the ICL 1901A

Reader GM Gardner offers his memories of mainframe operating and programming in the 1970s.

Reader GM Gardner offers his memories of mainframe operating and programming in the 1970s.

I was an operator for a short time then a programmer at Fine Art Developments in Preston on an ICL 1901A in the early 1970s. This machine was so state-of-the-art it had just been upgraded with an 8Mbyte disc drive!

Much of the programming was done in Cobol, but the real men used Plan. This was in the days before operating systems - the new-fangled George still hadn't gained any credibility - and programs were manually loaded into the memory from a backing store (increasingly on the disc but still occasionally tape) by the operators.

I remember hand punches well - when I left Fine Arts in 1980, I was presented with the last one in the installation because I was the only person left who knew how to use it! In fact, I still have it, up in the attic, along with a supply of blank cards. Recently I taught BTec IT and took it in to show a class of streetwise 16-year olds how things used to be when programmers were "men not machines".

We used to call the waste paper rectangles "chad" and when I got married, some kind soul filled my suitcase with the stuff - it took ages to get it out of my in-fashion Arran sweater.

Worse than punch cards was paper tape - you could guarantee it would feed through the reader beautifully until the last few inches, then get shredded. It was then a case of extracting it from the machine, ironing it flat, splicing it back together, rewinding it and feeding it through again.

Ah me, those were the days!

This was last published in January 2001

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