would be some chap from the client who was an enthusiast and who probably thought the idea up. I think, for example there was the treasurer at Greenwich, a chap called Kaner, I think. Anyway there would probably be one person sort of driving it all from the client. You really didnít see much of anybody else. Youíd go to see them, writing everything down and then youíd go away and build it. DP You would then do the work as a bureau for them. You were employed by LEO? BM Yes. DP And how long were you with LEO? BM With LEO? Well, including the South African bit, I was there from 1957 until the end of 1963, so thatís, six years or something. Itís a surprisingly short time really, I mean that period has had more of an impression on me and my life than any other job Iíve had. I havenít kept up with any friends or anything from any other job Iíve had apart from LEO. But I mean Iíve got half a dozen people I can be in contact with, and my best friend is a LEO man. But the atmosphere was fantastic, the team working, working to three oíclock in the morning and lots of trips round to the pub. Particularly when youíre threatening to leave, Caminer would take you around to the pub and pour beer into you and try and persuade you not to leave and so on. It really was a fantastic atmosphere. DP Why were people thinking of leaving? The pressure of the work? BM I was always thinking of leaving because it was a way to get more money. DP Can you remember what you were paid back then? BM Yes. When I joined I was highly paid , by their standards, because Iíd been paid quite well by the coal board. I canít remember exactly what it was but it was something like six hundred pounds a year, I think. And then I got a rapid increase. Well I got two increases in the same month, thatís because of one of their typical LEO cock ups. I was given an extra fifty pounds, I think, in December, and then I was called in to see Caminer about a month later and he said, ďoh, weíre giving you an increaseĒ. I said, jolly good and he gave me another fifty pounds! They obviously hadnít remembered that theyíd just done it. So that was good. DP Was there not a payroll system in place? BM No, I donít think there was, I think it was manual. DP So you were up to about seven hundred pounds or more, which was a decent wage then? BM Yes, thatís right. My target was a thousand pounds by thirty I think, or was it two thousand by thirty I was aiming at. DP 1963 that would be. What were you doing with this money? BM Ah, thatís a good question, nothing very much, I mean I was living a bachelorís life in Earls Court, I wasnít doing very much with it. DP Were you renting a flat somewhere? BM With other people, yes. Well Iíd like to think we were one of the first with a mixed gender community in a flat. We had two girls and two boys. Two women and two men, which was revolutionary in those days, this was about nineteen fifty eight I suppose, something like that. There was my old friend who put me into economics, and a couple of women, I donít know where they came from, oh they were all from Bristol, yes. DP So did you stay with LEO IIs or did you move on to LEO III? South Africa and LEO III BM Well I moved to LEO III when we were in South Africa, because we took a LEO III there. DP Ah, well just tell me about that? What was the background to that? Who bought the LEO? BM The LEO was purchased by a joint venture between LEO Computers and Rand Mines I think their official name was The Corner House Group. They formed what I understood to be a joint company. Again we werenít told all the financial stuff. The joint venture had to install the LEO. I had to do the work for the Rand Mines Group, which was probably one of the biggest gold mining groups, and then to run it as a service bureau, and as a base for selling more LEOs. DP How did you get selected? BM Leo Fantl was sent out to manage it. Heíd just lost his wife so he was quite prepared to start something completely new so he went out to manage it, and I think Joe Crouch was probably the first chap who went out with him. And Arthur Payman then went for a short period and then Leo asked me to go. DP What was the role that you were to fill? BM Probably a programmer, I mean everything was still ďprogrammingĒ. Or perhaps I was a systems manager. I had only recently met my wife Bronwen. I think I met her in April and LEO wanted me to go to South Africa in November. So that drove the decision to marry Bronwen really, because I had the choice of either marrying her or, you know, leaving her. So I decided to marry her, and she decided to marry me. Well and we are still together fifty seven years later or something. DP You told me she took the programming test there? BM When we got out there, yes thatís right. Bronwen wanted to find a job, she just didnít want to sit around doing nothing, so she came along and took the programming test and failed it! There was a habit of this doing because Joe Crouch, who was out there and eventually took over the management of the whole company, interviewed a nice Afrikaans girl who also failed the programming test. Joe then married her a bit later. Sheís very nice actually. Theyíre in Johannesburg now. (Editor: Joe Crouch died in 2018) DP So, the office is established in Johannesburg, but