Tony Sale, Colossus computer conservationist, dies

Tony Sale built a working robot out of scrap from a crashed bomber

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Tony Sale, the brilliant engineer who led the rebuild of Colossus, the first modern computer, has died aged 80.

The mammoth project to recreate the code-cracking Colossus capped a career built around electronics and computers.

Most recently, Mr Sale drove the campaign to save Bletchley Park, where Colossus aided Allied code-cracking efforts during World War II.

At Bletchley he also founded the National Museum of Computing to help preserve the UK's ageing computers.

Born in 1931, Mr Sale displayed his talent for engineering at an early age by building a robot, called George I, out of Meccano. One of the later versions of George was built from the remains of a Wellington bomber.

Instead of going to university, Mr Sale joined the RAF, which nurtured his engineering talent, and by the age of 20 he was lecturing pilots and aircrew about advances in radar.

Tony Sale describes how the Colossus worked

His career also included a six-year stint as a scientific officer at MI5. He rose to become principal scientific officer of the intelligence agency and aided the work of spycatcher Peter Wright. On leaving MI5 he established, ran and sold a variety of software and engineering firms.

During the late 1980s Mr Sale's job at the Science Museum nurtured an interest in old computers. This led to the creation of the Computer Conservation Society which leads efforts to restore many key machines.

His interest led to the 14-year project that saw the re-creation of the pioneering Colossus computer. During wartime, Colossus gave the Allies an insight into the communications of the German high command.

The rebuilding work was difficult because the original Colossus machines were broken up at the end of WWII and all plans for it were destroyed.

The rebuilt Colossus became the centrepiece of The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) that Mr Sale established at Bletchley Park.

"Tony Sale's passing is a tremendous loss to us all on a personal and professional basis," said Andy Clark, chairman of the TNMOC trustees.

"Tony's contributions to The National Museum of Computing have been immense and I am quite sure that without his remarkable talents, enthusiasm, and drive, the museum would not have come into existence," said Mr Clark.

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