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Ask Tom Kilburn

1.When and where were you born?

I was born on the 11th of August 1921 in Earlsheaton, which is a district of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire.

2.What did your parents do?

My mother stayed at home to look after the children. Erm, my father was Secretary to a company which owned a large woollen mill in Yorkshire, in Dewsbury.

3.Did you have any brothers and sisters?

One sister, er, Joan her name was. She was, er, younger than I was by three or four years.

4.as a child, did you have any interests or hobbies?

I was very interested in sport and, er, did quite a bit of running and playing soccer. And then indoors I collected stamps and all the usual sort of things.

5.Did you know what you wanted to be "when you grew up"?

I had no idea. Erm, there was just one guiding principle, which is that my mother and father said I had to persevere as long as possible with my education, but I had no idea what job that would lead to.

6.When did you you first become interested in mathematics?

I was, er, much more interested in Chemistry, but, erm, the, the Head Master of the Wheelwright Grammar School, Dewsbury, er, was a Mathematician and, er, he was the one who could teach to the highest standard and dragoon pupils into the maths sixth form.

7.How did you meet freddie williams?

In 1942 I was, er, called up, er, and, er, told to report to the boyís school, erm, in Malvern. The boys had been evacuated and the Telecommunications Research Establishment, TRE had moved there. Er, and, er, that of course was the establishment which did radar, mainly with the RAF. And quite by chance I was sent to Professor Williamsí group. It was a small group of, er, there were three people in it when I arrived. And, er, we had a great time, er, having as many ideas as possible, helping the rest of the establishment with their electronic circuit problems.

8.What was freddie williams like to work with?

Freddie he was a wonderful, lively character and, er, we sort of bounced ideas around, er, in a kind of competitive way, trying to get the best ideas. And, er, any member of the groups, erm, with which he was involved could contribute irrespective of rank. Er, he was always willing to accept, er, anybodyís ideas, provided they were the best.

9.How did you come to be working in manchester?

Well, Freddy was, had been an undergraduate at Manchester University, er, before that he was at stockport Grammar School. Erm, and he was invited after the war to take the Chair of Electro-Technics at the University in Manchester. And he invited me to come along, er, with him when he came to Manchester.

10.How long did it take to build the baby computer?

11.Where did all the parts to build the baby come from?

When I came up in, to Manchester, I didnít join the University immediately as an, on the academic staff, I remained on the staff of TRE, and that being so, er, I could sign. And when Geoff Tootill arrived, he could also sign for components. Er, and these components in the original were all sent up from Malvern, having been ordered by either me or Jeff, er, according to what we required.

12.Who wrote the first program for baby?

I wrote the first programme which, er, ran. It was, er, a short... You must remember that the memory capacity was only 32 lines in the main memory, and so it was a short programme of 17 instructions.

13.What did the first program do?

Calculated the highest factor of a number with emphasis on prime numbers.

14.How long did it take to load the first program?

It would take probably half a minute to three quarters of a minute, something of that kind.

15.How long did the first program take to run?

Er, the running time depended on the number chosen. If we chose a large number, it took a long, long time, hours to find the, er, highest factor. Er, and so we chose a very short, erm, programme. And I think the first number was 31. And it took something about a second and a half.

16.What was the biggest problem you had with baby?

It was very difficult to make it work in the first place. When all the components were assembled and we knew everything was there, we still had to make the machine work correctly, er, that was, erm, the most difficult problem because we didnít have much, erm, of the equipment which would be available now, er, test programmes and things like that. So I suspect it took us a week or two weeks to make it work, even when the machine was complete.

17.What did you expect computers would be used for?

Well, we knew what they would be immediately used for, erm, namely mathematics and science in general, because people, er, had problems which they wanted to solve in those areas.

18.Do you use computers yourself now?

I don't. Erm, the reason is the same reason that I never gone into using any of the computers which I've built in the 30 years I was at the University, er, namely that, erm, my main interest is not to use the computer thatís just been built or just been bought, but to think how one can improve it.

19.What achievement are you most proud of?

It's very difficult, but, erm, certainly, probably the most exciting moment was when, er, Geoff Tootill and I saw the machine work for the first time.

20.Which football team do you support?

(laughs) Erm, Manchester United. I was a member at Manchester United for a very long time and, er, went to Wembley to seem them play in the European Cup and win it, and so on and so forth. Avid fan.

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