It is with great sadness that The National Museum of Computing must report the death of Tony Sale, its co-founding trustee and the visionary who led the team that rebuilt Colossus, the world’s first modern computer.
Tony Sale was born in 1931 and as a teenager was educated at Dulwich College in London. From an early age he showed a remarkable aptitude for engineering and electronics and produced his first robot, George I, from Meccano.
Finances prevented Sale from going to University, so he entered the Royal Air Force instead. He quickly achieved the rank of Flying Officer and at the tender age of 20 was lecturing on radar. He went on to join Marconi’s Research Laboratories in 1952 and five years later joined MI5 where he became Principal Scientific Officer. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, his fascination with electronics and computers grew and he established several innovative software companies.
Sale’s interest in computer restoration work blossomed in the late 1980s while working at the Science Museum. In 1989, he helped to set up the Computer Conservation Society as a joint venture between the British Computer Society and the Science Museum.
In 1991, with his wife Margaret and a small group of colleagues, Sale started the ultimately successful campaign to save Bletchley Park for the nation.
Two years later, in recognition of the work carried out at Bletchley Park during World War II, Sale began the Colossus Rebuild Project, a daunting and hugely complex task to recreate the world’s first modern computer. During the war the original Colossus computers had been designed and built to decipher the Lorenz-encrypted messages of the German High Command. The successful decryption of these messages is credited with shortening the war by many months and saving thousands of lives.
Working with small fragments of information, Sale and his team successfully rebuilt a functioning Colossus, an event that was celebrated in 2007 with the Colossus Cipher Challenge and the official opening of The National Museum of Computing. Today, the rebuilt Colossus is a centrepiece of the museum.
Andy Clark, Chairman of TNMOC trustees paid tribute to Tony Sale’s achievements at the museum: “Tony’s contributions to The National Museum of Computing have been immense and I am quite sure that without his remarkable talents, enthusiasm, and drive, the museum would not have come into existence. The rebuilding of a functioning Colossus Mk II, Tony’s homage to the wartime codebreakers of the Lorenz cipher at Bletchley Park, is such a remarkable piece of work that it will forever be the model of excellence to which the museum aspires.”
Clark continued: “Tony Sale’s passing is a tremendous loss to us all on a personal and professional basis, but the foundations that he helped to lay are secure. Tony’s energy seemed boundless and, despite being ill in the past weeks, he continued to work diligently: being interviewed by film crews, talking to visitors and laying plans for the refurbishment of the Colossus Gallery. As his wife, Margaret, said to me: ‘Tony’s passing is not the end of his dream’.”
Lin Jones, Operations Manager at TNMOC, said: “Tony Sale was an amazing role model for volunteers at the Museum. Everyone was in awe of his skills and achievements, and he was always ready to give help and advice when asked. He was a huge favourite with visitors and a highlight of their tour. He had a tremendous ability to explain the workings and significance of Colossus on so many different levels. He was able to enthral visitors be they young or old, computer novices or experienced, hardcore cryptographers.”
In recent years, Tony Sale’s achievements have been very widely recognised and amongst other accolades he received honorary doctorates from three universities. In July this year, he was absolutely thrilled to be introduced to Her Majesty The Queen who had specifically asked to see the Colossus rebuild on her visit to Bletchley Park to honour wartime veterans.
Tony Sale is survived by his wife Margaret, a tireless worker for Bletchley Park and a great supporter of TNMOC, three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
About The National Museum of Computing
The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, an independent charity, houses the largest collection of functional historic computers in Europe, including a rebuilt Colossus, the world’s first electronic programmable computer.
The Museum complements the Bletchley Park Trust’s story of code breaking up to the Colossus and allows visitors to follow the development of computing from the ultra-secret pioneering efforts of the 1940s through the mainframes of the 1960s and 1970s, and the rise of personal computing in the 1980s. New working exhibits are regularly unveiled and the public can already view a rebuilt and fully operational Colossus, the restoration of the Harwell / WITCH computer, and an ICL 2966, one of the workhorse mainframes computers of the 1980s, many of the earliest desktops of the 1980s and 1990s, plus the NPL Technology of the Internet Gallery. In June 2010 TNMOC hosted Britain’s first-ever Vintage Computer Festival.
Funders of the Museum include Bletchley Park Capital Partners, CreateOnline, Ceravision, InsightSoftware.com, PGP Corporation, IBM, NPL, HP Labs, BCS, Black Marble, and the School of Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire.
The Museum is currently open on Thursdays and Saturdays from 1pm, and on Bank Holidays in spring and summer. Guided tours are also available at 2pm on Tuesdays, Sundays and some other days. Groups may visit at other times by arrangement and special organisation Away-Days can be booked.
For more information, see www.tnmoc.org and follow @tnmoc on Twitter and The National Museum of Computing on Facebook.
Palam Communications for TNMOC
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