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back to article Tony Benn, daddy of Brit IT biz ICL and pro-tech politician, dies at 88

Tony Benn, the modernising Labour MP who tried to pit British technology against US giants has died at the age of 88. It was Benn, a minister in two Labour governments during the 1960s and 1970s, who created ICL (International Computers Limited) to take on the growing might of IBM. It was mainframes at dawn in the post-war …

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Anonymous Coward

Leyland, ICL, Post Office Telecom

All went south as did most "nationalised" industries

They still got paid even when producing crap services so had no pride

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Re: Leyland, ICL, Post Office Telecom

My phone line cabling put in in that era works fine, just like a lot of others.

Has a lot more copper in than the newer stuff, according to an Openreach engineer (or any at all, if it is aluminium).

I doubt anyone's going to jump in and sing the praises of British Leyland, though, but there are people that fall in love with anything.

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MJI
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Re: Leyland, ICL, Post Office Telecom

Apart from some of the cars (eg SD1) I prefered Rootes, I liked their small 1970s saloon and their late 80s hatch (the one with interesting engines), pity being bought by Peugeot killed them off.

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Re: Leyland, ICL, Post Office Telecom

>Leyland, ICL, Post Office Telecom

>All went south as did most "nationalised" industries

Unlike their privately-owned equivalents in the UK and elsewhere, which are always roaring consumer-friendly successes?

I liked Benn. Last of the old-school Labourites who stood for something valuable, from a time when the party hadn't yet drowned in Westminster slime and corruption.

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Re: Leyland, ICL, Post Office Telecom

I'm still waiting for BT to connect me up with the technology it had at the research labs before it was privatised.

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Anonymous Coward

"... went south as did most 'nationalised' industries"

...as opposed to the throughout fantastic successes of private enterprises (completely non-subsidized and non-bailed-out by the tax payer) which we are enjoying especially since 2008, and which have increased wealth and well-being world-wide and across the social board...

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Re: Leyland, ICL, Post Office Telecom

<Quote>

Leyland, ICL, Post Office Telecom

All went south as did most "nationalised" industries

They still got paid even when producing crap services so had no pride

</Quote>

And you think privatised and other publicly owned UK industries are doing really well and are full of people diligently working away with pride in their company?

Or are you talking crap?

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Re: Leyland, ICL, Post Office Telecom

ICL was never nationalised.

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I didn't agree with his politics but he was one of a VERY SMALL group of politicians I actually respect, as he kept the courage of his convictions and didn't sell his ideas out for personal gain.

RIP.

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MJI
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Not many, so who else?

Heard Alan Clarke mentioned.

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courage of convictions

The important thing is not so much having the courage of your convictions, but having the right convictions in the 1st place.

I could have convictions that aliens are controlling my thought processes if I do not wear a tinfoil hat. That would not necessarily make me a person that you want to lead the country

There have been many politicians both on the far left and right who kept up the courage of their convictions rto the bitter end. But history does not remember them well.

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Vic
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Re: courage of convictions

The important thing is not so much having the courage of your convictions, but having the right convictions in the 1st place.

I disagree. To my mind, having *any* convictions makes you supoerior to the current bunch of muppets.

I could have convictions that aliens are controlling my thought processes if I do not wear a tinfoil hat

I would respect that far more than I do these career pols who will do a complete about-turn in policy at the drop of a fiver.

There have been many politicians both on the far left and right who kept up the courage of their convictions rto the bitter end. But history does not remember them well.

Give it a few years, and I think history will be kinder to them than it will be to the "trust me - I have seen conclusive proof of WMDs which I can't share with you" brigade...

Vic.

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Pint

Yep - he had strong principles and had more honesty in his little finger than most MPs have in their entire body.

He was funny too. An opposition MP called out that he was flogging a dead horse whilst he was talking on a subject in Parliament. Benn called back something about his learned (Tory) friend's ability to roll bestiality, necrophilia and bondage into one act and carried on talking.

He'll be missed. Here's to you, Tony Benn!

