Researcher who revealed secrets of Colossus awarded honorary fellowship by TNMOC

Professor Brian Randell, distinguished computer scientist and computer historian, has been awarded the 2020 Honorary Fellowship by The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC).

Professor Brian Randell

Professor Randell’s research led to the innovation, power and importance of Colossus becoming public knowledge in the 1970s. His revelations about the Second World War code-breaking machine at the USA Los Alamos computer history conference in 1976 were described at the time as “a major historical bombshell” and caused a significant rewriting of the history of computing.

Trustee of TNMOC, Professor Martin Campbell-Kelly, said, “Professor Randell’s contribution to researching and even making computing history is immense. He co-wrote one of the early classics of computer science, Algol 60 Implementation, researched operating systems and high-speed computer design for IBM in the 1960s. In 1969 he was appointed the UK’s youngest professor of computer science at Newcastle University.

Professor Randell’s interest in computing history was fired in 1970 when he stumbled across a little-known Irish pioneer of computing Percy Ludgate, who – unaware of Babbage’s earlier attempts at building a computer – had designed a mechanical computer before the First World War. Investigating the context for Ludgate’s work led to Randell’s influential book on the history of computing in 1973, The Origins of Digital Computers.

Margaret Sale and Professor Brian Randell

Now an emeritus professor at Newcastle University – and still a senior research investigator – Professor Randell’s scientific career has taken on dependable computing, operating systems for networked computers, and the security of distributed systems.

Andrew Herbert, chairman of TNMOC, said, “I am excited to welcome Professor Brian Randell as TNMOC’s latest Honorary Fellow – he is a leading figure in both computer science and computer history and his book on the origins of digital computing sparked my own interest in the first generations of computers. He established Newcastle university as a centre of excellence in UK computer science and I have had the pleasure of working with him throughout my own career in computing research.

Later this year, TNMOC trustee Martin Campbell-Kelly will conduct a staged interview at the museum with Professor Randell about his life and research.

Professor Brian Randell joins TNMOC’s first two honorary fellows: Margaret Sale, and the late Tony Sale.