Professor Sir Maurice Wilkes – the ‘father’ of British computing

Professor Sir Maurice Wilkes – the ‘father’ of British computing

Professor Sir Maurice Wilkes, the ‘father’ of British computing, died on Monday. Wilkes, aged 97, was well-known for leading the Cambridge University team that built the world’s first operational stored-program computer – the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC).

Born at Dudley, Worcestershire, on June 26 1913, Maurice Vincent Wilkes was a student of Mathematics at Cambridge University, where he worked tirelessly on simple calculating machines, before going on to assist with the development of Radar during the Second World War.

Before Wilkes and his team built the EDSAC, digital computers, like as the American Moore School’s ENIAC (Electronic Numeral Integrator and Computer), could only deal with one particular type of problem. The EDSAC could carry our 650 operations per second.

After gaining investment from catering company J Lyons, the EDSAC led to LEO which was one of the first dedicated business computers in the country.

In 1937, Wilkes was appointed university demonstrator at the new Mathematical Laboratory; and in 1945, he took up the directorship of the Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory. He was appointed Professor of Computing Technology in 1965; and he held the post till his retirement in 1980. After his retirement, Wilkes became a consultant for DEC and Olivetti’s research labs and continued to work with computers.

Talking about Wilkes contributions in the computing arena, Computer Historian Dr Simon Lavington said: “If any person deserves the title of the father of British computing, it is surely Professor Sir Maurice Wilkes.”