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Mike Fisher: Interview, 24 April 2019, 70780

 Home > LEO Computers > Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) Archive > CMLEO/FL - Frank Land Collection > Oral history interviews > Mike Fisher: Intervie ... 24 April 2019, 70780
 

Copyright
Miek Fisher and LEO Computers Society


Digital audio of a recorded interview with Mike Fisher who joined LEO Computers  as a maintenance engineer in 1962, working on LEO III.
 
Interviewer: Elisabetta Mori
Date of interview: 24 April 2019
Length of recording: 23m45s
Copyright in recording content: Mike Fisher and the LEO Computers Society

Abstract: Joined LEO Computers as a maintenance engineer in 1962 after undertaking an apprenticeship as an electrical engineer. Worked as a trainee maintenance technician for peripheral equipment at Minerva Road before joining the commissioning team for LEO III/5 working shifts at CAV at the time of the merger with English Electric. Joined the engineering training team at Minerva Road and was involved with the Lector, document reader project. Married Kate Keen in 1965 (LEO programmer). Later moved to Univac and then to MDS Mohawk, still in teaching, before bcoming a freelance computer consultant.

Date : 24th April 2019

Transcript :

Mike_Fisher Oral History Interview 

Speaker key

EM	Elisabetta Mori
MF	Mike Fisher

EM:	It's the 24th of April 2019 and I am Elisabetta Mori.  I am interviewing Mike Fisher to give us the story of his involvement with LEO Computers from the earliest days.  Good afternoon, Mike.  We are recording this interview as a part of the LEO Computers Society oral history project.  The audio version and the transcript will be launched at the central archive and made available for researchers and members of the public.  We are in Weymouth at Mike's house.  Welcome, Mike.  We can start with where and when you were born.
MF:	Well, I was born in 1937 in Norfolk.  I went to the local, village school to start with and then onto the grammar school in Great Yarmouth.  When I left there, I did an electrical engineering apprenticeship at Laurence and Scott, which was a local engineering company.  I was on a sandwich course at the Norwich city college...sandwich course being six months working in the factory and six months at college for a Higher National Diploma which was the qualification at the end of that.
EM:	Can you describe your parents?
MF:	Yes, my father was a carpenter, a Norfolk man and his father had been a butcher, a pork butcher.  My mother had been an office worker for a while, before she married and her family was in fact a London family who had moved to Norfolk quite a lot of years before she was born.  So, she was born in Norfolk as well.  That was all in central Norfolk, near Dereham but we lived at Cantley, which is between Norwich and Yarmouth.  And as I said, I went to the apprenticeship at Laurence and Scott and passed that as an electrical engineer.  At some point, I saw an advert for maintenance engineers from LEO and thought it was worth applying and seeing what happened.  
EM:	What year was that?
MF:	Early in 1962.
	I applied and I went up for an interview in London at Hartree House and I got the job.
EM:	Do you remember who interviewed you?
MF:	No.  There was an aptitude test, which was about half an hour's instruction in programming and then write a few lines of program code  which wasn't very relevant to engineers, in fact.  But nevertheless, obviously, I passed that, and I went out to Minerva Road to be interviewed by Alan Thompson, who was in charge of engineering training at the time. I eventually joined the company in June 1962, while it was still LEO Computers Limited.  
EM:	So, what was your role at the beginning?
MF: 	A trainee maintenance technician for periphery equipment, which was largely based at Minerva Road, but going off on various courses.  I went on a course to Letchworth to learn about the card punch machines and things like that.  And other bits of the course were at Minerva Road, with the instructors being engineers there in the factory.  Barry Cager was the person who drove us out there and back.  Anyway, while I was in training and before I'd actually gone to work on a system, the merger with English Electric took place and then we became English Electric LEO.  However, I went to assist with commissioning Leo III/5, the machine at CAV.  And I then worked there for the best part of a year, maintaining the peripheral equipment, the printers and the tape drives.
EM:	What was your impression when you and English Electric were merged?
MF:	Well, it didn't make much difference to me.  I'd only just joined the company.  And I'd never been up to Kidsgrove, though I did later on, but it was simply the company I was working for had merged with another company.  So, it was now a bigger organisation.  
At Leo III/5, there were three of us, because it was a 24/7 operation, so we had a shift system.  We rotated, so we'd be on days, which was...I forget the exact times, possibly 6:00am 'till 2:00pm and then 2:00pm 'till 10:00pm and then 10:00pm 'till 6:00am.  On the weekends we had 12-hour shifts, but every other weekend, we had off.  So it worked reasonably well.  
EM:	And what was a typical day at work? 
MF:	Well, you arrived and checked the logs.  Then, at some point, the verification suite had to be run on the computer, which is a set of testing programs which tested the machine.  And although that was the job of the engineers, we peripheral equipment technicians frequently  ran it, because it worked each of the peripherals as well.  So the printer printed a couple of lines and the paper tape reader read some tape and that sort of thing.  It ended with the display of a whole row of red lights  when it'd run through successfully. Otherwise, it would stop with the other displays and it meant there was something wrong.  But it was fairly routine.
