Algol 60 Designer Honoured
6 March 2006
In July 1965 as a mathematical physics student I was a summer intern at Lucus Industries located in Shirley in the south of Birmingham. Lucas was the British car industry’s largest supplier of lighting and electrical parts and I worked in the Maths Department which modelled batteries and electrical wiring. The department possessed an Elliott 803 one of Britain’s early industrial computers. As the youngest member of the team I was given the job each morning of running 1 hour’s of test programs to make sure the computer was working correctly by feeding in a series of paper tapes containing programs and data. The other mathematicians treated this process as a chore but I fell in love with this computer and it changed my life, computer science was for me thereafter.
At Lucas that month I wrote my first line of computer program punching it onto paper tape. The programming language was Algol 60, a procedural, block-structured language well ahead of its time. Introduced to the world by its inventor, Peter Naur, in 1960 the basic language structure can still be seen today 45 years later in modern languages like Java and C#. I just learned that Peter Naur has been given the ACM 2005 Turing Award probably the highest prize in computer science, often aptly named the Nobel Prize of computing and richly deserved. The man and his language bring back happy memories for me and remind me of 41 exciting years of computing.