back to article Elderly Bletchley Park volunteer sacked for showing Colossus exhibit to visitors

It is a simmering conflict between two rival organisations over how Blighty's rich computing history should be preserved and showcased. Now the ongoing war between Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing has claimed its first casualties. Tony Carroll, an elderly volunteer at Bletchley Park, was fired after daring …

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  1. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Don't worry.

    If the fence between the two attractions is as good as anything else that McAfee has been involved in, it will be easy to bypass and will probably fall over after six months.

  2. Peter Cochrane

    The Bletchley Children

    I was helping to organise a visit of 70 American technologists to Bletchley Park, but if Colossus is not included what would be the point. They need to see more than old wooden huts and posters! Colossus is the key technology that everyone wants to see and photographs just don't cut it.

    The children who are managing this site really do need to grow up! But then again they are probably so old that they are unable to change.

    What a shame....

    Professor Peter Cochrane

    1. Evan Essence

      Re: The Bletchley Children

      As has been said here, you can see Colossus for £2. See The National Musum of Computing Web site.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Go there - it's good!

    I was there on Friday and the whole experience is well worth it.

    Extra £2 to see Collosus and Tunny Machine - it is a must for the full experience.

    Also the new visitor centre, opening in April/May in block C should enhance the trip.

  4. Wordfuse

    Bad exprience

    I'm really glad I saw Bletchley when I did, it sounds like change will be the death of any memorable visiting experience. I've seen Lotto investment do this to a lot of existing organisations, Sweeping changes in practice, new wallpaper and a strong focus on image and presentation and a tendency to bury all that happened before and that includes bringing in staffers who don't always share the original spirit.

    I recall visiting on a cold day, Collosus was running and the windows were open, so the heat and cold were memorable, but it was an amazing sight. The volunteers were present and really helpful talking us through all their own gear and donated kit. Considering the resources available to them I thought the experience was special.

    You could see the personal commitment involved in many ways. The place was quirky but then consider it's role and importance, you could see the divide between coders and techies with the 'puters but it wasn't a gulf then as it seems to be now. I recall seeing the shell of a Harrier Jumpjet in the back car park - amazing, wondered where the rest was.

    In the end this isn't about sentiment, it's about change and it's already started and it won't stop now. Shame that the computing side wasn't legally constituted away from the coding side, I doubt any volunteer would have been sacked then - besides, how do you sack someone who has no contract and therefore no pay to lose.

    If I were involved with the 'puter side I'd be suggesting the guys pool experiences and get writing a book between them - capture the legacy of all that in print.

    It was a tenner admission (return anytime within a year at no extra cost) so judging by what happens when Lotto developments happen, it'll be more than a tenner to go in and numbers will drop, wonder how long this will last?

  5. Richard Cranium

    Practical help...

    Clearly the objective of Iain Standen is to erode the income of TNMOC to the point at which they cannot afford their £100k annual rent they pay to BP. That would raise the issue of the fate of their prize exhibits - and I'm sure he'd love to get his grubby hands on them...

    This is one of the longest threads I've followed on The Register and the vast majority are critical of BPs actions. Sacking Tony and Standen's attitude to that in the BBC interview should be grounds for at least a strong reprimand and a public apology to Tony.

    Grumbling on here will achieve nothing - so what can be done?

    Lobbying the Bletchley trustees might be a good start.

    Get more coverage in the computer press.

    Lobbying the known benefactors of the BP trust to exert their influence - and perhaps transfer some of their generosity to TNMOC.

    Is there a way to feed back to the Lottery fund that their donation is being misused to the detriment of another deserving cause?

    Lobby Gov't for an MBE for Tony

    Lobby owners of exhibits on loan to BP to ensure they are aware of the situation with TNMOC and Tony's public dismissal

    Do something yourself - become a member of TNMOC £45 p.a. - that's a bit steep for me especially living a few hours drive away (and never been) so not likely to get much personal benefit - but I'm sending them a £10 donation (gift aid eligible).

    From what I read about BP and TNMOC (and as an aging computer geek) TNMOC is a greater attraction to me than BP, I really will have to make the effort to visit sometime.

  6. BarkingMad

    Poles do and Die

    Poles new of the Enigma system by the mid 1930’s they set their mathematicians on it at that time. By the time War broke out they had more than a fair understanding of it. Not only was the math passed on to the Brits but an intact early version of the Enigma machine with code book. Of course British tradition dictates: Polish Pilots, soldiers and resistance do and die but only the Brits dress up for the parade.

    1. madmalc

      Re: Poles do and Die

      Plenty of Poles decorated for their service in RAF and the British film "The Battle Of Britain" contains a very favourable amount of coverage of Polish squadrons exploits.

      1. Vic

        Re: Poles do and Die

        > Plenty of Poles decorated for their service in RAF

        The BNP had an advert made up a few years with a Spitfire in the background to try to the whole "national pride" thing.

        They picked an image of a squadron that was staffed entirely of Polish pilots...

        Laugh? I nearly paid my Poll Tax.

        Vic.