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i agree with you 100% if only more people stood by their convictions.

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Re: courage of convictions

you must one of those people who thinks the only things that are right, are those that match your opinions.

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@hammarbtyp

"There have been many politicians both on the far left and right who kept up the courage of their convictions to the bitter end. But history does not remember them well."

That was my first thought too. The most egregious: Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler.

The matter of politicians and programs is a question of what one thinks a politician's job really is: to reflect the concerns of his constituents, or to force his program onto them. There does not seem to be an answer that is always right; the closest thing to a "right" answer is "improve the economy, lose no wars".

(I also note the many comments in this thread seem say "He was a great guy, and a great politician, but thank heavens he didn't get elected". Quite an envoi, really.)

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jack ashley, posibly the most honest and decent politician we had.

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@Vic

"...I think history will be kinder to them than it will be to the 'trust me - I have seen conclusive proof of WMDs which I can't share with you' brigade..."

Judging by your post, you seem to think that history began 20 years ago.

You're mistaken.

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> Not many, so who else?

Robin Cook for having the guts to resign as a minister rather than suck up to Blair over the invasion of Iraq.

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I would agree with Robin Cook for the same reason as you gave. The tin foil hat brigade may also wonder at his demise...

Others? Enoch Powell. Suffered, without doubt, by the misquoted and misunderstood Rivers of Blood speech which seems to be turning out all to be prophetic I would also add Paddy Ashdown to the short list.

There are others which are lurking on the back benches and will never see the light of the day because they're the honest brokers of Westminster but aren't in the power game which puts them into cabinets and shadow cabinets. There are others which are in minority parties whom I am impressed with, one of whom includes Elfyn Llwyd one of the senior members of Plaid.

There's only one in the Tory party that I will ever hold my glass to. And that's John Major who, in my mind, went a long way to get the Irish Peace Process started but seemed to have avoided all the plaudits. As Chancellor he wasn't any great shakes but as PM he was the least worst in my lifetime. I asked my mother once who was the best PM she'd ever known and after pausing for a minute came up with Asquith's name. That alone is a sorry state of political affairs where the modern day career politician is an entirely new breed of lizard little known to mankind.

Even though Wilson was rather useless, he had principles and was perhaps one of the least worst, even though I was no great fan of the man.

Anyway, it's all subjective. But Benn was one of the best of the bunch even though his policies were flawed in my book. That didn't stop me admiring the man.

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Re: courage of convictions

The problem with the current crop of seat warmers isn't that they have no convictions, it is that they have insufficient criminal convictions. Given their rampant expenses fraud a few more convictions would be nice.

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Tony Benn

First off, well done to Gavin Clarke. Of all the TB items I have seen, only this one mentions ICL or the fact that he was an RAF pilot.

... I actually respect [Tony Benn] ... as he kept the courage of his convictions and didn't sell his ideas out for personal gain

Well yes, but it also depends on what those convictions are. Benn seems to have been a decent man, but harboured some extreme views, and they steadily hardened into something that looked, eventually, more like a mindless ideology than a political view. He did not appear to question or examine his own views, or to agonize over difficult issues, or to let anyone else's view influence him in any way. That combination - an isolated, extreme mindset, slavishly followed - leads down dangerous paths, especially when the individual is such a tremendous public speaker. Somebody called Benn "the most dangerous man in Britain" and I have to partly agree.

Yesterday one of the Sunday papers carried exerts from his diaries which made excellent reading, I might buy the book. He came across as very different to his public persona, and seemed warm and very human. Obviously loved his wife. Was a bit daft. For example, visiting Saddam Hussain just before the gulf war - seems nuts but he said he was trying to avert war, or almost blowing up his own house trying to heat a pizza.

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RIP

No matter what people think of some of his ideas, at least he was a decent guy who stuck to what he thought.

He wasn't a pathetic flip-flopper pandering to opinion of the time like basically every politician these days.

