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Kate Keen: Interview, 24th April 2019, 62992
|Home > LEO Computers > LEOPEDIA > Oral & Narrative Histories > Kate Keen: Interview, ... 4th April 2019, 62992
Kate Keen and LEO Computers Society
Digital audio of a recorded interview with Kate Keen, who worked as a programmer on LEO I, II and III, staying until after the mergers to work for ICL.
Interviewer: Elisabetta Mori
Date of interview: 24 April 2019
Length of recording: 56m10s
Format: 1 original .wav recording 567.01MB (transferred to .mp4 video for presentation on YouTube 185.76MB)
Copyright in recording content: Kate Keen and the LEO Computers Society
Transcript editor: unknown
Abstract: Joined Lyons in the Statistics Office using a Marchant adding machine, switching to the LEO I team in 1954. Worked first in the data prep section punching programs and trial data onto 5-hole paper tape, became an operating assistant and then a programmer working with Mary Blood (Mary Coombs) on LEO II. Finally moved to teaching programming at Radley House and at customer sites as part of ICL. After having children, returned to teaching programming at night school (teaching BASIC by that point) and then took up a career as a civil servant and in payroll for the Army.Date : 24th April 2019
Physical Description : 1 digital file, audio
Elisabetta Mori It’s the 24th of April 2019. I am Elisabetta Mori and I am interviewing Kathleen Keen to give us the story of her involvement with LEO computers from the earliest days. Good morning, Kate. We are recording this interview as a part of the LEO Computers Society Oral History project. The audio version and the transcript will be logged at a central archive and made available for researchers and members of the public. We are in Weymouth Dorset, at Kate’s house. Welcome, Kate! Can you please tell us where and when you were born? Kate Keen I was born in Carshalton in Surrey in 1936. EM And have you got any early memory? KK I have no memories of Carshalton; we moved away and lived in Tooting (South London). While we lived in Tooting, the war began and I’ve got a very vague memory of seeing the Battle of Britain happening over the south of London from there. EM Can you describe your parents? KK My mother was very well spoken, she was educated in a convent and she always wanted to be a telephonist because she was so well spoken that’s what she was. She worked with a GP on the telephones. And my father, he came from a family who were all printers and he didn’t want to be a printer so he applied to join the navy but he was too short, they wouldn’t have him, so he joined the RAF and that I think was his 18th birthday, he couldn’t get away from home quick enough. EM Were there important influences on you in your earlier life? KK I suppose my mum must have been an influence on me but I can’t really remember anything in particular. I was quite lively and intelligent and I did all sorts of things. EM Where did you go to school? KK I went to the British School in Brinkworth because during the war, my father was posted to Wiltshire and we moved down there. And I spent a little time in Beckenham in Kent, one year we spent during the war in Beckenham then back again to Wiltshire. And when I got to London, I took my eleven-plus at the Huntingfield School in Putney, West London which I passed very well actually, I got nominated for the Hays Hospital, so it’s very good but my mother wouldn’t let me try for scholarship so I didn’t go there. But I did go to Putney High School for a little while. Then I wasn’t popular at Putney High School because—my father left us by then and mum had a job and was bringing up three of us on her own, and I used to pick up my brother from the nursery with my Putney High School uniform on and they didn’t like it, they got rid of me. So I then went to the Eliot School, which was a bit of a come down but I enjoyed it and I did well enough there. EM Was there any special event during your childhood that you want to share with us? KK No, it’s all general memories of wartime and having fun. Oh, I remember seeing Bristol burning when we lived in Wiltshire from the house we were in. One night we looked out and the sky was red in one direction and discovered later it’s Bristol, it should have been heavily bombed. So I saw that in the distance. So wartime memories and I quite enjoyed those. The year I lived in London – we lived in a basement flat; that’s my mum, me and she was expecting my brother. I had a little brother then – and we were going home one day and there was a lot of noise, and I remember she went down steps that she normally had difficulty with, straight down with a pushchair around and into our basement flat. And there were German aircraft coming along the railway line, following the railway line, and when they got to Sydenham (South East London), they bombed a school and lots of children and teachers were killed then. That’s my bad memory of the war otherwise, I had a great time. It’s all happy memories and not particularly significant most of them. EM So what did you after school? KK After school? Went home. I was very young then, I was only about six or seven, and no way I was going out. EM Oh well, you’re staying with your mum and your? KK And my brother, I was useful in that direction. EM So, what was your first job? KK My first job? Well when I eventually left school, the Eliot, with my O-levels, my mother was working for J. Lyons as a telephonist at the time and she said “Oh, come and work here, you’re not going to college, we can’t afford it” because she had two young boys and me, boys who were