Updated: Feb 1
In response to Bob Knox request for memories of D-Day 15 February 1971.
Britain was in the midst of a seven week postal strike, the average house cost £4,265, and a pint of best bitter would set you back less than 14p. The United Kingdom of February 1971 was a very different place to today.
There were fears of chaos on D-Day itself. Banks were closed from 3.30pm on Wednesday Feb 10 and did not reopen until 10am on the Monday morning, with the time spent upgrading machines and ledgers. I was working at Bootle Computer Centre, later to be called NWNDC.
As Bob said, Project 70 was due to be live and the conversion included as part of the design. It was 1971 and the error of naming a project with its planned delivery would never be repeated! The aging ICL 4/50 system was processing nearly 200 branches in Merseyside, Manchester and Birmingham.
Our sister operation in Leeds processed for their locale. London branches serviced from London CS. Some of those may already have been piloting Project 70. For geeks. The ICL computer was the size of a tennis court, the system memory was a whopping 128 kilobytes. Storage was a mixture of tapes and the new hard disk drives. The latter were replaceable cartridges with (11?) multiple platters around 15 inches diameter and heavy to lift. Their total capacity was a mind blowing 8 megabytes, which is about the size of a single photo on our mobile phones! Branches would key in transactions and account details on a machine that was the predecessor of the TC500.
No on-line connection, the information was encoded on spooled punched tape which was collected each evening by Securicor and delivered to the computer centre by 10pm. Overnight this was read in batches which corresponded to the 'van runs' which reflected the significant logistics in operation every night.
Every night accounts were updated with amendments, transactions, clearings and standing orders. New Balance lists printed, although full lists were produced only once a week and daily changes for the rest of the week.
Checking a balance required looking at both. The printouts were packaged up in the same boxes that arrived in the evening and were delivered back to the branches (usually) well before they opened (at 10am). Decimalisation was not initially planned for the retiring systems, but the decision was taken in a timely manner and a lot of rehearsal and testing undertaken. With branches closed for two days we looked forward to a normal Friday /weekend update on the Wednesday and a simple conversion run on the Thursday with the rest of the weekend off. Yay!
I do recall us still working on Sunday afternoon as it didn't go quite as planned! I was an operator at the time so can't give any insight into what the issues were, but I do recall the atmosphere being very tense. Thus February 15 1971 is one of those dates I can always recall and is occasionally useful in pub quizzes.
Project 70 did deliver soon after decimalisation and many parts of it written in the late 60's were still running every night in the mid 90's. Unfortunately this was to later get me into hot water when casually reminiscing about that fact in a newspaper interview. It resulted in the alarmist headline that First Direct uses 30 year old computers! I learned to keep history to myself.
The ICL machines went on to process MidPay which was the banks payroll system for customers.
But that's another story.