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And another triumph:

the creator of Britain's first armed police force (Civil Nuclear Constabulary), which he allegedly used for strike-breaking

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@Pen-y-gors

"Civil Nuclear Constabulary"?

Great name! Right up there with (and nearly as ominous as) "National Ignition Facility"!

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Re: And another triumph:

Wow!

What were they armed with?!

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Re: And another triumph:

G36's and Glock 17's these days.

http://www.cnc.jobs/

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RIP

Politics I didn't like but he was an entertaining speaker and at least you knew he meant what he said.

---

We had a book on Concorde with a cartoon set in France with a politico, wearing a badge showing concordE, saying that he'd finally made up for Waterloo, Agencourt and so on.

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Met him in '83

He talked at our Students' Union, and as a hack, I got to chat with him

Thoroughly nice chap, I know that politicians have to be professionaly nice, but he just seemed genuine, always open to debate alternate opinions, but within a few minutes you'd have doubts about your own long held ideas.

Sad loss, but we all have to go when we go.

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TSR2/Concorde

If I remember rightly, the TSR2 super-sonic bomber was cancelled by Mr Benn. Much of the technology went on to be used in Concorde.

As mentioned by others above, while I did not like his politics, I do respect him for his intellect and honest approach. Something you can;t say oftern, if at all about many folks in the 'bubble' nowadays

RIP

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Re: TSR2/Concorde

T Benn didn't cancel TSR2, Duncan Sandys did.

He was right too, it was a plane without a mission. (Actually, a plane with a fatal mission)

Lord Louis Mountbatten wasn't right about many things but he was right about the Buccaneer.

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Re: TSR2/Concorde

D Sandys didn't cancel TSR2, Denis Healey did. He was Secretary of State for Defence at the time. See CC(65)20 and CC(65)21, CAB/128/39, TNA.

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Must be a techie...

If you look at the pictures in the Telegraph Obit, There's quite clearly an open Psion S3 on the table behind him.

RIP and all that....

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Re: Must be a techie...

I heard a thing on Radio 4 this morning by the BBC political editor. Apparently when he went to Benn's house to interview him the place was crammed full of old tech - 8 track tape decks, BBC micros, etc - all still working.

Apparently Benn has been recording and writing all his life and needed to keep the old tech working so he could access his old stuff.

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Re: Must be a techie...

He recorded everything so that he could not be mis-quoted, or least made it easier to re-but anything taken too far out of context.

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Re: Must be a techie...

'...from the earliest BBC apple computer to an eight track twin reel recorder. ', Nick Robinson BBC web site

Acorn User magazine regularly ran stories on the huge number of Beebs (and secretaries) required to document Benn's daily spin on politics although they attributed the machine to Acorn and this despite Redwood becoming a BBC property at one point.

At least Robinson got the number of reels on the tape machine correct.

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Re: Must be a techie...

"At least Robinson got the number of reels on the tape machine correct."

No he didn't. Eight track used an endless loop and only one reel...

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Re: Must be a techie...

He was a BIG Psion fan and early adopter. A friend of mine visited his home to offer training on the apps and development capabilities of the Psion 3a organiser. He was fascinated by technology (and gadgets) from basic dictatphone to solid state electronics. A good bloke. A justifiable national treasure - he's the only politician I have ever bought a ticket to go hear speak (on his hugely enjoyable and engaging tour that took in Wimbledon Theatre in 2008). RIP.

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Re: Must be a techie...

@vulch Eight tracks one reel? You could have an eight track two reel tape recorder. Some of that there modern rock and roll music was recorded on it. Not normally a domestic item, but then Tony Ben wasn't normal either.

You young ones really dont know jack!

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Re: Must be a techie...

The BBC have corrected 'BBC apple' to 'BBC Apple' in this article.

Is the BBC a YTS scheme for the privileged? Is it somehow full of people who went to Oxford because their parents did but who are nevertheless stupid?

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Re: Must be a techie...

