Object type
Place of origin
Oral history interview with Margaret Willmot conducted and recorded by Dr Jonathan Aylen on 8 December 2016. Duration: 1 hour 2 minutes 28 seconds. The interview focuses on Margaret Willmot’s experience as a junior programmer on TOPS (Total Operations Processing System) at British Rail. Start of railway career, TOPS (Total Operations Processing System), education, computing degree, job application; [00:03:23] British Rail induction, COBOL programming language, computing people vs railway people career approach; BR computer centres, machine types; work on TOPS at Blandford House, gender stereotypes, work on TOPSTRANS; [00:07:30] programming language in TOPSTRANS, assembler based macro language, how it worked, [00:14:23], computer core memory, data storage on magnetic tapes; TOPS customed built equipment, operating system; [00:18:30] disc drives vs tape drives, online vs offline processing; [00:20:00] TOPS wagons team, coding applications related to wagons, how coding was done, equipment used, punch cards, tele-type, team reaction to online machine, typing cards, programmers and typists, typing error example; [00:23:35] writing new enquiry for commodity code, modifying existing code, American code vs British Rail code, STANOX, TOPS Responsibility Areas (TRA), end of punch cards; [00:26:05] ventek cards 96 columns punch cards vs 80 column cards, no use of paper tape on TOPS; [00:29:51] enquiry for commodity code, security in TOPS; safety, preventative maintenance of wagons in TOPS, ‘cripples’ wagon; [00:32:20] TOPS wagon team, colleagues, organisation, way of working, hard coding, complexity of wagon movements in Scunthorpe area; [00:36:05] modification to original American TOPS for use by British Rail, example of obsolete codes for United Kingdom application; TOPS telecommunication, BR private phone lines; [00:41:10] British Rail choosing IBM over ICL; training on TOPSTRANS by Southern Pacific, relationship with Americans, helping with issues, BR staff visits to USA; interviewer discussing origin of TOPS; [00:46:20] example of computer crashing with application programme, technical issues and requirement, human errors rather than programme errors, example of issues with wagons, missing wagons, numbers painted on wagons; wagon audited against TOPS data; [00:55:00] working hours, office based work, junior position, reflections on experience on TOPS, camaraderie in TOPS team, TOPS experience useful in next job, if TOPS is still in use; date formatting in TOPS, space saving format; [00:59:30] leaving TOPS and British Railway, career after TOPS, San Francisco based computing company, revenue system for Eurotunnel; [01:01:00] further reflection on experience on TOPS [01:02:28] [end of interview]

Margaret Willmot interviewed by Jonathan Aylen