one six years younger and one eight years younger than me, so they’re quite young. And she had a job, so I left school and I went to work, and she got me a job at Lyons so that’s where I went. EM And what was your first job? KK My first job was in the statistics office working on an adding machine. EM Do you remember which machine it was? KK It was a Marchant. They weren’t all Marchants. EM And what was your daily routine there? KK Daily routine, you get a sheet of paper and you’d have quantities on it and prices on it, and your job is to extend into the end column by multiplying one by the other and writing the result down and then totting it up at the end. So that’s what I did all day. EM And did you like it? KK No. EM So, what happened? KK I decided I was going to go and get another job. Easy in those days, you could leave a job Friday and start somewhere else Monday, no problem. But anyway, I decided I was a bit more ambitious and I always enjoy the civil service so I applied and I got an interview. But on the day of the interview, I took a day off from work, didn’t tell anybody where I was going, and I didn’t go to the interview because I changed my mind about it. EM So you never went to the interview? KK Never went to the interview. I hope I apologised to them. EM What made you change your mind? KK I think you had to have a medical or something and I didn’t fancy it. Probably something silly like that anyway. EM How old were you? KK Certainly no more than 17. EM And so, you went back to work? KK I went back to work the next day to my Marchant machine and Ms Harris called me up. EM Who was Ms Harris? KK Ms Harris was quite senior. We had a section leader, it was Margaret and she was above all the section leader so she was somebody. Anyway, she had me over – she looked fierce but I think she was quite nice – and she said, “Kathleen, where were you yesterday?” So I cannot tell her lies so I said, “I was going to go for an interview and in the end I didn’t go.” “Going for an interview? Aren’t you happy here?” So I said, “Well no, it’s really boring” “Oh dear.” And I can’t remember anything else she said then. But fairly shortly afterwards, I was sent to visit the computer and shown around what there was of it, which wasn’t much. And this was the electronic brain that was currently being built. It was LEO I that I discovered later on. Anyway, I must’ve made a reasonable impression because I was offered a job over there and of course I went. EM What year was that? KK That would have been probably about 1954. EM Now, what was your impression of the computer? KK Well, I wasn’t terribly impressed by it because it wasn't doing anything and there were various portable tables and things. The interesting bits that I wouldn’t have known much about were all the memory and everything. I learnt about those later. But for an office, it looked like rather a large empty office because there were no peripherals in those days, no printers, and no control desk. So I wasn’t terribly impressed but I think I must have felt a bit of the excitement that was going on there otherwise I wouldn’t perhaps have been quite so keen to go. EM Were you happy about your new job? KK I was happy to get away from the stats office. And I quickly made new friends there. There were some young women there, Beryl and Heather and Irene who came from the stats office the same time as I did. So yes, it was nice, I was with girls who were a bit more of my sort I suppose. I sound a little bit snobbish, but I got on well with them. EM How many of you were working there? KK Well, Beryl and Heather were helping a bit more on the computer but Irene and I, we were punching paper tape because our first job was to do that. And we used to punch programmes onto paper tape and trial data onto paper tape. It was five-holes all numeric so we did it all with one hand. And it’s not boring because once you get really into it you don’t have to think about it, you think about something else, so that was quite handy. EM And did you use a verifier to check if the data you punch was correct? KK No, we just did it twice and then held it up to the light to see whether they were the same. If they were same, they were right and if they were different, then we had to make corrections. And I can’t remember how we did it now. I can remember splicing paper tapes. I think we may have had to cut bits out and splice new bits in with glue. Yes, I think that’s what we did. EM And did Lyons check how much you punched with it? KK Yes, we had to measure how much we punched and how long it took. And I think what they were doing probably was trying to decide how many people they would actually need to punch certain amounts of data in the future when they had a lot of stuff to do. But we were bright girls and we were very fast so I don’t know if they always managed to attain that sort of speed. But yeah, that was good fun as well trying to beat what you did last time. And I can’t remember how many characters a second we got to, but it was quite a few, 7-10, something like that. EM Do you remember who was measuring? KK No, I can’t remember but there were various sorts of senior men there. There was Tony Barnes who was a very smooth man, he was in charge of all the operations—well in fact he was in charge of all of us in that particular room, so he probably had something to do with saving the figures. EM And how long did you punch the data? KK We weren’t punching paper tape alone for very long because they found us other things to do. We used to help a bit getting stuff ready to go on the computer and get the programmes out that were