there was no computer at that point? BM When we went out there, of course, we just had an empty office, there was no computer. We started doing the specification for the, what they call the native payroll. DP So youíre just doing sort of analysis systems work, etc.? Getting ready? BM Yes. I went out in November 1960 and LEO III/2 arrived in Johannesburg in 1962. So that was the whole of 1961 with no computer. DP So in London you were moved from LEO II to LEO III programming and before you left for South Africa? BM Yes. DP You knew how to programme a LEO III? BM Yes, I did but I cannot remember being trained on it or anything. DP Could you remember anything about the difference of working on a LEO III versus a LEO II? BM Oh, yeah. Well there were a lot of differences. But itís difficult to remember but, one of the striking things was it had a screen that could display numbers, and letters, whereas LEO II only had these binary numbers Anyway, the screen displayed alpha, which is very different when youíre operating it. The programming system of, course, had an alpha instruction code. DP What programming language were you using then? BM Well we used INTERCODE. (Editor: the LEO III Assembly language) But I donít honestly remember a lot about it. DP And CLEO? (Editor: Clear Language for Expressing Orders, the LEO III high level language, somewhat like COBOL) BM And CLEO. I didnít like CLEO. Well it was too remote, I liked to get in the machine. I did once translate CLEO into Afrikaans for a sales purpose, a sales thing. This was actually a surprisingly easy thing to do. When all you do is take the LEO glossary and find the Afrikaans word for each one of these and then have another little program for which you punch the Afrikaans on to tape and then have another program which reads the tape and looks up the glossary and translates it all into English, and puts that into the computer. I mean that was fine for a sales presentation but I donít think it would have been very practical. DP It never was used? BM No, and I didnít get the sale either. DP And so you became a salesman? BM Well, yes. And then I did all the systems work. DP In Johannesburg? BM Yes. And we built up a team of local recruits for programming, systems and so on. DP Was it difficult to find people? BM No, not really. DP Afrikaans? BM Afrikaans and British, you werenít able to employ blacks. DP You werenít allowed to? BM No, not in that job, we werenít even allowed to employ them as computer operators and so we had to classify them as cleaners, which was alright. They were very good, they were the smartest computer operators Iíve ever seen in my life. They would stand in military fashion at the end of the row of tape decks waiting for a tape to end and theyíd dash off and change it and so on, very, very good. But we werenít allowed to pay them properly and we werenít allow to classify them properly. And certainly you could never let them anywhere near programming or systems work or anything like that. DP Even though they might have been capable? BM Well they were certainly capable DP So just tell me about the LEO arrival then? You have the office all set up but no computer? BM Well, not office set up, just empty floor and, Leo put in advertisements for staff or for selling, in newspapers. We used a photograph of a real lionís head in this advertisement for some reason. DP Leo the Lion? BM LEO the lion, but I mean whether that was appropriate in an African context I donít know. But I remember we had a letter in from someone, way up country somewhere, he said, ďIíd like to buy your dogĒ! He thought this lion was a dog. We didnít recruit him or anything! Anyway so we had these empty offices and Leo Fantl had been there a little while and somebody else, possibly Arthur Payman. And we built up a team of, I donít know what, ten or fifteen, analysts and programmers. Joe Crouch came in at some time and probably took over systems. I was put on to marketing and selling. So I sold a few bureau jobs.... DP But had the computer arrived at this point? BM I canít remember. (Editor: a good account of LEO in South Africa can be found in chapter 25 ďInto South AfricaĒ by Leo Fantl in Leo: The Incredible Story of the World;s First Business Computer) DP You did show me a photograph earlier of a large plane which you told me, I think, was hired, in its entirety to ship the... BM A KLM jet, I donít know what kind of plane it was, but the entire plane was filled with LEO III/2. Itís not a very big plane is it? It doesnít look much bigger than a DC3 does it? DP Itís a four propeller, four propí plane. I canít see what it is, but itís a substantial KLM plane. And I can see in this photograph itís on the tarmac. It was chartered specifically to bring the LEO III to Johannesburg, the first computer in Africa probably? BM Well my wife keeps saying that but I donít think it was. I think there may have been some very small ICL HEC 4 or something that may have been there before LEO. But itís the first substantial thing in fairness. In fact I think our claim was that it was the first multi programming computer in the southern hemisphere. (Editor: Leo Fantl reports that when he arrived in South Africa there was a service bureau on a Standard Telephone and Cables