• 1930 August 23
    (b.) -
    2003 June 05


A British computer designer, and later government policy advisor, he had a brilliant computer career. He also served as an inspirational director of a leading engineering development laboratory. He then metamorphosed into a distinguished science policy adviser and venture capitalist. He was the first industrialist to become chief scientific adviser (1986-90) in the Thatcher government, and he brought to the job an unparalleled experience in making money out of technology. The son of an accountant, he was born in Yorkshire, England. He was educated at Thirsk grammar school and studied Electrical Engineering at Manchester University before undertaking National Service in the RAF as a radar technician. He joined the computer department of Ferranti in 1954, when there were fewer than 20 commercially produced computers in Britain. He worked on the design of Pegasus, Ferranti's first commercial computer, which pioneered what was called a general register-set architecture, and is used in modern microprocessors that are a million times more powerful. Pegasus computers were the workhorses of the early university computer departments, and were used in prestige projects such as aircraft design (the VC-10, BAC 1-11 and Concorde) and the roof structure calculations for the Sydney Opera House. But the UK market was too small for British manufacturers to make a profit. In 1957 he joined IBM at the time when the company was pouring some of its huge resources into the development of computers for the business market. He worked at IBM's laboratory at Poughkeepsie, New York, and then at Hursley Park in Hampshire, England, with a team of engineers charged with developing the next generation of computers. The result was System/360, a range of compatible, general purpose computers that set industry standards until the microprocessor ended the domination of "mainframe" devices. Although he was promoted to assistant General Manager of IBM UK in 1968, he was not cut out for sales, and two years later he was back in engineering development work at IBM's technology centre at Raleigh, North Carolina. He experimented with ways of translating ideas at the frontiers of computer science such as "distributed computing" into commercial technology; one result was the development of systems network architecture, which eventually let millions of office workers work through desktop terminals. He returned to become Managing Director at Hursley near Winchester in 1974. In 1983 he was given responsibility for IBM UK's manufacturing as well as development, until he became Chief Scientific Adviser to the government. His job was to advise the Prime Minister and cabinet on how to get the best economic return from spending on science and technology. He brought to the job his own clear view and experience of the idea of "technology transfer". In academic circles, the idea referred to the transfer of technology from one company to another or between different geographical locations. He had another starting point. He knew from practical experience what had to be done within a multinational company to manage the internal transfer of technical knowledge and devices; the process included less conventional activities when new technologies flow backwards in the system, from manufacturing to research, or from one development laboratory to another. He believed that the failure to capitalise on British scientific excellence would remain if university and government laboratories could depend on public money regardless of the usefulness of their research. Work on what he called "near-market" scientific and technical knowledge should be organised and funded by industry. He defined "far-market" research and development as ideas and projects that government would fund where the market failed to produce maximum benefits to the economy. His approach overturned the traditional government role of supporting the generation of scientific knowledge as a public good to provide a knowledge fund on which industry could draw. This reform led to a series of institutional changes in allocation of government money for research and development, including the creation of the advisory council on science and technology and the promotion of "interdisciplinary research centres" on university campuses as a focus for academic and business resources. In 1990, he left the Cabinet Office and joined the board of NM Rothschild and Sons, becoming chairman of its venture capital arm. He also became involved in several start-up businesses. He was knighted in 1990.
  • Date of Birth:

    1930 August 23
  • Date of Death:

    2003 June 05
  • Noted For:

    Co-designer of Pegasus, which pioneered what was called a general register-set architecture, and is used in modern microprocessors that are a million times more powerful
  • Category of Achievement:

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