required; they were kept in card boxes with elastic bands around. So, we sort of got our hands in a bit with helping with what was going on. There used to be demonstrations, just a bit later on when there was actual work going on and people like TRT (T.R. Thompson) used to bring visitors around but they weren’t allowed to bring visitors around until we were ready for them. Marjorie Coles was actually in charge of the data prep section although I can’t remember doing very much with her. EM For TRT, you mean Thomas Raymond Thompson? KK Yes. Anyway, they used to bring this stuff but he always wants everything to be just right, so they didn’t come down until everything was ready so Marjorie used to go up, and she had a card and if the green side of the card was showing it was okay. If it was pink or red, then he’d have to hang on for a bit and she’d go back up again later on with a green one. EM So, everyone called him “TRT”? KK I don’t know about the others I wouldn’t have done, but it’s because he was quite senior. EM Can you describe him? KK I mean he was sort of greyish and he had glasses and he would look over the glasses sometimes at people. And one of them said whenever he did that to him, he used to try and hypnotise him but I don’t think he ever managed it. TRT always used to say if anything had gone wrong “Have you got a plan? What are you going to do about it? Have you got a plan? You must have plan” as one of his sayings. But he was a benign presence, I think everybody liked him. So, he was the man with the power. EM Who else do you remember of those days in LEO I? KK Well, we used to rather admire the programmers as I thought the programmers were the bees knees, because most of them were young male graduates and you can’t ask more than that when you’re around 16 or 17 so I felt I was in a very glamorous environment being there. And they were all very nice and if you wanted to ask anything, they were very nice and gave you explanations of things. I'd say what’s this do, what’s that do, and they were always very good and I got partly interested in what they did. When they were testing their programmes they used to bring out their modifications (mods), so we punched a little bit of type in the mods and then they did another trial and see if it works. Some of them, we saw quite a lot of with their mods and some of them were more successful. EM Were you aware of testing programmes at the time? KK Oh yes, I knew what they were doing. EM So how did your career progress? KK I quite liked the look of it. EM And so what happened? KK Well, after being mostly a data prep girl, punching tape, a couple of us became operating assistants and we were actually officially helping the operators. So when there were jobs to be done, we would make sure the programmes had the right stationery because some of the stationery was pre-printed like payslips and stuff. You just had to make sure the right stuff was on and the case where you actually got some hands on you’d help load up programmes. And you’d keep the log, you’d sit at the control desk and if anything happened, you’d write it down, like 'start job'. If there was something wrong with the programme, you need to write down what it was that happened. Sometimes it would just stop and that would be zero all the time you look at the indicator and you could see that there was zero - they’d somehow managed to branch to a bit of programme that didn’t exist. Another thing you might get something that sounds funny that goes in a loop, so you’d write down programme in a loop and you stop it. EM So they got a loud speaker? KK The computer always made a noise. EM And if the noise was repeating… KK You could tell and usually there was a sort of a howl sort of sound if it was in a loop. I can’t remember how we knew but that would be indicated somewhere and you’d say so and so and they’d be able to go straight to it and find out where it was. I found all this fascinating. Anyway, we were on shift work and we only worked in the evening. The men used to work all night but we used to work in the evenings until about 10:00. And we used to get free dinner so we used to go to manager’s mess waitress service; everything lovely, very swish, so it’s quite nice being operating assistant so we enjoyed that. EM So you couldn’t work during the nights? KK No. You do a morning to afternoon; or an afternoon to evening shift. EM So what time did you start? KK It would’ve been a normal length of day. EM Did you live far away? KK I lived in Roehampton ( Southwest London) which meant I would walk to Hammersmith and the bus went all the way home from there, so it wasn’t bad. So, I enjoyed that. EM And then what happened? KK Well then I kept badgering them because I’d like to be a programmer, me with my O-level maths, with all these people with degrees, so I thought well I can do it, I’m going to show I can do it, it’s all logic you don’t actually have to know much maths. So anyway, I badgered them and eventually they sent me on the aptitude test. I got through that, so I thought right, I’m going to be a programmer and when I was 21 and that was about the time when they did the LEO film. EM Who were your colleague programmers? KK My colleagues, Peter Wood was one of the operators. Some of the engineers I remember; Frank Walker, Alan Thompson was there, various programmers about that time. I think Leo Fantl would’ve been there then because by this time I was working in Elms House which was where Leo II was. There was a lady whose job it was to go around testing the valves, tapped valves, to see whether they were about to peg out, and if they were, she’d