Stantec-Zebra, and an insurance company in Cape Town was using a Ferranti Perseus. A little later a Ferranti ORION served another insurance company) DP Yes. Well, youíve hit on a good term there because LEO III was capable of running more than one programme concurrently, as opposed to LEO Iís and IIís. I think thatís right isnít it? BM Thatís right. DP So it became a much more efficient machine? BM Yes. DP As a programmer were there any other aspects of it that were notable, compared to, say the LEO II that you found helpful, useful or exciting? BM I canít remember really. It had much bigger memory and, as you say, was much faster. And, by using INTERCODE, we programmed in alpha not in numbers which was good. I canít remember much. It was more reliable I presume. DP So there was a big compiler program I presume to take what youíd written and translate it intoÖ? (Editor: Note the distinction between CLEO which required a compiler to translate the written code into INTERCODE and INTERCODE which was translated into machine code as it was loaded into the computer by a piece of systems software called an Ďassemblerí) BM Into machine code, yeah. But I think LEO II also did that didnít it? Iím not sure. Well LEO II had a compiler but they only worked from numbers. (Editor: LEO II had an Ďassemblerí which converted the LEO II assembly code into machine code as it was loaded) You wrote in numbers and then it got compiled into other numbers, whereas with LEO III, of course, you could write in alpha. I remember Joe Crouch and I, we were doing some absurd job which I over- sold, or under-priced. To work out the prices for second hand cars in South Africa which then got printed in a magazine. This was a tiny job which they didnít pay very much for because it wasnít worth very much. But it was quite a complicated program, and the programmer we put on to it made a complete mess and so Joe and I sat down and wrote it ourselves using a manual. Remember we had never done any programming for LEO III at that point. I think it was a CLEO manual or something. So we got the manual out and wrote this program complete in twenty four hours which we thought was amazing. But I mean in business terms itís a completely uneconomic and pretty senseless thing to be doing, but it was quite an achievement! DP Oh, I donít know, if you can write a program in twenty four hoursÖ BM Well, yeah. He was very good, Joe Crouch DP So, what was life like in South Africa? BM There was the chairman of LEO South Africa, a man called F.E. Hay. He was a Rand Mines person and he didnít know anything about computers and didnít want to know about computers DP Youíre showing me a photograph of this man, in the background is the plane which, presumably, has just had LEO III unloaded from it and moved into an enormous articulated truck, called Frasers Trans-Africa Road Lines, and that, presumably is transporting the LEO to your offices. Anyway tell me about life in South Africa? Quite a difference from Earls Court? BM Well, when we first got there LEO put us into a hotel which was, I donít know what you would call it, a sort of safari hotel. The rooms were Lodges with straw roofs and stuff. We spent our first Christmas there, And then we found ourselves a flat in a suburb called Rosebank where we set ourselves up; we were just married. Bronwen got herself a job after she failed the programming test, in an insurance brokers. DP What was life like? BM I was, as always, with LEO, too busy, spending too many hours on the job. We could have had a marvellous life, as Bronwen keeps telling me, with tennis and swimming and parties and stuff. But we didnít do any much of that! DP Because you were working? BM Partly because I was working, partly because I donít like tennis and swimming and we didnít really get to know local people very much. More LEO people came out and we got to know them, we used to drive out to a thing called a Ďdamí which is South African for a lake, at the weekend and the swimmers would swim, and weíd sit around amongst the bougainvillea and stuff and relax. DP Would people come up from head office in London? BM Visiting you mean? Well one person did, Anthony Salmon. I showed you that photo didnít I? DP The Chairman? BM Yes. You saw him with his hat on, fishing, didnít you? Well he would come out with his wife, who I think was called Valerie, and they did the full sort of looking after the troops act. Valerie, of course Ďdarlingí, sent us Christmas cards, with love and that sort of thing. She got bitten by a monkey which rather spoilt the atmosphere at one point. But that was nothing to do with LEO. They were visiting Lyons tea estates in Natal or something. DP Oh, I see, there were African interests for Lyons? BM Yes. Anyway, they were very nice people but, again, knew nothing about computers. Anthonyís line was just to go and encourage these young chaps, and he was very good at it. He would come out, I donít know, every six months or something or perhaps a bit more than that. Nobody else came. I donít remember Caminer coming. (Editor: Caminer was in Johannesburg for the signing of the agreement with Rand Mines( DP How long were you in South Africa? BM Two years. DP And then what? BM I want to talk about this at some pointÖ DP Ah, what is that youíre pointing at? BM Thatís the payroll specification for the ďNative payrollĒ for the Rand Mines Group. This is volume 1, I havenít got the other volume so I havenít got any flow charts. DP Itís a substantial document. BM It says an interesting thing. ďLEO is at present calculating pay for Natives on six mines Ö City Deep, Crown Mines, Durban Roodepoort Deep etc ÖThe six mines which are being processed by LEO have an average strength of 64,000 Natives, paid on a full ticket basis varying from 8,000 to 16,000 per mine. This number fluctuates with the time of year, being at its peak around March to June.