LEO: New film celebrates the 70th anniversary of the world's first business computer

Lyons Electronic Office: The Story of the World’s First Business Computer

To mark the 70th anniversary of LEO, the world’s first business computer, the LEO Computers Society and the Centre for Computing History (CCH) are launching a new specially commissioned short film. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of efforts to preserve and promote the history of this remarkable British invention, the film will be released on the 30th November - the day in 1951 that LEO ran its first program. The film will introduce a whole new generation, from secondary school age upwards, to the remarkable story of the birth of computing technology that, today, we take for granted.

The film will premiere on YouTube at 7pm on 30th November 2021 at https://youtu.be/Rzu68nRVwtE.

Produced by award-winning specialist science production company Boffin Media, the film shows how, in the years after WW2, the catering firm J. Lyons & Co., a household name in the mid-20th century for its tea, cakes and teashops, succeeded in developing an ‘electronic calculator’ – what we now call a computer - to carry out its clerical work –– the very first such machine in the world to do so.
Lyons called the computer ‘LEO’ - Lyons Electronic Office - and this film explores how and why it was built - illustrated with newsreels, photographs and archive material from the period, snippets of interviews with the pioneers and location filming. 

It is astonishing to reflect on how far we have come in these 70 years – hard now to imagine business processes – including tasks like stock control, logistics and payroll – without computerisation. LEO and its creators were in at the very beginning.

The story of LEO – a triumph of British ingenuity and perseverance – has been significantly under-recognised in the history of computing and the Heritage Fund-supported project seeks to rectify this. The 4-year project includes - as well as the film - extensive work on preserving the Society’s LEO archive housed at CCH, digitisation to make it widely available online, development of a comprehensive resource listing called ‘Leopedia’ and the creation of a virtual reality version of LEO as it was at the Lyons HQ in Cadby Hall, Hammersmith.

The film will be premiered online on 30th November 2021. 70 years prior, on 30th November 1951 at 2:35pm, the Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) finished running its first full program - the first time ever that an electronic computer had been used for business purposes. It had taken 3 days to run and many months of preparation and testing before that – a journey that got the green light when the Cambridge EDSAC ran its first program in May 1949 - but from November 1951 on LEO was used routinely by J. Lyons & Co. to support their business activities.

After its premiere, the film will be available for viewing on YouTube free of charge and will be signposted to schools and colleges as part of The Centre for Computing History’s learning programme.

1. The film has been created by Boffin Media, an award-winning production company specialising in science and space. The Producer is Richard Hollingham and the Director is Jamie Partridge.

2. The LEO Computers Society is committed to promoting and protecting LEO's history. Membership of the Society is open to all ex-employees of LEO Computers and its succeeding companies, anyone who worked with a LEO computer and anyone with a specific interest in the history of LEO Computers. Among its members are pioneers from the very early days of computing and membership is currently free of charge. Visit www.leo-computers.org.uk. Follow @leocomputers51.

3. Established in 2006, the Centre for Computing History is a charitable heritage organisation with a strong focus on learning. Since opening in Cambridge in August 2013, the Centre has helped people understand how tech has shaped the modern world and revolutionised the way we live, work and play through interactive displays and exhibitions, our schools programme, learning events and workshops, and an astonishing collection of computers old and new. Visit www.computinghistory.org.uk. Follow @computermuseum 

4. Using money raised by the National Lottery, The National Lottery Heritage Fund inspires, leads and resources the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk. Since The National Lottery began in 1994, National Lottery players have raised over £43 billion for projects and more than 635,000 grants have been awarded across the UK. Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund  

For further information on the museum, the Society, the LEO project or for images, please contact: Lisa McGerty (lisa@computinghistory.org.uk, 01223 214446 / 07825 794791) or Peter Byford (peter.byford@leo-computers.org.uk, 07944 038489).

Story By: Lisa McGerty

Date : 26-11-2021

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