  7. TNMOC peter

    Background and comment by Gareth Halfacree

    Gareth Halfacree has been speaking to both parties and gives more details of what has been going on and comments on the situation.

    http://freelance.halfacree.co.uk/2014/01/disharmony-at-bletchley-park/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Background and comment by Gareth Halfacree

      Gareth's lengthy post is worth a read.

      I note one statement "TNMOC further claims that as part of its Heritage Lottery Fund bid, Bletchley Park Trust stated that the Colossus Rebuild was to be interpreted to the public as an integral part of the Bletchley Park story. " As BP have no rights in respect of Colossus (Owned by another organisation and on loan to TNMOC) and it is not part of the BP offering to visitors, does that mean their lottery funding bid was fraudulent?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Background and comment by Gareth Halfacree

        "...As BP have no rights in respect of Colossus (Owned by another organisation and on loan to TNMOC) and it is not part of the BP offering to visitors, does that mean their lottery funding bid was fraudulent?"

        Or is it an indication that Standen is planning to get his hands on it.

    2. John Savard Silver badge

      Missing Facts

      That article, as well as some of the reader comments, supplied basic background facts that the article omitted.

      The land on which Bletchley Park sits belongs to a private party. It's bad enough it got requisitioned when it was needed for the war - but at least that was urgent enough to justify it. But now for the landowner to be further hobbled by the building's historical status is an additional unfairness.

      In any case, the BPT has managed to hang on to the land, though it pays a pretty penny for it. It's subleasing to the NMOC, and so entry there is through their visitor center, not from the road.

      And the problem seems to be that the BPT is unhappy that the NMOC is charging a ticket fee on its own, and yet how else do they expect them to pay their rent. This has given rise to suspicions that it's a plot to grab their exhibits, though there's no evidence of that.

      Boycotting the BPT until it comes to its senses has nothing to do with the people who served in the war, but now I don't think they're the only party to blame. Really the proper solution would be for the two museums to be funded and controlled by the government, because unlike non-profit groups relying on donations and admission fees, the government can afford to adequately compensate the property owner.

  8. schotness

    double-entre ?

    The title of this article sounds just a little bit saucy.....

  9. AbortRetryFail

    This absolutely stinks. When I visited Bletchley Park, being able to visit the National Museum of Computing was a huge bonus and the visit would have been the less without it. Actively discouraging (poss. preventing, if talks of fences are true) people from visiting is just wrong. The Colossus and Tunny machines are absolutely integral to the story of Bletchley Park

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I took a group of students to The National Museum of Computing earlier this month and we spent a fascinating five hours being shown around – the kids, some as young as 14, all want to go back! The fact that it was hands on and the enthusiasm and knowledge of the volunteers just added to the whole experience. Only slight hiccup was when, having arrived early, we decided to go and get a “group picture” in front of the main house. We were really surprised when we were dragged away on the grounds that we hadn’t paid for the Bletchley Tour. As far as I am concerned Bletchley Park is synonymous with the Colossus story; the current situation is just incredibly sad.

  11. At0micAndy

    I would like to see a LEO, I worked on one in the 60's and then we upgraded to an NCR315 with ferrite rings as well as valves. I used to love the half an hour the valves used to take to warm up, coffee time:-)

    I guess BPLand will have no interest for me ( I am already fully versed in the codebreaking side) and so, if I am that way, it will the TNMOC only that receives my £s and I will gaze lovingly over Colossus.

  12. Amora Mora

    Keep the Momentum

    It's a week now since the odious Colonel Ian Standen sneered his way to infamy on BBC News and social media and PR bandwagons started rolling. I have watched with interested and waited to make my contribution. I am local to BP and have given my time and money to what I truly believe is an important and unique site. It's local, national and global importance cannot be understated. The role of Colossus in the development of computing is as crucial to our history as the seed-drill and the Bessemer Steam Engine to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. The part that the tireless dedication and intellectual might of the Codebreakers played in shortening the war is undoubted. How a small, fairly uninteresting Buckinghamshire town absorbed this "army" of near 10,000 and kept the secret for so long is mind-boggling and barely mentioned. The foresight and fighting spirit of those who stopped the bulldozers in the 1990s and the volunteers who have given so selfishly since then is a true testament to all those who served at BP during World War II.

    So this is where I have a problem with those stuck in a small, petty-minded struggle to "own" this legacy and dogmatically shape Bletchley Park into their interpretation of a "heritage centre".

    * You can't divorce the codebreakers from the tools they used - Colossus and Tunny are key components of the story of BP. To do so is to airbrush history. We need to celebrate the technology and honour the people

    * Fences and barriers between BP Trust and TNMOC, either physical or virtual, are an anathema, and damage the integrity of Bletchley Park and its legacy

    * The gongs and the recognition should be given to those who selflessly dedicated many, many years of unpaid service to saving Bletchley Park for future generations. They should not be a pre-requisite for a place on a Board of Trustees

    * There is no black and white - dogmatic, authoritarian stances will only create further disharmony. Engagement, empathy, generosity and openness are the only way to solve this

    * There are many contradictions and unanswered questions e.g.. why does TNMOC need to be fenced off when Bletchley Park Capital Partners sub-lease Block B and part of upstairs in the Mansion and rent this out to other companies as serviced offices? Is the room where the Churchill Collection was going to be used for "heritage" purposes, or as a key individual in BPCP told us as a conference suite for their tenants?

