Obituary: Tony Sale, Colossus rebuilder

Many visitors to Bletchley Park, home of the UK's code-breaking efforts during World War II, must have enjoyed meeting Tony Sale, who appeared to spend much of his free time tending Colossus. This was a reconstructed version of one of the world's first electronic computers, which was built out of valves (or vacuum tubes) to help decode messages that the German forces had encrypted using the Lorenz cypher [corrected].

Many visitors to Bletchley Park, home of the UK's code-breaking efforts during World War II, must have enjoyed meeting Tony Sale, who appeared to spend much of his free time tending Colossus. This was a reconstructed version of one of the world's first electronic computers, which was built out of valves (or vacuum tubes) to help decode messages that the German forces had encrypted using the Lorenz cypher [corrected]. Sale led the team that assembled a "new" working Colossus from scratch, based on extremely sketchy information. If you didn't know otherwise, you'd certainly think it was an original.

Sale was born on January 30, 1931, so he was still a teenager when the first Colossuses were built, and the British government kept their development secret before finally scrapping them. However, he did his stint in the Royal Air Force, where he gave lectures on radar, and built the fifth of his George series of robots, which was featured last year on BBC News. After the RAF, he joined Marconi’s Research Laboratories in 1952, and then MI5.

According to a note from The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC), "Sale's interest in computer restoration work blossomed in the late 1980s while working at the Science Museum. In 1989, he helped to set up the Computer Conservation Society as a joint venture between the British Computer Society and the Science Museum. In 1991, with his wife Margaret and a small group of colleagues, Sale started the ultimately successful campaign to save Bletchley Park for the nation."

For that, we owe him enormous thanks.

The completion of the Colossus rebuild, which took 16 years, was celebrated at the official opening of The National Museum of Computing in 2007.

Lin Jones, Operations Manager at TNMOC, said: "Tony Sale was an amazing role model for volunteers at the Museum. Everyone was in awe of his skills and achievements, and he was always ready to give help and advice when asked. He was a huge favourite with visitors and a highlight of their tour. He had a tremendous ability to explain the workings and significance of Colossus on so many different levels. He was able to enthral visitors be they young or old, computer novices or experienced, hardcore cryptographers."

The British government has been shamefully derelict in its support for Colossus, Bletchley Park, and TNMOC, but it seems the Queen appreciated Sale's efforts. She met him when she visited Bletchley Park in July, to honour wartime veterans, and "specifically asked to see the Colossus rebuild", says TNMOC.

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

@jackschofield

LABcast interview: Tony Sale and Colossus rebuilt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFJ_XplZwqU

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