The original phrasing used though implied it was eight track carts, not reel to reel on which the number of tracks would have been invisible to a journo of Mr Robinsons calibre. He would (probably) however have recognised the more common eight track due to their widespread use in radio studios where, with the tape being an endless loop, they were favoured for not needing to be rewound after every use. And I first encountered them professionally 35 years ago...

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Re: Must be a techie...

Mark wrote:

> Apparently Benn has been recording and writing all his life and needed to keep the old tech working so he could access his old stuff.

They can, and do, misquote him now - poor thing.

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WTF?

Re: Must be a techie... @Vulch

Oh dear, so wrong Vulch! Plenty of eight track reel to reel recorders, made for adding tracks at different muso sessions, also had 16 track tapes for the bigger users. One eight track machine I always lusted after was the Revox 8 Track Simul-Sync which was real Hi-Fi back in the day, also had three different tape speeds for how much quality/dynamic range one desired. Hi-tech stuff back in the 70s & 80s.

The yoof of today just don't know their history.

On the IT side cut my teeth on the old ICL System 4, J1700 opsys stuff with 800bpi 9 track tape decks. A Leo III with it's gently humming valves was also in that machine room. In the 90s the ICL S39 kit was by far the best big-iron mainframes on the market and VME the best most configurable opsys about.

ICL failed due to crap (if ethical) marketing. ICL's product launches were done locally and had a few drinks and sarnies afterwards while the competition's (nameless for legal reasons) were done in exotic places with free client travel, accommodation and entertainment (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

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Pint

RIP

"If we can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people"

"Keeping people hopeless and pessimistic - see I think there are two ways in which people are controlled - first of all frighten people and secondly demoralise them."

"An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern."

Tony Benn

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Anonymous Coward

Both Benn and Thatcher did more for computing in this country than Major, Blair and Brown ever did.

It's almost as if in the 1990s nobody thought computers needed to be programmed? why on earth did the focus move to office skills instead of learning the internals and how to write software?

Did art move from creating art to teaching children how to frame and hang it on the wall?

Did sports move from taking part in sports to teaching children how to score and referee sports?

Nope. ICT is what you get when technophobes or luddites (Blair) have an influence on technology.

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Anonymous Coward

And those who make money out of peddling such office software.

Yesterdays students, would have been today's competitors; instead, we're a bunch of dribbling idiots.. afraid to use a computer in case it breaks.

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MJI
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RIP

Lived a long life, stuck to his convictions, one of the last true great politicians.

Not many left now, if any.

Not a fan of his politics but I can respect him for them.

Seen a few digs other here (not ElReg) and there, this is not time for that.

But look at the late politicians now gone recently Thatcher, & Benn, compared to todays pigmies of Cameron, Clegg & Millipedeband.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: RIP

Let's not talk about what Benn got up to in the 70s and 80s, shall we?

He did better than most politicians, but it's worth remembering the saying that every political career ends in failure.

Clegg and Cameron I grant you, but we haven't yet seen what Miliband might do in office. Every politican is a pygmy till, owing to luck, talent or whatever, they do achieve something. But for WW2, Churchill would have been seen as someone who was briefly successful in WW1 and then failed.

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Re: RIP

He was certainly a very colourful character - the cold war produced several of those perhaps because the great idealogical differences in the world then generated people who could speak well and generate action albeit from something of a radical viewpoint, left or right. there are less "ites" in the world now - be they Thatcherite or Bennite and politics has become less spicy.

Benn was also a great parliamentarian and supporter of the role of parliament as the engine of democracy. When the incoming new labour government of 1997 transferred control of interest rates to the Bank of England in 1997, Benn reacted with fury. Not because he thought it was the wrong thing to do but because the new government, flushed with their landslide success, handed over the power without putting it to a vote in the commons. Would that we had more like him protecting democratic freedoms.

I think it's harsh to call the current crop of polititcians as pigmies. They are simply people of their time. Whereas in the past the debates were "shall it be black or white" the are now "which shade of grey". It's hard for them to stand out in such circumstances. And there have always been plenty of pygmies in the past.

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Re: RIP

Churchill, of course, was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who raided the Road Fund.

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