EM:	What could possibly go wrong?
MF:	Well, you might get parity failures in the system: store parity failures, coordinator parity failures.  The peripheral equipment might fail, of course.  And the Anelex printers needed maintenance.  Cleaning the print barrel was one of the dirtiest jobs, because you got ink all over everything.  The paper tape machines might fail, the magnetic tapes, of course, as well.  But, in general, it was a fairly reliable piece of kit.  Also, for any failed printer circuit boards the normal maintenance was to swap a printer circuit board out and another one in.  And then we had a piece of equipment in the engineer's room, where we could test these individual printer circuit boards and replace transistors and such like on them.  There were no integrated circuits at that time.  But yes, it was quite good.  I worked there for a year doing that.
EM:	Do you remember any particular episodes?
MF:	Well, there was the occasion when the air conditioning leaked.  The way the LEO III/5 had been installed, it was in a room with big windows facing the street, so passers-by could look in and see it.  And it was all laid out so that there were rows of computer cabinets and the air conditioning had been installed in another cabinet attached to the ceiling, directly above.  So, it was like a wall of equipment and a three or four-inch gap and then the row of air conditioning.  For some reason, the tray that was supposed to catch any drips from the air conditioning hadn't been properly sealed.  And on one occasion, there was quite a big leak from the air conditioning, it ran through somewhere where the trough had not been properly sealed and dripped down inside the computer cabinets.  
EM:	That was a disaster?
MF:	Well, yes, it meant we had to press the emergency stop button and everything just stopped.  It cut off the electricity to everything except the lighting in the room.  And it was several days.  We had to take out printed circuit boards and check them and put them back.  Well, putting new ones back.  
EM:	How many engineers per shift?
MF:	One engineer, one peripheral equipment technician and a data prep mechanic, who looked after the keyboard equipment that punched the paper tape.  Leo III/5, in fact, was paper tape input and output.  Many machines had card readers, but we didn't.  
EM: 	And did you have to work extra shifts?
MF:	Well, we worked our shift and the people coming on the next shift picked it up and carried on from where we left off, so no.  It meant that the peripheral equipment could be given an extra servicing, because the computer was out of action.  But anyway, after about a year a job offer came up in the engineering training school at Minerva Road and I applied and was taken on.  So I moved on from actually maintaining computers to teaching other people how to do it.  Initially, with just peripheral equipment, but fairly quickly I went on to teaching them all the printer circuit boards.  And I got involved with Lector, the document reader.  
EM:	Did you enjoy teaching?
MF:	Yes.  For a large part of my career, teaching was part of it.  And after I left LEO, I went to Univac, which was for a teaching job.  While at Univac, I got involved in systems analysis and programming as well.  But when I moved on from Univac to MDS Mohawk, that involved teaching as well.  So throughout the time I was doing a certain amount of teaching as well as getting involved in the actual work.  
EM:	Who are the people you remember from your time at English Electric LEO?
MF:	I remember Alan Thompson, who was the engineering training manager when I actually joined  and I remember some of the people who were working on the LEO III/5.  Bob James was the chief engineer and Alan Jones...I think his surname was...was one of the mainframe engineers.  Alex Willard was another peripheral equipment maintenance technician.  And when I moved to the engineering training school, John Wheeler was the manager.  And Jim Withrode was one of the instructors  and Reg Allen came, who was a deputy to John Wheeler.  He was an ex-RAF man.  
EM:	Were you married at the time?
MF:	No.  I hadn't met Kate at that time.  The engineering training eventually moved to Radley House in Ealing.  And it was there that Kate was recruited into the training school and that's how we met.  
EM:	What year was that?
MF:	1965, I think that would have been
EM:	And that was English Electric Leo Marconi at the time?
MF:	Yes, Marconi came into the mix and they eventually changed the name simply to English Electric Computers Limited.  And then, of course, after I had left and gone to Univac, it got merged with ICT to form ICL, which is now gone.  Fujitsu, I think, took them over.  
EM: 	Did you ever have any feeling that you were doing something that was historical at the time?
MF:	I knew it was something that hadn't been done before.  We knew that Lyons Electronic Office, LEO I, was the first machine to do commercial work which was before I joined.  After all, they'd got to LEO III by the time I joined.  Then System 4 came along, New Range, we called it.  There were bits of hardware laying around, too, which had been called Project Python, I think. It had been the beginnings of the development of LEO IV.  But then, because of the merger with English Electric all sorts of other things happened in the industry.  The Univac patents, which had been infringed by IBM in North America, meant that IBM had to publish specifications of all sorts of things.  This meant that IBM's 360 range was replicated by other companies, particularly by RCA, who had the Spectra 70.  English Electric did a deal with RCA and that's how they came by System 4. That's how System 4 came about to be more or less, compatible with IBM 360.