Ē Thatís probably something to do with the harvest. Now these natives would come in from all over Southern Africa, they came from what is now Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Angola. Theyíd all come into Johannesburg and live in compounds, men only. It was rather like the industrial revolution in this country when people came in to the factories. They werenít used to factory type discipline or timing or controls or anything. So they would sort of work when they wanted to work and the payment was through a ticket book, and theyíd get a stamp for each day they turned up for work and when they got thirty they got to a full moon. When they got to a full moon they knew they could be paid, because they couldnít read. We would run the payroll every day, and anybody who had reached the thirty days on that day would get paid. So it was quite complicated logic, or was to us then anyway. Sixty four thousand of them! DP So you couldnít really bring any payroll techniques from England? BM No, not a lot. DP Did you enjoy your time in South Africa? BM Yes, apart from the political situation. DP You were conscious of that all the time BM Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean itís a lovely country spoilt by the people we always used to say. Well it still is, but, I mean the countryside and the animals and everything were fantastic. We used to go up to the reserves, what were they called? Safaris game parks. They were called National Parks. A National Park down in the Cape. The Cape Mountain and all these things, absolutely marvellous. The weather was also marvellous. The standard of life was good for whites, but the situation was terrible. I mean they were shooting, you know! You knew all about it, they were shooting people in the townships and all that sort of stuff. DP Was the atmosphere bad? Or did the whites seem oblivious to what was going on? BM No, the atmosphere wasnít bad, even the blacks we met seemed to be alright but they would be, of course, because they had to keep us happy in order for us to keep them happy. But anyway we didnít want to have any children born there, which is one reason we came back. Back to the UK and Sales with LEO DP So, when you came back, did you come back with LEO, or did you leave LEO? BM No, I came back with LEO. Hartree House. DP So what did you come back to? BM In sales for a year. DP Who were you reporting to? BM Well Caminer was very much involved, whether I was reporting to him or through somebody else I canít remember, I think I reported to him, yes. But you asked earlier, was he the technical manager or something? DP Commercial manager. (Editor: Caminer was in charge of marketing, systems and programming. At that time senior systems staff were responsible for sales but were called Consultants) BM Commercial manager, well he was, but he was also the systems technical manager. We also got a sales manager called Barnes, Ken Barnes (Editor: Ken Barnes had been a senior IBM marketing manager and was recruited by LEO to bring professional marketing know-how to LEO). He must have been alongside Caminer I should think. And we also had one or two salesmen from Joe Lyons, people who were used to selling ice creams and steak pies and stuff (Editor: for example Hank Levy, who had been in charge of Chocolate Sales in Lyons). We sent them off to sell LEO IIIs! DP How did they get on? BM Not very well. DP How did you get on as a salesman? BM Not very well! Well, I suppose I did, you know, I sold. But selling was a very long process, so when I was involved in the selling, the guy who eventually signed the order wasnít necessarily the chap whoíd done all the initial work because it would take a year or more to persuade somebody to buy. What I claim as one of my sales was for one of the biggest installations, which was for a LEO III at Freemans, the mail order people. I think I sold two to the Royal Navy dockyards. I donít know, it doesnít register very much in my mind, but anyway, yes, I sold a few things. DP Can you remember the process? How would you or LEO make the first contact with the organisation? BM I donít know how LEO would do it. I mean I was on the bottom rank of the SalesmenÖ DP Right. So contact was already made before you got involved? BM The contact was already made. We didnít go round with cold calls or anything very much. Leo Fantl, before he went to South Africa, used to visit quite a lot of people. I went with him sometimes, trying to persuade people of the benefits of computers and so on. I remember doing that. And I remember trying to explain to people that in the results, characters were six bits or whatever it was. But they didnít