put a new one in. So not a job that would appeal to me much but she was good at it. EM And your shifts - were you still working in the evening? KK I can’t remember when I was at LEO II whether I was doing the shifts. If I was still operating assistant, I probably was still doing the shifts but I picture myself as being in WX Block (Cadby Hall) which is where LEO I was at that time, but everything I think was in a state of flux then and it was that year I went on a programming course. EM You kept the notes? KK Yes. And I’ve got the initials of most of the people who did the actual lessons like ALP Arthur Payman, so I know who did all these lectures. So, there are some familiar names there. EM So where did you attend the lectures? KK I can’t remember where it was but it was certainly at Cadby Hall somewhere. I did it in work time. Extra time came when I was actually programming because I used to take work home, I loved it. So I was sitting at home, it was like doing a lot of crosswords, it was great. EM So what did you programme usually? KK Payrolls. My main thing was payroll. So I did Lyons’ payroll and I did a bit on Ford and I think Ilford, the photographic company. EM What was the thing you like the most? KK I like the work because it’s a puzzle working things out and making sure they’re right. If you like crosswords and that sort of thing, you would like programming what they call it now coding. EM And what was the strategy LEO used to verify programme correctness? Do you remember? KK Well you test it yourself on a small data. You know, the bits you’re interested you’re working on yourself, you’d test those —and you would have trial data with deliberate mistakes and it’s so that you’d know what it would do if the data wasn’t right. Like there would be range checks on things so if your result was a million pounds in the pay packet, you’d know it was wrong, so a bit extreme but that kind of thing you test to make sure everything was okay. Ultimately, you’d have the dry run. Before it went live, you’d have the full-scale dry run—you need to have parallel running so that people in the offices will be doing it the same time as your computer was doing it. But that would be on a higher level and I would only be involved in a part of that. EM Who was your boss when you were a programmer, was she Mary Blood? KK Yes. Bloody Mary I’m afraid we used to call her from very early days. She had a reputation of sort of breaking the computer when we are on LEO I and see her sitting on the platform where the storage racks were underneath and she’d be sitting on that with her folders and everything and we’re saying “Oh, what’s gone wrong now?” EM And what about David Caminer? KK Now, he was quite frightening. He never said anything to me that I would object, he never told me off or anything because he was too high above me. But he was quite frightening, if he came in to the room you surely will take notice he was there and he had a reputation of being quite fierce and he looked fierce, his appearance helped with that. And he had a wooden leg, which everybody was quite wary. He stood on somebody’s foot with his wooden leg whilst leaning on the control desk and this poor chap couldn’t get away. He said he tried to withdraw his foot but every time he moved his foot, Mr Caminer’s foot moved as well and, in the end, he gave up because he didn’t want to pull him over. So even poor Mr Caminer’s wooden leg gave us a bit of fun I’m afraid. And when we went on Pennant day, he was very sociable, he used to go to Pennant day and support the teams and especially the tug-o-war team who wouldn’t dare lose because he used to stand there and be their coach and after that, we all went off to the pub locally, the Rising Sun. Mr Caminer would lead the singing so we all had lovely singsong there and, if the pub wanted to close or stop us; no way, not when he was there, he wasn’t having it. EM Did you remember Frank Land? KK I remember Frank Land, yes, who’s a gentlemanly chap, always very pleasant, very nice. I always liked him. His brother came later, Ralph, I didn’t know him so well. But Frank was involved in programming I think, but I don’t think Ralph was, he’s more sales so we didn’t know him very well. EM And what about Leo Fantl? KK Oh, he was lovely. He was my boss at one stage – I think he must’ve been above Mary – and I remember he gave me a raise once, he said “Well, remember, nothing succeeds like success.” But he was lovely, a really cuddly man, really nice. Very tragic, he lost his wife in an accident, I think it’s a bicycle accident and she was killed so that was very sad. But I mean, as the years went by, he recovered and he actually married one of the programmers eventually which was happy for all of us for him, we’re pleased. EM And what about John Gosden? KK Oh, he was lovely, I had a crush on John Gosden, I thought he was great. And he was very nice because I thought when I first started there, I thought I’d go and see if I could take an A-level maths course, so I was studying and he used to help me with various questions which was very kind of him. I gave it up in the end, I was too busy programming by that time. EM And so this was programming for LEO II? KK Yeah. EM And how did your career evolve during the years? KK Well, I was never going to make the high level without a degree, I hadn’t got the methods for working as other people who’d been trained more to think than I had so I knew I was never going to be sort of brilliant. You know I was quite good; I could have been good. Well eventually, when it goes on a bit and you think, “oh, I don’t know, I’m not