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Tony Morgan obituary | Technology


My friend and colleague Tony Morgan, who has died aged 83 after contracting Covid-19, was one of the heroes of the early days of computers. As a computer engineer from the late 1950s, he was responsible for the installation of the pioneering Leo computers worldwide, including for the GPO (now BT) for telephone billing. After a 38-year career he remained an active member of the Leo Heritage Project, using his unrivalled knowledge to identify the company’s artefacts.

Born in Kenton, near Harrow, Middlesex, to William Morgan, an architect, and Millie (nee Ferguson), Tony went to Harrow County grammar school and, after getting four A-levels, did his national service with the RAF, where he was trained as an air-radar fitter.

When at school he had heard a radio broadcast about the original Lyons – of Corner House teashop fame – collaboration with Cambridge University to build the Leo (Lyons Electronic Office) computer, and the resultant world’s first business data processing application being run in 1951. This had fired Tony’s imagination, and after demob he joined Leo Computers in 1957 as a trainee engineer. He was moved to work on the first Leo II before completing the course, progressing to shift leader and, as a result of his skill and understanding of the technology, to chief commissioning engineer by 1964.

The role of commissioning engineers in the 1960s and 70s was demanding: in those days there was a single engineer responsible for commissioning each system. This required management skills to manage the supporting team of engineers, operators and support staff as well as leading all stages from understanding the configuration, testing all units and the operating system, and passing a formal factory acceptance test based on the stringent requirements of the standard government contracts.

In 1964, Tony took over management of commissioning the Leo III computer range of what was by that time English Electric Leo. Over the next four years he led the introduction of the faster Leo 326 machines that initially went to the GPO (now BT) for telephone billing and premium bonds, one of the largest single computer orders ever at that time. These advanced business computers were bought by large companies, government and overseas customers.

When Leo was incorporated in the newly formed International Computers Limited in 1968, Tony moved into product planning, specifying new machines. From the mid-70s he worked for the department responsible for selling and supporting systems to the GPO but was still called on to troubleshoot “difficult” service problems. From 1981 he worked in ICL’s customer service HQ monitoring the performance of all the UK customers’ systems.

Tony took early retirement in 1995 but continued to work with the Heritage Project in the rescue and identification of computer artefacts, and advised on two books, User Driven Innovation (1996), edited by David Caminer and Leo, The First Business Computer (1994), by Peter Bird.

As well as a demanding job, Tony was very sociable, and lived a full life with a wide range of activities. He played rugby for Lyons/Centaurs until he was 42 and continued as treasurer and club secretary for a further 25 years. His passion was Formula One and he detailed records of all races for over 50 years. Keen on jazz, he attended dance weekends until arthritis stopped it.

He is survived by his sister, Hilary.

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