Sunday, October 13, 2013

An amazing day at Bletchley Park

Just back from a day at the The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. Some of it's housed in the old huts used by the wartime code breakers, which is a bonus. They're in the process of improving the visitor experience, which makes sense. Nevertheless you should get there before they do because it's bound to be dumbed down eventually.

We went on an organised tour which meant we were conducted round by volunteer enthusiasts, many of whom I would guess are in their sixties. That means that when they started work - in one case as an actual rocket scientist - they were lucky to be issued with a calculator and have since seen at first hand the growth of an obscure branch of science into something without which we would have trouble getting through the day.

They lead you through rooms cluttered with improbably huge and clunky machines which would take days to perform a piece of long division we can now do on our phones. They have machines that take discs the size of Redwood trees and can only be turned on for five minutes a year for fear they drain the national grid. They have a card index system used by a chicken farmer in the early 50s that cost millions of pounds in today's money.

They explain it all with the ease of people who've spent some time under the bonnet of even the most improbable main frame. These blokes are as essential a part of the museum as the exhibits. In twenty years time their parts will be taken by actors. Get there before that happens.


  1. Sounds very interesting. In 2008, we did the guided tour of the Radio City Music Hall. Our host - Tim - was a gent of advanced years, who'd clearly been around the place for many of them, and cared about it deeply. Smartly turned out in a traditional commissionaire's uniform, he pointed out and elucidated little details which the casual visitor would not even notice (the theme of the pattern on the carpet in the foyer, the reason the ceiling of the ticket hall is so low) answered every question with aplomb, and generally brought the place to life. Marvellous.

    A couple of years later, this time we crossed paths with our son who was in NY too, and on our recommendation booked the tour. We went with him, having enjoyed it so much the first time. Oh dear. A twenty-something eager-beaver, possibly moonlighting from his job as a children's entertainer, baseball-capped and polo-shirted, twinkled his way round the place as he recited his script at each stop. Needless to say, not a peep about the carpet.

  2. I should point out that TNMOC is separate organisation to BP, and it is BP who are undergoing huge changes. and the TNMOC experience will never be "dumbed down", our volunteers will ensure that.
    Most parts of TNMOC are also not "cluttered", they are logically organised with good signage and displays. Every few months a new display opens, with our "Women in Computing" gallery being the latest. The EDSAC rebuild will start early in 2014 and will be on display to the public.

  3. felt the same way when I visited the BIG PIT - shown round by ex miners who used to work there and felt the full weight of the state against them in the 80s
    soon to be guided by actors