getting anywhere now, what can I do instead?” and I moved from programming to, job installation I think it was called which I didn’t like. I never really quite knew what I was doing; I didn’t think it was all that necessary to do it. It was making sure instructions were right for customers. It is part of customer support but I didn’t really take to it. But while I was doing that one nice opportunity came up, somebody who was American was going to compile a concordance of Shakespeare, which meant that girls had to punch Shakespeare and I know a lot about Shakespeare. EM How did you know a lot about Shakespeare? KK Well I used to act in my spare time, so I acted a fair bit of Shakespeare, as I was quite keen on it. And so I was the expert you see. So I used to coordinate what they were doing. It didn’t go on very long; I think the man must’ve given up. But while it lasted I quite enjoyed doing that and I made some good friends then. EM And what about John Daines? KK I didn’t know him very well. I think I can remember what he looks like. He was a younger generation of programmers from what I was. Same with Peter Byford. So younger than me. I knew who they were, but they weren’t really part of the same circle; more of my circles were the programmers, the men who were programming when I got interested in it and a bit after that, we used to have lovely parties. I remember some parties we used to have in Chiswick (West London) and they were great, we used to sing and there are lots of rugby songs. They clean them up; in those days they didn’t use rude words in front of ladies. So, they sang the songs but they didn’t sing the rude bits, which is, you know, very gentlemanly of them. And I can remember two of them singing some Gilbert and Sullivan duets for us. And we used to finish up, I suppose I was very tired and almost ready to go home, we used to play Mozart clarinet concerto, which is the first time I heard them. My whole life in LEO was an education I’ve done all sorts of stuff that I wouldn’t have learnt in another—I wouldn’t have learnt in a stats office that’s for sure. EM What about wages? KK Well, we felt we were pretty well paid because it was a good job in those days. But I remember one incident, there were pay rises going around, we all got a rise and I was chatting to a colleague of mine, Gerry Grandy, asked him how much he got. And he’d actually have been given a larger pay rise than me so I said why, why should you get more than I do and he said, well, I am a man. And I had no answer to it because that’s the way things were and you’d more or less accepted it then. EM Why do you think there was inequality? KK Well because my generation and before, if you got married you left your job; well when I got married that wasn’t the case, you’d at least keep working until you had children, but we always thought that the man being the breadwinner and probably his income being more important to the family than the woman’s income. That was in those days about 1970, we were moderately happy with it. EM And at some point, you began to teach programming? KK Yes, that was when I got fed up so I thought I must do something, I think I’ll go and be a teacher. So, I applied to the Digby Stuart College in Roehampton, there was a place as a teaching student and got it. And I was all set to go, I knew the uniform and everything I had to wear and buy and everything for it. And I told one of the engineers I’ve been friendly with a long time, John Wheeler, I said “ I’m going to go into teacher training college.” “Come and teach my engineers how to do programming." So that’s how I finished up teaching programming to engineers and that was at Radley House in Ealing (West London). And that’s where I met Mike. EM Mike Fisher? KK That’s right. EM Where did you meet him? KK Well, we worked at the same office. He was teaching engineers about whatever it was he was teaching about and I was teaching them programming which they didn’t really want to know but people thought they ought to know a bit about it so that was me teaching them a little bit about programming. But after that when I finished dealing with engineers, I went and dealt with programmers but I didn’t actually teach much in a way a programming, I used to teach them about the software. So, I used to teach about communication software and how it works, what it could do and so on and multi job which was that you could run several programmes at the same time. And at that time, I could’ve told you a lot about it and I can’t remember anything now. But I ran courses on that and I was lucky there because I was able to go abroad and teach courses abroad several times. I went twice to Moscow. And that was good; I had an adventure in Moscow. The course went beautifully and I had a lovely interpreter and she took me around Moscow and said “Oh that building there” she said “That is where all the ballet dancers and the opera people, they all live in there.” And she says “There’s always a lot of noise from there” she said, “Yeah, they’re that sort of people.” EM So what year are we talking about? KK This is about—oh, this is quite late on; Moscow was quite later on that was about 1972 or something like that. Quite late, Moscow. This was just before I got married, so it was ‘72. And they said, “Oh when you come back, bring your photographs” so I was like, “They won’t really be interested” but anyway when I went back, I took the photographs; not only were the girls interested, the men were interested they said, “Have you brought your photographs?” so I had to make sure I took them in to show them. And they were all interested in