Computing great visits TNMOC

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Sir Maurice Wilkes, one of the fathers of computing, toured Bletchley Park recently to see The National Museum of Computing and the Bombe rebuild in Bletchley Park.

See also Jack Schofield's article in The Guardian about the visit.

Describing himself as a “hardware man”, Sir Maurice was nonetheless delighted to see so many applications running on the computer exhibits. During his three-hour visit, he took a keen interest in exhibits spanning six decades of computing advances from the Colossus rebuild and the WITCH restoration to the IRIS air traffic control system and the personal computing gallery.

Born in 1913, Sir Maurice has been at the forefront of many post-1945 computing developments and even today, at the age of 96, maintains a keen interest and is an avid user of email and the Internet. Sir Maurice’s contributions to computing history have included the development of EDSAC, the first practical stored program computer begun in 1946, and co-authoring the first book on computer programming in 1951. His proposals for micro-programming have been widely adopted in the industry and in 1965 he published the first paper on cache memories. A co-designer, in the late 1970s, of the Cambridge Ring, a pioneering client-server system, Sir Maurice went on to work in industry on both sides of the Atlantic and in 2002 returned to the Computer Laboratory in Cambridge where he is an emeritus professor.

At TNMOC, Sir Maurice showed special interest in the restoration of the Harwell / WITCH computer. Kevin Murrell, TNMOC Trustee and Director said “Sir Maurice recalled the first deployment of the Harwell / WITCH in the early 1950s and I was able to tell him that its designers have fond memories of attending his lectures at the University of Cambridge. He expressed special interest in the WITCH restoration project – I think that in many ways the WITCH encapsulates his very practical approach to computing and his over-riding interest in how a computer actually benefits its users.”

Tony Sale, TNMOC Trustee and Director added “Sir Maurice last saw Colossus during the early stages of the rebuild ten years ago. He was therefore delighted to see it working today and warmly congratulated the rebuild team on our achievement. He was also very supportive of the aims of the museum to show computing, not just computers, in real computing environments, something that as a supreme hardware expert is very close to his heart.”

Sir Maurice was a founder member of the British Computer Society and its first president. The visit to Bletchley Park and TNMOC was arranged by David Hartley, himself a past president of the BCS and currently Chairman of the Computer Conservation Society.

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