WITCH fourth reboot birthday

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To mark the fourth anniversary of the reboot of the world's oldest working digital computer, the preparatory drawings for a forthcoming Portrait of a Live WITCH by John Yeadon are revealed. And this time it's digital.

The Harwell Dekatron / WITCH computer is world-famous and has been through several reincarnations. First operational in 1951 at the Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment, it then moved to Wolverhampton to be used in teaching. By 1983 it was on display but no longer working in a Birmingham Museum. There in its silent state, it inspired John Yeadon to create a huge, almost life-size Portrait of a Dead WITCH. A few years later when the Birmingham museum closed the WITCH computer disappeared from public view and later still Yeadon's painting seemed to vanish too.

The dismantled computer was rediscovered in storage in 2009 and brought to TNMOC where it was skilfully restored and rebooted in 2012. Today, visitors, especially school groups are fascinated to watch the inner workings of one of the world's first computers.

Yeadon's portrait was rediscovered in Manchester's Jam Street Cafe Bar earlier this year.

Last month, at Hallowe'en, Yeadon came to TNMOC to see the WITCH computer for the first time in more than three decades. This time, he was able to see it up-and-running. "It is fantastic," he said. "It makes noises and lights up. It certainly did not disappoint. A museum volunteer explained to me how it worked, so this time I wasn't just looking at 'things'! For the first time, I realised what the various components are for."

Yeadon was so inspired, he began to digitally draw the live WITCH on a state-of-the-art Wacom tablet. "One of the volunteers showed me how to use it and I was learning as I went along. Then my great nephew, Charlie, who was with me, lent a helping hand. He put in some extra colours to enliven it and freshen it up."

Yeadon plans to create a hardcopy version of a Portrait of a Live WITCH. Although it won't be quite as large as the huge, two meters by three metres, original which covers a wall in the Jam Street Cafe Bar in Whalley Range, Manchester, the Museum is eager for its creation because WITCH memorabilia is so popular with visitors.

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