Until about 1980 I was working for MDS Mohawk.  Eventually I got made redundant and I went self-employed as a computer consultant, doing, more or less, anything people asked, whether it was making up a special cable to connect their printer or writing programs. I kept going on doing that, almost until the time I retired.

EM:	Are you still in contact with your former LEO colleagues?
MF:	No.  I belong to the Leo Computers Society, but I hardly ever look at the website.  
EM:	What do you think remains with you of the LEO experience?
MF: 	From the time I joined LEO, the rest of my career was involved with computers in one way or another until retirement, when I had this job working with unemployed people.  I still have a computer, a laptop upstairs with a printer attached.  I don't use it all that much anymore, but at least, I check the e-mail from time to time.
EM:	So previously, you showed me a curious piece of paper.
MF:	I first saw it Sello-taped up on one of the cabinets in III/5.  I think it had appeared in other places as well.
EM:	So, would you like to read it?
MF:	Well, it's 
	Achtung! Alles lookenspeepers! 
	Das computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben.  
	Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken mit spitzensparken. 
	 Ist ncht fuer gewerken bei das dumbkopfen.  
	Das rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen hans in das pockets, 
	relaxen und watchen das blinkenlights.  
EM:	What do you think was the proudest achievement during your career?
MF:	Probably writing a set of programs for a selection of refrigeration equipment while I was self-employed.  I latched onto a contract for a supplier of refrigeration equipment - condensers and compressors and so on. I produced a system which allowed them to do it on the computer, which meant they had a lot less slide-ruler and calculator work.  And they could run out the set of equipment for a given job in about 15 minutes rather than a couple of hours.  That was significant.  
EM:	So, what do you think that remains with you of your experience, nowadays?
MF:	Well, it was how I came into computing.  You know, I had been apprenticed as an electrical engineer, which was a grounding in the electronics aspect, particularly.  But once I was in computing, I didn't do any more electronics.  It was maintenance of electro-mechanical peripheral equipment and then moving into programming and systems analysis, systems design.  But now, being several years retired, I don't do any of that anymore.
EM: 	Thank you, Mike.  It's been a real pleasure talking to you.
	This interview with Mike Fisher has been recorded by the LEO Computer Society.  The society would like to thank him very much for his time and reminiscences.  The interview and the transcript form part of the oral history project to document the early use of electronic computers in business and other applications.  Any opinions expressed are those of the interviewee...that is Mike Fisher, and not of the society.  The copyright of this interview, recorded form and in transcript, remains the property of the LEO Computer Society.



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



This exhibit has a reference ID of CH70780. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

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