what we were wearing. “Did men always wear cylinders at weddings?” but they meant top hats because they had top hat for wedding. So I explained all about that and they were lovely. I went to Poland a couple of times. I went to Gdansk Shipyard. It was just after all the travels there with them, like we went to so on and so on. So that was Gdansk, that’s… Well, I enjoyed all of it. And once to Katowice which is much further south in Poland. I had my suitcase stolen on the train, sitting on the train and I had all my stuff in a case, all my lecture notes, everything and I’m sitting there and I looked—we got to a station, I looked to the side and there’s somebody walking past my carriage with my suitcase. I jumped up and I shouted in English and I chased her along the platform anyway, but she put it down and run away so I back on the train. So that was a bit of luck. Anyway, I got to Katowice and did the course all right. I did a couple of excursions. So I went to Krakow and Czestochowa I went to as well. So I always make most of my time when I get sent anywhere. So that was Poland. I went to Hungary a couple of times, Budapest. And the first time there, I stayed at the Gellert Hotel (Budapest), which is the old hotel. Have you stayed there? EM I’ve been there. They have thermal baths, it’s very famous. KK Oh, I loved it. The next time I went I stayed somewhere like Hilton (Hotel) or somewhere, that wasn’t half as interesting, not as glamorous. And that was nice; the people are all very nice to me. So that was Hungary. And I also went to East Berlin and that was an eye opener. They were all very nice people, a nice interpreter. And I had to go to Checkpoint Charlie every day to get there, so that was quite interesting and they got these dreadful trains, so it’s just like being in a film. Anyway, I went to Checkpoint Charlie and there are lovely people there and somebody just got a car, a little rusty old banger he got, but he was so pleased with it so I admired. And one of the girls gave me a little wooden toy to give to one of the other people who’ve been in there over their running courses. And I wasn’t supposed to take anything out. So anyway, I got this toy and I was so frightened that somebody’s going to catch me with it. Anyway, I came out through Checkpoint Charlie that night and there’s this tall guard there and me cringing hoping he’s not going to stop. And he didn’t but looking at him, he look just like Bobby Charlton, he had such a lovely face just like the footballer Bobby Charlton so I thought, oh, it’s all right. Anyway, I got through; I wasn’t caught with my little wooden toy and at the end, I can’t remember which, it might have been the Russian course, they gave me a book and they signed it and they said I wasn’t to let anybody to see that they had signed the book for me – so I still got that. So yeah, East Europe. You’d asked me about East Europe, I’ve been there. So I mean that was working there, so not only did I have a lot of… I mean I enjoyed the work as well, that sounds as if I wasn’t actually doing any work but I was, I was working quite hard. But there were all these lovely parks, which were very nice, and I met Mike, so. EM What did you like of Mike? KK I don’t know, he just seemed nice and we’re interested in the same sort of things. We used to go to archaeology classes and so on and he liked the same sort of music I did. So yeah, we took off, so that was nice. EM And he was working for LEO at the time? KK I can’t remember whether he— it was probably English Electric Leo Marconi by then, it was quite later on. EM What year are we talking about? KK Well, I got there at about 1964 I think. EM Yes, so it was English Electric Leo Marconi then. KK Yes, that would have been then, yeah. EM Probably, yes. KK And then it would’ve been ICL eventually, so ICL probably by the time I went to these foreign parts, it was probably ICL. But I can’t remember any of the dates when any of that stuff happened because it didn’t make any difference to me, I just carried on working. We did notice when English Electric came in because like I say we’ve been part of LEO which we liked, so we noticed that. But I can’t say—I didn’t notice the other mergers and takeovers and things. EM But did you notice the difference from Lyons to English Electric? KK Well it was a sort of a them and us. Anybody from English Electric, they weren’t one of us. I wouldn’t say antagonistic exactly, but I think they all were shocked that they’d taken the Leo over and we didn’t like it. EM So that was your feeling? KK It was not very pleasant. EM And after, what happened? KK After? EM Like English Electric Leo Marconi, ICL, and… KK Well, eventually I got married to Mike and I left. EM So you left when you got married? KK Well, I left when I was having Helen, my daughter. So, I kept working as long as I could; sitting down, teaching, I did as much as I could. I was actually expecting on one of the foreign trips that I did; it wasn’t Russia but one of them. Katowice maybe and I did particularly want to go because I had a great time when I got there. EM And did you go back to work or? KK No. Well, I eventually did but, no, I couldn’t go back and pick up my career because I knew I would’ve lost it by then, things were changing so quickly, so I thought I’d do something different. And I’ve always been interested in- always done a lot of sewing and so I made my own wedding dress and clothes I used to make. So, I did a course in soft furnishings and upholstery, so lampshades and cushions and upholstering chairs and all this stuff. EM But no programming anymore? KK No, not then. So anyway, I