have to worry about that because we would handle all that but, I mean, why did we even bother to tell them it was six bits? I mean we had a sort of technical approach to the sales. We thought the customers ought to know a bit. DP Would that put them off? BM Put them off? IBM didnít worry about things like that, they just told them what wonderful results they were going to get which was sensible. DP And they would always ask what is it going to cost, presumably? BM Yes. DP Were you able to answer that? BM I wasnít, no. It says in here that one of the problems was that a lot of the jobs were under-priced and we made losses on them. DP It probably took longer to produce than was expected. BM I have no idea why. Perhaps they thought that was the only price they could get. I donít know what the marketing policy was, whether it was to try to flood the country with LEOís, regardless of cost. It couldnít have been really because the Lyons families didnít have all that much money, well they did but not enough for that. DP So, tell me, how did you progress then when youíd come back? You were a salesman In the commercial parts, as it were? BM Probably called a sales manager I should think. (Editor: Probably called a Senior Consultant, the preferred LEO title). DP A sales manager? BM Higher sales manager, yes. DP Did you enjoy doing that? BM No, not really. DP So what happened next? BM Well I began to think about what to do next and had lots of talks in the pub with friends and so on. I got the idea that I wanted to do, you know. I thought consulting would be a good idea, so I went and joined.... DP Excuse me, but you couldnít see a path within LEO? BM No, because we merged with English Electric. Just about one month or two after I got back I think, LEO became English Electric LEO. English Electric LEO Marconi, EELM. I used to say, well why donít we merge with London Office Machines then we could call ourselves EELMLOM, so a really snappy sales gambit. But anyway, Anthony Salmon called us all in and said ďoh, well the name of LEO will never die, we have ensured thatĒ and so on, and this was all baloney because all those English Electric people descended on us and we thought they were all hopeless, of course, tribal spirit! We went through a terrible period where for customers we were tendering and English Electric were tendering, we had to decide which to withdraw. That was an awful period because we thought their machines were total rubbish and so on. So we didnít want to withdraw any of ours. They were selling KDF9s and a KDP10 which was in fact an RCA machine from America with a different label on. So the atmosphere wasnít very good really, that was one of the reasons. And there wasnít any promotion path that one could see. I had a man put over me called Lord Ironside, Eddie Ironside, who was an English Electric salesman. DP Thatís surprising. I would have thought that there would be more opportunities in such a large organisation. BM Well, the fact of the merger meant that the company wasnít doing very well, presumably neither company was doing very well. It says in this book, we had nineteen British computer companies or something. Or nineteen models from twelve companies. The government was trying to push them all together, which it did because it eventually pushed us into ICL. Anyway, I wasnít very happy there, so I thought consulting might be a good idea and so I joined Coopers & Lybrand, as it was, Cooper Brothers I think it was then, itís now PwC. Coopers and Lybrand DP In what capacity did you join them? BM Consultant, senior consultant. DP But in a particular unit that was concerned with computers? BM Yes. I was in the Management Services Unit or something, I mean essentially I was doing the same thing. Well installing computers for people. I did the systems for a computer at the AA, that was the biggest job I did. They bought a thing called an FP-6000 which was made by Ferranti-Packard in Canada and it eventually became the ICL 1901. But it was still called an FP-6000 then. So I did an amazing job there! DP Excuse me, wouldnít the supplier provide the software? (Editor: We need to distinguish between application software and systems software. No manufacturer provided naked hardware. Each machine had its own systems software comprising operating systems, compilers plus often data base systems. LEO helped clients with application software often prepared in advance of delivery of the computer. Although LEO were not unique in that they, unlike most competitors, provided bespoke application software rather than fit all packages) BM As LEO did, you mean? DP Yes. BM No is the answer. DP Ah. They would supply the hardware? BM They supplied the hardware, well Ferranti-Packard from Canada wouldnít have done the software, you see, so Iím trying to think whether ICT at the time, provided systems the way we did. I donít think they did. So the client would either do it themselves or theyíd get in somebody like Coopers or KPMG or someone to do it for them. DP So you joined a good sized team? BM The AA they had their own staff. I was a Coopers person and I was managing it. I think I was the only Coopers chap on that team, as far as I remember DP What was the project for the AA? BM Well the biggest job was their