Colossal Enthusiasm: Tony Sale and the Colossus Rebuild

Hello, I hope everyone had a great RGS conference. I have just heard some sad news about one of my doctoral research participants. Tony Sale, computer enthusiast, passed away last week aged 80. His story of enthusiasm is a great one and I thought I’d share the link to his obituary here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2011/aug/31/tony-sale-obituary. Now, I knew he was involved in something “Top Secret”, but I had no idea he had been Chief Scientific Officer at MI5. His pride and joy was Colossus. A total of 10 colossi were originally built, it was the machine that broke the Lorenz cipher and provided vital information prior to D-Day.  Tony co-ordinated the Colossus Rebuild project. He had to use old photographs as all plans were destroyed. He managed a working party at Bletchley Park that spent over 6000 volunteer hours on the rebuild. I presented some of his work at various conferences. He was a founding member of the Computer Conservation Society (CCS) that worked closely with the Science Museum restoring and rebuilding early computers for display. He spoke passionately about his work and continued to maintain his website, as well as give lectures. Early British Computing has lost one of its most prominent champions, however, his story will hopefully inspire others to get involved.

Here is a small anecdote from my thesis that those of you working with museums and collections will, I am sure, appreciate:

The first working parties of the CCS operated from the old canteen – a temporary building at the back of the Science Museum. Shortly after taking up his post as manager of the computer restoration project in the late 1980s, CCS co-founder [Tony Sale] enquired as to where the rebuild and restoration of the machines chosen to go on gallery could take place. As space was tight in the main Museum, he was offered the old canteen. [Tony] explains: “It was empty so I said, ‘That’ll do alright’. So within a fortnight I had arranged for gigatonnes of Ferranti Pegasus to be moved out of store into the [old canteen]. The Science Museum were in a state of shock. Things didn’t happen that fast in the Science Museum you know”.

I hope you agree this is an excellent story of enthusiasm!

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