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Anthony (Tony) Thorpe: Reminiscence

Anthony (Tony) Thorpe,  CAV programmer

Commenting on the project blog post on the LEOmatic Office: What a fascinating read!   I certainly never recall the phrase LEOmatic - we were simply the odd lot in the shop window on the corner of The Vale and Warple Way (CAV Computer Centre in Acton)!  It's a William Hill betting shop today - very sad.  And the pub we sometimes frequented at lunch times has been replaced by a large block of flats.  I always thought it a small miracle the buses, taking the tight right turn at the traffic lights into The Vale, never burst through the windows into our Computer Room.

Here are some tales I recall from my time there:  The workforce knew that the payroll was done by the computer, so one day during my day-shift in early 1964, someone burst through the data-prep department, and barged through to the computer room, yelling "Where's me money? I know you've got it all in here?" after some botch on his payslip!

I also recall getting a phone call from the pay office, pointing out that there must have been another bug somewhere in the payroll that morning, as the money they were required to stuff into the small brown envelope wouldn't actually fit!  I suppose the banknotes in the £600, or whatever huge figure it was - were just too voluminous!  I learned the importance of good programming documentation from chasing down bugs in other's work at any early age!

I arrived at CAV as a Trainee Programmer in January 1964.  I spent a few weeks doing day shifts in the Ops Department - where I first met Tony Fisher, who later followed me to CentreFile, and then we went on together to John Hoskyns & Co, where Tony eventually became a very senior Director.

Once LEO had a place for me on a programming course at Hartree House, I spent 6 weeks there under the excellent tuition of newly-married Helen Clews, - who accidentally introduced herself to my class as "Helen Garsed."  I spent two happy years at CAV, programming all sorts - The WIF [Works Indicative Figure] Index - a database of all the parts made by CAV, and their production costs; a stock control system; and even a small suite of programs to process the Christmas Quiz, and pick the winners, for all 8,000 employees on all CAV sites [Acton, Rochester, Sudbury, Fazarkerley].

I was interviewed for the job in late 1963, by Fred Bishop and John Coyle - both mentioned in the article - to whom I will always be grateful in giving me my start in the IT industry.  I recall clearly my very first "Business Trip" to the Liverpool factory; I took the train from Euston to Liverpool, and stayed overnight in Southport, and spent the next morning with the foremen and shop stewards in Fazakerly, explaining how we proposed to do the annual stock-take with the help of a new computer system, just before the two-week summer shutdown - and interesting challenge for an innocent 24 year-old!  In Acton, the "Special Stores" area was a particularly sensitive area for queries about stock-taking:  CAV prided itself on being apply to supply replacement parts for anything it had ever made [!] so the "Specials" were tasked with making the necessary bits from old and cherished drawings - so their stores were a real "Aladdin's Cave!", and guarded most jealously by the stores manager!

CAV systems department also ran a "Speakers Club" to improve our competence and confidence in meetings with CAV's Users - and I do recall winning a speaking competition one year, judged by the Director Mr. Wilkinson!  It probably put me on the path to running Hoskyns' Education Division later.

My mentor in my early programming work was Stuart MacGill, a lovely patient Scotsman, who kept my programs simpler than I was fond of making them! He moved to Rochester at some stage of the 1960's, after which I lost touch.  I was tempted away by an Advert from CentreFile - On-line systems were the new thing in 1966, and Centre-File was certainly trial-blazing in the City; we were installing on-line systems for stockbrokers 20 years before Big Bang!  The Stockbroker project was managed by JH&Co, to whom I transferred when Centre-File was sold to NatWest in early 1968. 

Date : 2020

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH60188. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Anthony (Tony) Thorpe: Reminiscence

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