got my city and guilds (City and Guilds of London Institute) and I started teaching soft furnishings and upholstery. And about that time, people started buying themselves home computers so I was like “Ah!” So, I taught myself basic and I ran some computer courses, evening class. So that was nice. So anyway, I had quite a bit of teaching going on at that time. EM Were you still living in London at the time? KK No, we’re living in Guilford (Surrey) . When we got married, we moved to Guilford then. Any work we did after—I went to commute up to London but luckily when Mike was in the same direction, we travel together, so that worked out. Anyway, I taught the basic to these people. Some of them were really good. You know, these are quite ladies who were well stuck in years but turned out to be quite good learning a programme in basic, and they all enjoyed it. And my cousin’s wife came on one of my courses and I didn’t even know they were living there. So I’m like, “I’m sure that’s Rodney’s wife” and yes it was, so they were living in Guilford and… So we got in touch with another branch of family that way. So anyway, eventually, that sort of petered out, the evening classes and I thought, well, I’ll get a job now. So, I went and got a job with the Ministry of Agriculture as it was; Agriculture, Fish and Food. So, I was a civil servant in the end. So I joined there and… EM What year was that? KK That would have been, I don’t know. I suppose my daughter must have been about 8 or 9, 10, say, so that would have been about 1982 I suspect. EM So after several years. KK I went and got a full-time job in civil service, which I did that until they closed the office and they moved all the Ministry of Agriculture up North, somewhere Leeds (Yorkshire) or somewhere like that, so I could either get a transfer somewhere or leave. So, I was offered a job somewhere, but I couldn’t get there because of the transports. I gave up work for a bit and then I heard, I’m not sure how I heard, but there were vacancies at the army training place at Pirbright (Surrey) army training regiment, ATR Pirbright, so they want the people who worked in a pay office. So I applied for that and I was turned down for some reason or another, and then they rang me up and said no, we want you after all. So I went there and my goodness, that was a place to work, it had everything. The army were quite good to work with, we worked in the office. The chief at the time there was very nice, he gave me such a welcome in my first day and he always remembered your name after that, he was extremely good at sort of management of personnel. I hope he was good with his soldiers, I think he must have been. And I was sort of working out the pay for soldiers and the computer, well, just like having a terminal and no actual computing in it, you do a bit of—you input stuff. But we had face-to-face encounters with the boys and the girls and they come in on their first day with hair all around their neck and, you know, scruffy but after about three days, they’d all had their heads more or less shaven and they were smart. And when they finally passed out, you wouldn’t know them and mothers would cry because their boys had become young men and it was lovely to see all these families being so overwhelmed by the progress that their kids have made. And our office looked out onto the playground so we saw- every week, we saw the bands, all the army bands would come, Mounted Band, a couple of times. And, you know, Royal Artillery Band, Royal Artillery Mounted Band, they all came and they’d march around there. So that was good. And they also did interesting things that you could join in with. I got a free trip to the Battle Fields in Belgium once. So, the RAMB platoon were going, so I said “Ooo I’d loved to go there” “Come with us” he said. I said, “Oh can I?” “Yeah.” “How much would that cost?” “Nothing” he said, “Come for nothing, bring your husband.” So, we had a free day out the bus down to the… Anyway, we went on the train across, our bus went on the train across the tunnel. We went to trenches and there was… so my granddad was there so I found that sort of interesting. So that was free. And we went to the Royal Tournament we used to go to. I got tickets for Thornbury show, all sorts of lovely stuff going on. So that was a great place, and that was my last job and I didn’t want to leave and I stayed there until I was 66, which was the year longer than you was supposed to, so eventually they threw me out. EM And what did you do on your retirement? KK Not a lot. Well, by the time I had to leave my job, I had to leave the choir I belonged too as well because my voice was as bad it was; I failed the audition. So I sort of made my own interest and at the same time, a bit of family history research and do some of that from time-to-time. I still keep up my interest in music but I don’t perform anything. So no, not so much since I’ve retired but enough to keep me busy. Mike keeps me busy. EM And did you maintain contact with your ex-LEO colleagues? KK Well, I did with some of them, but they died on me. My friend Joan used to be the secretary of the chief engineer on LEO I… EM Joan? KK Joan Longhurst she was then and she become Joan Fielding, married a programmer. Well, we nearly all married in the house, it’s a great marriage bureau. But anyway, she married him, but he died when she’s died. And then another girl, Joy Crocker, she was another great friend. So yes, I kept in touch with them while they were still with us but I’m not in touch with anybody now. Oh yes, I am. Every now and again. Margaret and Barry Fox. Have you