tourism and ferry booking system. They used to do that, do you remember? If you wanted to go on a ferry anywhere, to Europe, you booked through the AA. It was a very, very complicated system. People were booking on ferries from Greece to Italy and that sort of thing and as well as out of the UK. We computerised all that. There was a certain amount of shambles involved but it benefited them in the end. They did what they should have done in the first place and pulled out of some of the more complicated routes. They should never have bothered with these. They then ran a cut-down system, which I think worked. Anyway, I did that and some other smaller jobs for bits of General Electric and others. There were also some non-computer jobs. I did a job for the Prices and Incomes Board on trying to establish whether large building societies were more efficient than small building societies, and a couple of things like that which were interesting. DP How long were you there? BM Three years, and I got rather fed up with that. DP Youíre a restless chap! BM Restless, yes. I didnít like their attitude, they would work us ten hours a day and charge the client for ten hours a day but only pay us for seven, which I didnít think was quite fair. Also they were chartered accountants basically, and if youíre a chartered accountant you went up and if you werenít you didnít. I took certified accountancy at the time because I had so much spare time at Coopers really, so I got myself made a certified accountant. And they were going to merge the Certified and the Chartered accountants. So then I would have become a chartered accountant and as my boss said in my exit interview, or Ďpersuading me to stayí interview, ďwell, youíre a certified accountant, before long youíll be a real accountantĒ. That didnít encourage me to stay! I got headhunted to go to P&O. (Editor: the famous shipping line) P&O DP To do what? BM To head up their management services, which was computers, market research and O&M and this, that and the other. DP Did you enjoy that? BM Yes. I did, quite. DP You built a team there or was it already there? BM There was a small team there. Robson & Morrow were the consultants who had started it up, they had a small team there. I built it up and got it running to a full sort of bureau operation doing jobs for various shipping companies. The biggest job was booking on the ocean liners and the cruising work. It was quite interesting because we had IBM computers in London, San Francisco and Sydney. And the programme would shift around, as the sun went round the globe, the programme went round with it and the control shifted to these different places, which was quite nice. One thing I remember was trying to communicate between these computers when we didnít have the internet or even telephones that worked sensibly. We would transmit the data and the programs on a magnetic tape via a magnetic tape transmitter. Before you sent a tape to San Francisco, or wherever it was, you had to ring up the GPO as I think it was then, and find out whether they were sending the signal at that particular time via satellite or via landline because that made a difference to the response time. The computer had to know what the response time was. So you had to phone them up and say, ďare you on satellite tonight?Ē. Amazing. DP It is, absolutely amazing. When would that be, in the seventies? BM It would have been from 1967 to 1970. DP Where did you go in 1970? BM Well I got fed up with P&O, same sort of reasons really, I resented it being run by a lot of shipping people who didnít know anything about anything and werenít really prepared to listen! I lectured the chairman, when I left as to why the hell was he staying in shipping anyway. I said his real skill was taking big investment decisions and he should go into the property business!Ď In fact after I left they did merge with Bovis, (Editor: a major construction company) or Bovis took them over. But anyway I got a bit impatient with that and I saw an ad from a head-hunter for British Oxygen as it then was, BOC, and I was a good fit for them because they had two LEO IIIs and a LEO II and they were in a mess. So they thought my LEO background was good Their auditors were Coopers, so they gave me a reference, so it all clicked together. So I went... British Oxygen DP What did you have to do there? What were the problems? BM Well they had a massive sales ledger that was all centralised. Theyíd got umpteen branches you know, British Oxygen, welding outlets and so on all over the country. And a huge number of customers. I canít remember any of the actual figures but they had a huge number of invoices. Everything was sent on bits of paper up to Manchester where they were punched and put into these two LEO IIIís, that then produced the invoices and the sales ledgers for all the customers. And there were something like five hundred clerks sitting round these LEO IIIís, writing out bits of paper and so on! It was just a huge unwieldy job. And it didnít do what all the branch managers wanted, nor was there any mechanism really for the branch managersí ideas to get through to the people who were running this system. It was just too rigid really. The computers were getting old anyway, that was 1970. I