In memory of Tony Sale – the Mastermind behind the rebuilding of Collosus

Many of you may have heard the sad news of the death of Tony Sale, one of the founders of the Bletchley Park Trust and a key campaigner for its rescue and restoration. Mr. Sale had a long career as a talented engineer with an avid interest in computing, and he dedicated himself tirelessly to the rebuilding of Colussus, the world’s first operational computer.

As the BBC Reports:

Tony Sale built a working robot out of scrap from a crashed bomber

Tony Sale, the brilliant engineer who led the rebuild of Colossus, the first modern computer, has died aged 80. The mammoth project to recreate the code-cracking Colossus capped a career built around electronics and computers. Most recently, Mr Sale drove the campaign to save Bletchley Park, where Colossus aided Allied code-cracking efforts during World War II. At Bletchley he also founded the National Museum of Computing to help preserve the UK’s ageing computers.

Born in 1931, Mr Sale displayed his talent for engineering at an early age by building a robot, called George I, out of Meccano. One of the later versions of George was built from the remains of a Wellington bomber. Instead of going to university, Mr Sale joined the RAF, which nurtured his engineering talent, and by the age of 20 he was lecturing pilots and aircrew about advances in radar.

Tony Sale describes how the Colossus worked

His career also included a six-year stint as a scientific officer at MI5. He rose to become principal scientific officer of the intelligence agency and aided the work of spycatcher Peter Wright. On leaving MI5 he established, ran and sold a variety of software and engineering firms.

During the late 1980s Mr Sale’s job at the Science Museum nurtured an interest in old computers. This led to the creation of the Computer Conservation Society which leads efforts to restore many key machines. His interest led to the 14-year project that saw the re-creation of the pioneering Colossus computer. During wartime, Colossus gave the Allies an insight into the communications of the German high command.

The rebuilding work was difficult because the original Colossus machines were broken up at the end of WWII and all plans for it were destroyed. The rebuilt Colossus became the centrepiece of The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) that Mr Sale established at Bletchley Park.

“Tony Sale’s passing is a tremendous loss to us all on a personal and professional basis,” said Andy Clark, chairman of the TNMOC trustees. “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,” said Mr Clark.

And as the Inquirer reports:

The rebuilding of Colossus was a monumental challenge involving much research and a solid understanding of very advanced mathematics as well as the engineering skills to assemble such a machine. The machine had played a vital part in the war effort from 1944 onwards.

Sale worked tirelessly to ensure that Bletchley Park was preserved for the nation and, along with his wife Margaret, was part of a small team that started the campaign for Bletchley Park and ultimately saved it for the nation. He dedicated his long retirement almost entirely to his work at the Trust and subsequently the National Museum of Computing based at Bletchley Park.

Bletchley Park houses the National Museum of Computing. During World War II, it was the site of the UK’s main decryption establishment, the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), where the ciphers and codes of several Axis countries were decrypted.

Simon Greenish, director of the Bletchley Park Trust, paid tribute to Sale’s work, saying that “Tony’s contribution to the early days of the development of the Trust when the site was under very real threat of development was fundamental and without him, the Bletchley Park site and its hugely important history would perhaps not have survived. His work on re-building Colossus was an enormous challenge and took many years to complete.”

Sale’s achievements have been recognised in recent years with Honorary Doctorates from three Universities. He also met the Queen on a recent visit when she unveiled a memorial at Bletchley Park to honour its wartime veterans.

Sale is survived by his wife Margaret, their three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Do watch the video posted on BBC Technology to fully appreciate his accomplishments. We hope that when you come to Bletchley Park for Over the Air, you will spend some time in the National Museum of Computing admiring Colussus and his efforts. Be sure to check out his robot George while you’re at it!

If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration for the Hack-a-thon, get yourself in the Code-breaking mood by reading Tony’s notes about his contributions to the ‘Enigma’ movie (pop quizz – what’s the connection between Mick Jagger and Bletchley?)