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The Link with Ferranti: Peter Hall
It makes me very sad not to be with you today - a great gathering of Jack's wide circle of friends and admirers. Only illness could keep me away. After a long wait, my wife was called to see a specialist yesterday, with the expectation of having a new hip installed. Jack, I am sure, would have wanted me to be on hand, even though my wife, who was one of Jack's fans, is as upset as I am that I am not with you.
I would like to tell you about an event which occurred in the late 50's or early 60's which I think illustrates the fact that Jack could inspire such trust in people and organisations that bureaucracy and red tape were swept aside and things got done which in his absence would never have happened, or if they did it would be years later.
In the early 1960s we in Ferranti found ourselves spending a fortune on the development of the Manchester university fastest and largest computer in the world. The trouble was that the University and ourselves had only aspirations as to how fast it would actually be, and it would be sometime before we knew. Meanwhile, I was committing more and more of the Ferranti fortune - at that time it really was family money - with no certainty of getting any of it back. Meanwhile a guy called Jack Howlett seemed to want one - he was obviously our best bet.
I explained to Jack that to order an Atlas we needed a contract from the Authority which committed them to over £3 million for a machine which we could not specify in performance, reliability or delivery date. £3 million was, I think, about 30 times what anyone had paid for a computer before by the way. Jack, as you would expect, did his best to get a commitment from us but all we could offer was our best endeavours. So he worked on the contracts men with the result that we got a contract for the price we wanted, for delivery sometime, of a machine of unspecified performance, or reliability but which performed to the satisfaction of the authority - which meant Jack - and no nasty small print. This contract depended totally on trust between Jack and the authority on the one hand, and Jack and Ferranti - essentially me - on the other. It all worked out. It enabled the Atlas Laboratory to get off the ground, and Ferranti to establish the Atlas computer in the market place; and importantly rescue some of the Ferranti family's money.
To my knowledge there has never been a computer contract like it since. I truly believe it would never have been possible without Jack. It was not just his understanding of the technical issues, but more importantly his obvious honesty and integrity. The authority knew that Jack would not accept anything which was less than could reasonably be expected, and I knew that he would not demand of us anything that was unreasonable.
It was my relationship with Jack during the Atlas days that led me, on his retirement, to ask him to join us and start the ICL Technical Journal. The success of the Journal owes everything to Jack. I mention it only because it clearly illustrates what was perhaps most dominant in his character - his ability to get on with people of all sorts - make them feel at ease - make them feel great - and to get the most out of them.
Our friendship, born out of the Atlas contract nearly 40 years ago, lasted until the end. I shall remember him for lots of things. Staying with us on the way to his annual walking holiday in the Lake District; with Joan entertaining my wife and I at concerts in Abingdon; the four of us at the opera in London; our annual lunch with a few ICL colleagues; great times together at Dickens Pickwick Club dinners, and not least fine wine, good food, and good company at his favourite place in London - the Saville Club.
I shall also remember him as one who was always concerned with the health and well being of his many friends. We will miss him.
A truly great and lovely man.