threw them out in 1975 I think it was, yes, 1975. (Editor: LEO III/13 was installed in BOC Manchester in 1964). DP So what did you do? You assembled a team? BM Well I was director of management services globally, which meant computing, accounting, HR, law and almost any sort of central service you can imagine. I was in charge of the whole lot. The overseas ones were hard to control, and I wasnít actually in charge of them, but I tried to be. But I got fed up with that too, and so I pushed them towards being a Ďcommercialí computer company, or at least in my division because they had ordered an IBM 370/65 or something which was to replace these LEOs. In fact this, I think this was the trigger for getting me in really! Anyway they didnít have anywhere to put this IBM so the first thing I was asked before I actually joined them was to come along and look at this computer room which was in Oxford Circus. So did I think it would be a good place to put the IBM to service Manchester and everywhere else? I said, yes. I thought that was fine and so we set them all up with terminal systems. So we had this huge computer in Oxford Circus, and had a lot of spare capacity, so we started selling time to people who wanted tests and so on. We got more and more commercial and I said ďlook, part of the solution with the internal problem is to run the computing and a lot of these other services on a commercial basis and let the operating divisions buy what they want, rather than imposing on them what we thought they ought to haveĒ. So I was turning the whole thing more commercial. In the course of that I thought, well we need more commercial management, so in fact I bought a company called DataSolve which was a city based bureau com pany. I merged it with our own internal thing. And then I went on and bought three or four more bureau companies and a couple of software companies and we became the largest computer services company in the country with twelve hundred employees, or something like that. We were the first company in the UK to buy an Amdahl computer for business processing, and that turned out a very successful purchase. Less successful was out acquisition of an ICL 2970. The purchase of the Amdahl in rather than an IBM computer caused great upset at IBM headquarters but I was backed by my Board. (Editor: Amdahl a prominent computer consultant sought to challenge IBM by building IBM compatible mainframes but with improved performance and at better price. For a time Amdahl was very successful but with the coming of mini and personal computers the venture faded. At which point BOC said, ďlook, we donít think you should be doing this and also running all those internal services, youíve got to concentrate on one or the otherĒ. I chose to do the external one and so the internal one went to somebody else. DP And how long did that last? BM The commercial side, lasted about five years. And then BOC said ďwell, perhaps, we think this isnít the right thing really, we donít really want to be in the computer businessĒ which was actually tiny against a two billion turnover or something. I was doing thirty million or something. It was ridiculous, they were quite right really. DP So what happened then? BM When I left they said ďwe think your division is the only division which was actually created by one manĒ. I think that was probably true! DP But they, they kept it, or they sold it off? BM I left and set up on my own. But after two years they sold it off to Thorn EMI who then sold it off again three years later in a management buy-out. It could have been good, but part of the problem was that BOC were used to being run by Lord Reith, in fact I had Lord Reithís desk at one point. So it was very bureaucratic having jobs like regional controller and so on, a title he brought in from the BBC. (Editor: Lord Reith could be described as the founding father of the BBC and for many years its chief executive, with pronounced view of the BBCís role in educating the public) DP What were you doing then when you left British Oxygen? Independent Consultant BM I started doing things on my own. Lazards, the Merchant Bank, whom Iíd known through BOC, put me in to look after their investment - they had a computer services set-up in Aberdeen. Then Thatcher had just abolished foreign exchange control so people in London were looking at ways of spending money overseas. So I went round California and Massachusetts and found high techí companies who wanted money and brought them over to London and tried to charm the investment companies. And as I said to everybody at the time ďas long as you donít mark, scratch the boardroom table with your gadget, youíll get half a millionĒ, and thatís what used to happen. Iíd go round say four companies a day, that sort of thing, with these various Americans. I went to Edinburgh as well. It was about investing in software development and hardware and stuff. DP Venture capital? BM Yes, but I was a middle man, I got a commission, I didnít have any capital. DP Were there any big successes? BM No. DP And you continued like that until you retired? BM There were one or two small successes, but most of them went bust, but then thatís normal in venture capital. More Personal Details DP May I ask you just a little bit about