We ask Nick Tingle (OV1984), Stuart Cheshire (OV1986) and Tony Jones (OV1986) about Bishop Vesey's computer club and their win in a national school's computer competition.
So are you still affiliated with computers and technology?
Nick: Yes both Stuart and I are still in the tech industry. I'll let Stuart speak for himself, but I'm currently at Nokia after working at a variety of startups, IPOs and acquisitions. I came to silicon valley in 1991. Prior to that I was working just outside of London for a tech company (Madge Networks, now defunct), and before that I was an undergrad at Sidney Sussex college, Cambridge.
Stuart: I work in the networking department of Apple nowadays.
Tony: I've also been in the US since 1991. After University I was working for Cray Research in Bracknell and had the opportunity to transfer to their head office in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I lived in Tucson, Arizona for a couple years and have been living here in Portland,
Oregon since 1996. I started working with Linux in the early 2000's
and for the last 13 years I've worked from home for a German company (now US owned) called SUSE. Presently I'm a member of the kernel performance team whose purpose is to analyze and fix kernel performance issues for our SUSE Linux Enterprise distributions.
What made you want to join the computer club at Bishop Vesey's?
Nick: I was interested in computers before the computer club at Vesey (I had a variety of home computers including a ZX80, Acorn Atom and finally BBC Micro). The computer club was only open to 5th formers and so I had to wait until then before I could join (Stuart was two school years below me but didn't really pay attention to those rules and showed up at the computer club anyway).
What were the benefits of being a member of the computer club?
Nick: The computer club definitely helped to foster my interest in computers though and was a place to meet friends with the same interests. It was also a good opportunity to stay inside during bad weather, and the room upstairs was right off the cafeteria, meaning it was easy to skip the line!
What equipment did you have to work with in the computer club?
Nick: The original equipment wasn't particularly sophisticated - there was an RML 380Z (an "educational" computer) and an old teletype connected to a central mainframe of some sort. This latter machine was mostly used to (a) print out ticker-tape style signs for school events using the punch tape writer and (b) sending messages using a text-message type system to other schools in the area, most often Sutton Girls school, for some reason. We discovered the latter capability ourselves and I think it was eventually shut down because we sent messages that popped up during computer lessons.
How prepared were you for the competition?
Nick: Vesey never had any computer science lessons back then, so it was sort of interesting that we won this competition that was organized by the "Computer Education Group" i.e. to promote the computer science education in schools. A lot of the questions in the quiz were not testing our practical knowledge of computer technology, rather they were questions about the history of computing or the meaning of various obscure abbreviations and acronyms (e.g. what does ENIAC stand for, which I think i can still remember, er, Electronic Numerical Integrator And Calculator?). We had a great little book (I think Phil found it) with a lot of this stuff in it which we would memorize and test each other from.
Why was the headmaster angry about the competition?
Stuart: I’ve given you copies of the stories from the Sutton Coldfield News. The headmaster at the time was very angry about those news stories, but I’m glad we have them, or practically speaking we’d have no record at all now that it ever happened.
Tony: "The headmaster at the time was very angry about those news stories" isn't really accurate. He was pretty supportive iirc with one exception (see below). The IBM PC (the very original one) that we won, came with no software and did nothing for several months other than blink A: Someone (staff or headmaster) decided to trade it for several BBC micros. A good deal for whomever given the relative pricing at the time but the school at least ended up with something that could be used. The problem was that Stuart believed these BBC micros should be the exclusive property of the computer club and instead they were often used in classrooms and not available to us. So Stuart decided to contact the Sutton Coldfield news and tell them that the school had taken the machines we had won. I distinctly recall having to go to Nick Tingles house on a weekend for a meeting with Mr Harvey and the three of us. Harvey was indeed not happy. I can't say I was either.
Do you remember anything else about the competition?
Nick: I remember Phil driving us to earlier rounds of the quiz at various schools in the district. I think we won all of these previous rounds, at least I don't remember losing - though there was one close call. Once we won the final (which was quite a tense affair, and actually had an audience), I believe Stuart took it upon himself to call the local press -- and probably the national press too for that matter, I don't recall exactly, though I do believe he got into some amount of trouble for it from Mr Harvey, the headmaster.
OK I'll stop for now, I will have to dig around and see what else I can dig up from back then, I know I've got a box of stuff somewhere and probably some more recollections.
Stuart: The Computer Club quiz success definitely makes an interesting story. Phil Coulson deserves our gratitude for nurturing our interest, and driving us to competitions after hours and on weekends, despite less-than-ideal behavior on our part on many occasions.
Tony: If you end up writing something about the "computer" activities at BVGS in the early 80s it would be nice to mention Marcus Bott-Obi. Marcus was too "hip" to be involved in something like this competition (which I expect is why I ended up as the third person) but he was always hanging around the computer area. Marcus, Nick and Stuart (plus I think Matthew Waltham who occasionally hung around) all had commercial software (games) published for the BBC Micro which was pretty notable for the time. I did not. Marcus died tragically at the age of 19 (https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+missing+gene+that+cost+young+Richard+his+life.-a060747634). Even now, after all these years, I still think of Marcus from time to time. He was just a unique person. It's hard to adequately describe him. I totally concur with what Stuart said about Phil Coulson. We certainly would not have won the competition without all his help. I hope he is enjoying a well earned retirement.
Thanks to Nick Tingle (OV1984), Stuart Cheshire (OV1986) and Tony Jones (OV1986) for talking to us about their memories of Bishop Vesey's computer club.