ever met them? They’ve been interviewed by somebody or another, so I don’t know if that was you. They live up in, was it Derbyshire they live? Anyway, it’s north-ish. So, I’m touch with them from time-to-time, giving out Christmas cards and when go on a boat up there, we sometimes see them. And another one, Pat Reid who also married an engineer, she lives down on south coast somewhere and I’m vaguely in touch with her, Christmas cards, not much else. So yeah, one or two I’m a bit in touch with. EM Did you attend any LEO or computer history functions after your…? KK Yeah, I’ve been to a couple and one of those there’s a funny story attached. There’s one man we’ve heard—I won’t give you his name because he might be still around, but anyway we had heard he died because we knew he’d been ill, he had TB or something quite serious he had, and somebody I had been working with at the time, Frank Hackett, we were chatting and I said, “Oh no, that’s…” so he said, “Oh yeah.” I said “I thought he was dead” he said “So did I.” I said, “But you better not say anything though.” You can’t really go out to say to somebody “Oh I thought you’re dead.” But anyway, he wasn’t. So yes, I enjoyed that. But I haven’t been to the ones that were on about artillery company and that’s a shame because it’s part of my family research, I got involved with the artillery company because the woman who was their archivist was interested in history and particularly the artillery company and I got to know her quite well, and I went up there and I was given a tour around all their armour and their regalia and stuff. A private tour, it’s very nice. So I was sorry to miss that, but it’s not easy to get there when you live away from town especially from here, and especially now Mike is… I don’t know what word to say, not very mobile. EM So finally, reflect on your life experience with LEO, what remains with you of that? KK Well, it’s the same. It must be me I think, it’s the same with LEO, I remember it as being a lot of fun. And with LEO, quite a challenge, and the other jobs were fun but not the agriculture so much but the military was fun. And that wasn’t a challenge at all, that was dead easy. Now, I suppose LEO was the most challenging and fun at the same time so the most fulfilling was LEO. Yeah, wouldn’t have missed it. And being part of history, which is nice, being historian myself. I got a degree as well, that’s another thing I did in my spare time, I did an open university degree in history, history and art history. So, I’m a BA now, I wasn’t then. EM What year was that? KK I graduated—oh it took me a long time, I only did it every now and again. I graduated about 19—now my mum missed it because she died by then, it was about 1995 that I graduated I think. That’s nice, I’d go down to Portsmouth for that, got my cap and gown. And the man taking the photographs said “We’re going for the full smile are we?” I said “I can’t help it, I can’t stop.” So a lovely smiley pictures of me with my degree, my bit of plastic tubing which I suppose to be a degree document. EM Yes, and you’re up here in like LEO II photographs with your colleague. KK Yes, Peter Wood. Yes, he was nice. What we didn’t realise then, these people we though they’re middle age, has been more or less, isn’t it awful, young and cruel, and they’d all had terrific wars. You know, they’re high ranking and medals and all these, we didn’t know because they didn’t say anything of course, so we think they’re just being just ordinary and nobody much and they were all special. EM But previously you also showed me some poetry and text of songs about LEO at the time, so this gives 3D impression that it was a really, really well-connected team, where it’s not just having a job but you were part of the community somehow. KK Oh yes, yes. Well, part of this was marriage market as well so, you know, we were all friends in one way or another. Well, most of us anyway. The people who didn’t join in actually stood out. The people who didn’t join in, you know, all the jolly stuff, the parties and that sort of thing, they stood out as being different because the rest of us had a whale of our time. EM Is there anything else you want to tell us, is there something you’ve missed or some funny episode or? KK I don’t know. I’m always thinking of funny things, I’ve told you some of them already I think. No, I can’t think of anything in particular. EM Is there anything you’re very proud of? KK Well, I’m proud of having done it at all my O-level. It’s quite nice to badger them so much that they let me do it. And also I would never made the great heights, I wasn’t a failure so, and the reason I didn’t make the great heights was because my dad left us and we were too poor for me to go to college. But then I might not have finished up LEO. So, if mum hadn’t been at Lyons and I hadn’t gone to Lyons, I probably would never have gone to LEO. I would have probably just finished up teaching or something, so it’s all worked out very well. EM This interview with Kate Keen has been recorded by the LEO Computer Society. The society would like to thank her very much for her time. 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. Any opinions expressed are those of those of the interviewee that is Kate Keen and not with the society. The copyright of this interview in recorded form and in transcript remains the property of the LEO Computer Society.
Archive References : CMLEO/LS/AV/KEEN20190424 , DCMLEO20230402001
This exhibit has a reference ID of CH62992. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.
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