Bel and the Dragon

We had planned a day out walking in Flackwell Heath, near High Wycombe, but the next bus wasn’t due for an hour. Another bus was waiting for passengers to Maidenhead, so we got on that. We decided to get off at Cookham, where I knew a nice pub that I hadn’t been in since 1965, when I was 23. That’s 57 years ago.

The bill was delivered like this. Our greeter Chris said I could keep the book

We had a cosy nook like this, near the log fire
 Moor Hall Cookham, as it used to be when I was there

In 1965 I was posted here as a trainee technical advisor for International Computers and Tabulators.My career developed in identical fashion to that of Brendan Supple, who tells his story here:

I qualified with a degree in electrical engineering in 1963*. Engineers were in short supply that year, so I was offered a wide array of jobs from a sound engineer with the BBC Third Programme – which fitted with my interest in music – to selling Trident aircraft. I was seduced by an offer from ICT to introduce me to computers in four years time – if I behaved myself and ‘if computers happened’. Although I had specialised in electronics as an engineering student, I had not yet seen a computer at that time; a slide rule was the nearest to one I had ever got.I arrived at ICT’s training school at Moor Hall in Cookham, Berkshire to discover that computers had happened. I was one of a select batch of 13 graduates who had been selected to spearhead the delivery a batch of 100 computers that ICT had just sourced from Ferranti. The system would be known as the ICT 1500.We spent 15 weeks in Moor Hall on Course SS107 in what felt like a continuation of university with pay. We learned the basics of systems analysis, systems design and accounting. We scratched the surface of programming, where our instructor never quite managed to keep the requisite one day ahead of us. It must have been appalling trying to cope with such a group of smart-assed know-it-alls.At the end of the course I was allocated to ICT’s ‘electricity region’ with clients such as the London Electricity Board and the Electricity Council. The company ran 13 ‘regions’ in Britain and each of them received a newcomer from SS107. I worked with systems analysts who had been doing their job for many years and who found it hard to be upstaged by this whipper-snapper. I learned much from such people and learned to appreciate their experience and wisdom. Computers brought flexibility and speed to methods which had been constrained by the punch card. Programs were written in machine code and we were excited by the power of assembler. Languages like Cobol were still in the future.

* I also graduated  in 1963, scraping through with a BA in French and Italian I’d never thought what I’d do in the real world. Two years later I got married, so needed a career, and was accepted by ICTafter an interview with Mr Percival, who offered me a job on the spot, provided I accepted immediately. There was just one place left in a training course at Cookham starting the following Monday.


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