your personal life during this time. When you came back, you set up home with your wife, where, in London? BM Where did we start? In Dulwich, in a new build, the house in Dulwich was quite nice. We lived there for three or four years I suppose. Bronwen decided she didnít like the smell of the air in London although we werenít very far from where sheíd been brought up. Anyway she said, it was a mucky sort of place, so we came back. Iíd been brought up in Reigate so we bought a new house in Tadworth by the station. We were there about three years. Then we bought a rather grand house, also in Tadworth, which the children regarded as their ancestral home! We were there sixteen years. DP How many children did you have? BM Two. They were very upset when we sold it, one was in Australia ď I come back and my home has goneĒ. We sold that after sixteen years and moved here where weíve been for thirty odd years. DP Did your children go into computing? BM Ah, yes actually, but the older one, Deryn, started off in Marks & Spencer. Deryn, itís a girl, D E R Y N. She went, well they both went to Sutton High. Deryn went to Durham University to do whatever the posh word is for physics and didnít like it. When she came down she went to Marks & Spencer as a management trainee for a while and didnít like that! She had the same sort of problems that I have really, she didnít like bossing around old ladies. DP Can I just ask you how you got to the name Deryn? BM Well Bronwen chose it, itís a Welsh name. It means dove or something like that. Thereís a song called Deryn Pur which is all about a bird. Anyway, she didnít like Marks & Spencer so she then, although she didnít want to do what Dad did - children never do - went to work for one of the software companies whose name I canít remember. From there to Deutsche Bank where she was in charge of systems of various kinds. By which time she had two children, both slightly dyslexic. She decided she had to leave work and spend her time trying to deal with that. Her husband was also in IT where she worked for him in the software company she went to originally. Then he went on to be IT manager in a whole series of hedge fund companies. Both of them were paid an obscene amount of money. But neither of them work now. He wants to but he canít find a job that he likes. Anyway, as I say theyíre computer people. The other daughter went to Cambridge and then went into museum management. She did a course on IT in museums at Leicester I think it was. Sheís now the curator of the museum in Barnstaple. Itís a very small museum but sheís a very big fish in it and enjoys it enormously, so that was through computing but she didnít actually do computing Concluding reflections on LEO DP Well weíve really drawn to the end of our very interesting and entertaining conversation, but Iíd just like you, perhaps for a moment, to reflect on LEO and its role in computing. Looking back, do you think it was a significant .... BM It was very important, yes it was significant because it was the first, it really was the first use of a computer for business purposes. And the way we approached the business, largely through Caminer I think and through his previous experience with Lyons, and some of the other people in Lyons. It was looking at the use of the computer all the time from a business needs point of view. And installing disciplines, because computers were expensive, such as doing all your checking by hand before you put it on the computer. Everything had to be checked by somebody else. Everything had to be written down. I mean you still see signs of that in some of the computer standards that apply now, although a whole lot more do not have that discipline. I suppose itís because hardware is now cheap. I really donít understand why people write such huge programmes these days, Microsoft and all these people, massive, massive programmes, theyíre bound to have bugs in them. Microsoft doesnít appear to de-bug its software before it puts it out which is quite extraordinary and not at all like LEO, but anyway other parts of the business do follow LEOís standards. I think they did have an impact. DP Well LEO had an impact, and you had an impact on LEO and the computing world. BM I? DP Yes. I think you did! BM I donít think so! (Editor: for more information on the esteem BM was held in see Leo Fantlís chapter in Caminer et al, LEO: The Incredible Story of the Worldís First Business Computer). DP Well itís been absolutely fascinating talking to you, thank you very much. This interview with Brian Mills has been recorded by LEO Computer Society and the Society would like to thank you very much indeed for your time and your reminiscences. Any opinions expressed are those of you, Brian, the interviewee, not the Society, and the copyright of this interview in its recorded form remains the property of LEO Computer Society 2011. The copyright of the transcript is the property of you, Brian. Thank you very much indeed for your time BM Well thank you for your time, David, and for taking an interest.
Archive References : CMLEO/LS/AV/MILLS-20180227 , DCMLEO20220803002
This exhibit has a reference ID of CH56450. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.
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