Flossie, James Bond's historic ICT computer, finds new home at National Museum of Computing

Summary:The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park has taken delivery of "one of the first mass-produced business computers," a 1960s ICT 1301 known as Flossie. In her prime, she was futuristic enough to appear in The Man With The Golden Gun, Doctor Who, and Blake's 7.

The first ICT 1301 computer, known as Flossie, has been "rescued from the scrapheap for the third time in its 50-year history", according to its new keepers at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, just north of London. TNMOC plans to "bring it back to life and put it on display when space permits".

Flossie weighs 5.5 tons and has a footprint of about 6 x 7 meters, so it needs quite a lot of space.

Flossie was built in 1962 by ICT (International Computers and Tabulators), which shipped more than 150 machines. Flossie cost £250,000 (about £4 million in today's money) and went to the University of London, where she replaced rooms full of clerks.

She also became a movie and TV star, appearing in The Man With The Golden Gun starring Roger Moore, and two BBC science fiction series, Doctor Who and Blake's 7. Whirring tape drives were always an attraction, as were the 252 indicator lights on the console.

Flossie being unloaded
Flossie being unloaded. Photo: TNMOC

Rod Brown, who has helped to look after Flossie for the past decade, told TNMOC: "After it was decommissioned at the University of London in about 1972, it was purchased at scrap metal prices by a group of students who ran an accounting bureau for about five years. They then advertised it in Amateur Computer Club Magazine and it was bought -- again at scrap metal value. After languishing for a period in a barn in Kent, it was restored with the help of the Computer Conservation Society."

However, the farm was sold, and Flossie needed to find a new home. TNMOC obliged, and footed the removal bill for three Carry-Gently trucks. The ICT Resurrection Project has photos of the move on its website, as well as photos of the original production line.

Two of the ICT 1301's main attractions were that it was a decimal not a binary computer, and that it performed calculations in Britain's pre-decimal currency (pounds, shillings and pence) in hardware. This enabled it to take over existing workloads without a lot of business process re-engineering.

Flossie was big because she predated the microchip. According to Wikipedia, the electronics of a typical 1301 "consist of over 4,000 printed circuit boards each with many germanium diodes (mainly OA5), germanium transistors (mainly Mullard GET872), resistors, capacitors, inductors, and a handful of thermionic valves and a few dozen relays operated when buttons were pressed."

ICT became part of ICL, set up by the UK's Labour government (specifically, Tony Benn) to compete with the dominant IBM. Many former ICL staff donated parts, manuals, and their time to resurrecting and moving Flossie to her new home.

ICT-Model-1301
Not Flossie: a non-working ICT 1301 in the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand. Photo credit: Robocomm, from the Wikimedia Commons.

Topics: After Hours, Hardware, United Kingdom

About

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first webs... Full Bio

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