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Ross Milbourne: Memoir and Tribute to Lyons, LEO and its People

I have lived and worked with computers in industry all of my life, and have now retired. It has also been a lifelong hobby, as well as helping pay to bring up my family.  The career I followed, from COBOL Computer Programmer in the 1970s, to I.T. Director in large organisations over the past 30 years, was founded by David Caminer, and his colleagues at Lyons. For that, I will always be grateful to him and the team, as well as deeply interested in what people like David did in their lives, from which so much later sprang.

To make your mark in history, you normally have to be in the right place at the right time, with the right equipment, education and ideas. However, you also have to be a very talented person in your own right, or part of a talented team, to make the most of that opportunity and turn it into a success. 

I hold a Master’s Degree, with Distinction, in Computing - that was an absolute pleasure to study for.  In my retirement, I have had the opportunity to build a good vintage computer collection, as well as a library of early publications about activity in the field. I volunteer for museums like CCH at Cambridge, and have restored some of their early ‘home’ computers, such as the Altair 8800s and IMSAI 8080, for public display and demonstration. I understand that they have also carried out a good deal of work related to LEO in the past few years.

For my part, I have gradually accumulated more material about LEO during this period, including collecting a few of the ‘standard’ books on the subject, and I have loved reading about it. As I have delved deeper, I have come across other articles and material to add to my understanding and, finally, tripped across ‘LEOPEDIA’ on the Internet. What an amazing resource!

I quickly recognised that ‘LEO Remembered - by the people who worked on the world's first business computers’ was a ‘must have’ that was missing from my collection on the subject.

On a private note, I have a couple of letters in my collection from John Simmons to Richard Sharpe, the editor of ‘Computing’ Magazine, back in 1979. These were contained in Richard’s personal copy of: ‘LEO and the Managers’, published by John Simmons, that came onto the open market recently.

They mention David Caminer, when he was living in Luxembourg, apparently. ‘Computing’ were clearly wanting to talk to David about his experiences for articles they were writing at that time, given it was the ‘Silver Jubilee’ of LEO. John Simmons had offered to get in touch with David for them, to gauge to what degree he might like to participate.

Ten days later, came the reply, which John quotes as follows:

“Of course, pleased to give what help I can to the project you mention. Unhappily, most of the earlier papers of LEO programming seem to have perished in one of those necessary but sometimes destructive clearances of the filing areas. It wasn’t easy to know thirty years ago that they should have been given the retention classification of ‘infinity’ as historic documents!”. How prophetic those words sound now, another 40 years later.  

Date : 2020

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH62291. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Ross Milbourne: Memoir and Tribute to Lyons, LEO and its People

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