2019 Reunion Report

Leo Reunion April 2019 – a personal view

An account of the reunion by John Daines, first published in LEO Matters, October 2019

Deep in sleep I claw my way into wakefulness because the alarm has sounded. Where am I, what time is it, why do I need to get up this early on a Sunday morning? Aaaargh! Of course, it’s 4 a.m. on Sunday, April 7th 2019 and the latest, greatly anticipated Leo Reunion is today.

All the work and planning by the committee will come to fruition, with a bit of luck. It doesn’t just happen! As soon as the October 2017 event at the Honourable Artillery Company was over, there was a review of highs and lows before starting on the next event. Peter and Mike Storey with others spent a long time looking for a suitable and affordable location; in London. It is bit of a bone of contention for those of us who dwell north of Watford or west of Slough that it is held in London. However, looking at the home locations of most attendees and the need for the day to be held in a travel hub, London it is.

Meanwhile, nearly 200 miles up the M40 / M6 it’s about having a shower, dressing and having some breakfast; luckily in the correct sequence. Some personal pre-planning means that the car is already loaded and has enough fuel for the day’s travel. I’ve been to Manchester to see James Peters, who looks after a large collection of Leo material at the University. Each reunion we borrow several boxes of Leo papers that are displayed. I also have the Leo “pull-up” display and a monitor + cables to dovetail with David Holdsworth’s Intercode demonstrations. I’ve also been working with Hilary and Peter to ensure that there is a piece of paper for each attendee with the day’s timetable and list of attendees, this year with a brief history of each. Again, hopefully it will work and be an improvement on previous efforts.

By 5 a.m. I am on the road, catching up with a few hours of radio 4 podcasts for company. It’s also time to reflect on how the Society has changed from organising the original Friday evening reunions nearly 40 years ago to its current status of being the group that is ensuring that the Leo heritage is preserved, valued and recognised. Today will be exciting because we will be with our new partners from the Centre for Computing History (CCH) in Cambridge. The heritage project that the committee had planned and was presented at the 2017 event is now part of a National Lottery Heritage Fund project and is happening! It has been an exciting few months getting to know and value our CCH partners – younger, energetic folk who realise that the Leo development was of massive significance and must be saved and made available to all.

Today won’t just be a reunion; it will have an exhibition that the committee, members and others have planned and worked for over the last 18 months or so. With luck several strands are going to come together and we’ll have a good show.

It’s getting light now and as I come in on the Westway I can see the London that has changed so much since I started at Hartree House on October 17th 1961. Now I’m at Marble Arch and can see the Cumberland Hotel – a few twists and turns and here I am shortly after 9 a.m. outside the Victory Services Club and there, in front of me, is Mike Storey with a large car full of display boards and other equipment without which there will be a shambles. Luckily there is parking so we can look at our reunion space and think about getting set up. We are in the basement so everything has to be carried downstairs or in the lift. Luckily, Mike has done a great job planning out where everything will go and ensuring that we’ve got enough tables. Organised chaos ensues as exhibitors arrive and the lack of rehearsal means that we’re getting there but with hiccups. By 11’ish it’s beginning to come together and the first people start to arrive. There’s a demonstration from GPO, the largest user of Leo III’s, the folk from Stewarts and Lloyds, the first customer delivery of a Leo II, were there with parts of their machine borrowed from the Corby Museum. Neville Lyons is there with a display of Lyons memorabilia, too. CCH have a display of some of the stuff they’ve collected and are busy talking to old-timers to get as much info as they can, especially about Leo I. Lisa McGerty is there with Jude Brimmer, the project archivist and Chris Monk who is putting together a virtual reality model of Leo I based on the surprisingly large number of photos that have been collected.

It’s time to take breath and look round. Wow! It looks good. All the committee is here and here are also some of the people I’ve known for over 50 years. I can see that everyone else is also getting in the mood and greeting old friends, catching up and sadly, in some cases remembering those who’ve died. They are remembered with much affection and the usual string of anecdotes. Time is flying; the buffet lunch is being served and there’s a good selection of tables where folk can eat, drink and talk.

Now it’s time for our glorious leader, Peter, to give an update on the last 18 months before the AGM of the Society, which is now a “Charitable Incorporated Organisation” with a formal structure necessary to partner with CCH for the Lottery Project. We have come a long way.

We now have an update on the “Swiss Rolls, Tea and the Electronic Office: A History of LEO, the First Business Computer” project from Lisa McGerty of CCH. Frank Land, 90 years young, is contributing and his magnum opus, LEOpedia will provide a cornerstone for the accessibility aspects of the project.

All this time Hilary Caminer is ensuring that all is running smoothly and that our older members are being looked after and making contact with others. In amongst all this a series of photos is being taken of groups who worked on Leo I, Leo II and Leo III. Elisabetta Mori, the PhD student being sponsored by us is taking them.

Suddenly, it’s time for the raffle draw. Soon the bar will close and people are starting to drift away. All good things must come to an end but there is reluctance for this to end – people are enjoying it and realising that it will be 12 or 18 months before they meet up again, all being well. It seems to be the success that we’d hoped and planned for.

Now it is 5 p.m. and I start packing up, along with everyone else. Boxes, crates, display boards are fighting for space with their owners in the lift and on the stairs but we will get there; it’s the Leo way. It’s time for farewells and the usual reflection that I saw x and y but didn’t find time to have a word: hey, ho there’s always next time and I did speak with z, who I hadn’t realised was a Leo person.

Back in the car I’m on the way back on M40, M6 etc with memories of the day and Radio 4 until there’s home and I can unload all the historic paper ready to go back to Manchester in a few days.

“Time for bed” said Zebedee, “it’s 11 p.m.”