    * BP is a national jewel and a local treasure and we are all stakeholders. It is important that we continue to raise questions and hold those who have been entrusted with this legacy to account. No doubt Ian Standen will be waiting for the storm to pass and for people's attention to move onto another cause, Whilst I do not think a Boycott will bring any benefit to BP, it is important to keep these issues in the media, on social networks and alive to funders, contributors, MPs etc. so that the right questions are asked and the right decision for the future of BP are made.

    * Next week and the week after, keep talking about this and don't let this crucial issues be locked away and ignored.

  13. Palf

    A way overpaid pompous arse, that Standen. Boot him out.

  14. Philip Virgo

    How and why has the conflict arisen

    I suspect that the planners of the Bletchley Theme Park have a carefully sanitised version of history in mind. This does not include the "special relationship" between Bletchley and Fort Meade from 1941 until GCHQ moved to Cheltenham. They fail to recognise that the elderly volunteers are fully aware of their obligations under the official secrets acts (plural). Hence the current situation, instead of a win win way forward which would have preserved the spirit of Bletchley.

    We should remember that a core part of that spirit was the tension between the invaluable eccentrics and those trying to keep order between several thousand, largely female, twenty somethings and a rather smaller number of men of varying ages, with few of either knowing what they were really doing. Luckily many of those who were truly invaluable were more interested in what they were doing than in the opposite sex, if they were interested in the opposite sex at all.

    At this point I have some sympathy, albeit not a lot, for those trying to create a sanitised theme park which will protect the young of today from the realities of the past.

    1. TheArdvaark

      Re: How and why has the conflict arisen

      It is obvious that Mr Virgo does not have the slightest conception of the value of Bletchley Park! He says: "At this point I have some sympathy, albeit not a lot, for those trying to create a sanitised theme park which will protect the young of today from the realities of the past". Why should we do this? The past is of vital importance and there are, probably, millions of people alive right across the world right now thanks to the work that was done at Bletchley Park. Why is this?

      Most historians who have studied BP have come to the conclusion that the work that was done there probably shortened the war by around two years. If the war had continued for another two years how many thousands of service men and women would have lost their lives? How many tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of innocent civilians, on both sides, would have lost their lives? Those people would not have gone on to have families of their own and those families would not have had their families who are today's generation!

      Considering the fact that on the allies side we had not only British and American but also Australian; New Zealand; Canadian; Indian; Czechs; Poles; French; etc etc etc it doesn't take a genius to work out that there are probably millions of people alive today, right across the world that owe their very existance to the work that was done at BP! This is something that everybody should know about, including today's generation! The Germans have done a very good job of sanitising their history by wiping out as much as possible with regard to the second world war - are we going to do the same? This should never be allowed to happen, we should all know why we did what we did and how we saved the West for Democracy - albeit tenuous in this day and age! The past is the past and we can't change that and the truth is the truth so why should we try to change that as well? Everybody deserves to know what happened and why and what the consequences were. The minute we start to sanitise history is the minute when we cease to admit what happened and what the truth really was.

  15. Wzrd1

    Well, I'm open to negotiate a satisfactory solution. Well, to the public and technical folk.

    I will insist on having Royal authority to bulldoze the entire lot.

    I'll also threaten, to the point of having workmen stage with equipment.

    Whoever balks may win the day.

    Worst case scenario, neither will have custody or responsibility and a third organization will be selected.

    Probably one staffed by the former staff of both the site and the organization that is being remembered, the latter being a diminishing number, to the great loss of the entire world.

    In a lose-lose situation, people start to find common ground, if faced with a significant loss.

    Especially one in a loss of standing and lost face.

    Of course, I would be willing to actually turn the bulldozer onto the site.

    After removing everything, even the woodwork.

    To later, at the expense of the two asshole organizations, be reconstructed.

    Brick by brick, nail by nail.

  16. meadowlark

    Loss of Old Museums

    Regarding superb museums being turned into 'Disneyland' type attractions, the 'Science Museum' in Birmingham suffered just this fate. The cradle of the industrial revolution and known as the 'City of a Thousand Trades', Birmingham had probably the richest industrial heritage of all. This was reflected in its old museum until it was summarily closed down without any consultation with its citizens.

    In its place is a shiny new glass and steel megalith of nothingness at a new home called 'Millenium Point ThinkTank'. It doesn't even have the names of either 'science' or 'museum' in it. It should be renamed as 'Pointless Nothingness' because all the really interesting exhibits from the old place have disappeared. It now encourages self led learning for children and it seems to me to be more like an exhibition of computer games.

  17. Leigh Lundin

    Fire management, rehire Tony

    Management not only proved themselves pompous, but incompetent. Ditch them and rehire Tony Carroll.

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