back to article Royal Mail's Colossus move gets ex-WREN's stamp of approval

Once muzzled by officialdom, former operators of Colossus have reacted well to a Royal Mail stamp marking the achievements of the computing beast and its designer, Tommy Flowers. The Colossus stamp is part of eight in the Royal Mail’s series, called Inventive Britain. The world’s first electronic, programmable computer, …

  1. Bob Wheeler

    Tommy Flowers

    There really should be a statue dedicated to him, oh about 50ft or so high.

    1. JamesPond
      Big Brother

      Re: Tommy Flowers

      Totally agree, although I would hope for a better likeness than Alan Turing's seated statue in Manchester!

    2. Naughtyhorse

      Re: Tommy Flowers

      And that statue should be outside the gates of the University of Pennsylvania

    3. Triggerfish

      Re: Tommy Flowers

      Totally agree, especially considering when his idea was disregarded he funded it himself and then couldn't get a patent or loan to make another one, after the war because he couldn't reveal he had already built one.

    4. TimR

      Re: Tommy Flowers

      According to a well know web site beginning with W:

      "On Thursday 12 December 2013, 70 years after he created Colossus, his legacy was honoured with a memorial commissioned by BT, successor to Post Office Telephones. The life-size bronze bust, designed by James Butler, was unveiled by Trevor Baylis at Adastral Park, BT's research and development centre in Martlesham Heath, near Ipswich, Suffolk. BT also began a computer science scholarship and award in his name."

  2. Chris Miller

    encrypting a message 1,600,000,000,000,000 times

    I think you mean something more like: having 1.6x1015 configuration settings.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: encrypting a message 1,600,000,000,000,000 times

      I figured Gavin just meant Lorenz had a great MTBF.

  3. Jagged

    Shame he wasn't included in that recent movie staring Bendy Funnysnatch. I guess real history is too complicated for the modern audience *rolls eyes*

    1. Essuu

      Never the facts get in the way of a good story

      Well he wasn't part of the project in the film, he was involved in breaking the Lorenz ciphers so no reason to include him. That said, there was absolutely no reason at all for them to have included John Cairncross, since there's no evidence that he ever met Turing, let alone the other ludicrous plot elements so it wouldn't have hurt to include Flowers in the highly inaccurate plot of the Imitation Game :)

    2. Terry Barnes

      They worked on separate projects. Turing had no involvement with the work Flowers did on Colossus.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Unfortunately, as he isn't in the Hollywood version of his-story, he could not possibly have existed. Also, as he is from this side of the Pond, he was probably a non-entity waiting to be rescued.

      I had the misfortune of catching some of a PBS mockumentary about Operation Chastise the other day; I turned it off when it claimed that the dams were attacked two years into the Second World War. Now, I don't want to seem picky, but if one takes the start of the Second World War in Europe as being when Germany invaded Poland, then PBS can't count. If one takes it as when Japan invaded China, then PBS seriously can't count.

      I shudder at the thought of what PBS would do in a documentary about Tommy Flowers. As for Hollywood ......

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Hollywood Angle

        "I shudder at the thought of what PBS would do in a documentary about Tommy Flowers. As for Hollywood ......"

        as there's no LGBT angle on Flowers that would make him current news, like his pardon for his crimes in the day, why include him?

        Plenty of people worked on the systems, not all were English or from friendly (at the time) nations.

        History is always written by the victors, hence the USA started, fought and won the entire war (don't you notice they always win in Vietnam war films?)

        Most of the key players still cant / wont talk about it for fear of the Gov and hostile nations retaliating for their efforts

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Hollywood Angle

          don't you notice they always win in Vietnam war films?

          Are you sure about that? All of these films depict the US winning the Vietnam War, do they? Or is it perhaps that you are just an idiot?

          I suppose if you're going to post something patently stupid, you might as well do it anonymously.

  4. Peter Simpson 1

    Flowers and Newman, not Turing

    Colossus was a Newman project, designed to break the 5-level teleprinter cipher. Aside from recommending Flowers to Newman, Turing had little to do with it.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Real nostalgia...

    Remember when GCHQ was working for us and not targeting us?

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Real nostalgia...

      "Remember when GCHQ was working for us and not targeting us?"

      and turning it off and turning it on again was exactly the wrong thing to do.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Real nostalgia...

        "and turning it off and turning it on again was exactly the wrong thing to do"

        +1 insightful.

  6. rcp27

    "Colossus was built to break the German’s fiendishly complicated Lorenz machine, successor to the Enigma and capable of encrypting a message 1,600,000,000,000,000 times."

    I'm pretty sure each Lorenz-encrypted message was only encrypted once.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Tutte Tutte

      The most important one was encrypted twice, using the same key, but with slight changes to the plaintext - that's what enabled Bill Tutte to work out the nature of the Lorenz system.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Tutte Tutte

        The most important one was encrypted twice, using the same key, but with slight changes to the plaintext - that's what enabled Bill Tutte to work out the nature of the Lorenz system.

        There was only one message like that. John Tiltman originally decrypted it, and Bill Tutte used it, in one of the greatest intellectual feats of WWII, to determine the workings of the Lorenz machine which was, in effect, a mechanical pseudo random number generator. Tutte also devised a methodology to decrypt the messages, but it was beyond what could be done manually.Max Newman had the idea to use electronics for the task and Tommy Flowers built the machine to do it. Turing had some input to the process, but it was those three, who got little or no recognition, who did the actual job.

        Read "Colossus" by B. Jack Copeland and others for the full story.

  7. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    tankards up

    to all the men and women who designed, built, ran, and now preserve the history of such important tech and its vital work. Cheers!

  8. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Is Thermionic a trademark and so needing a capital letter? I thought it was thermionic - heat induced emission of ions (in this case, electrons).

  9. 2+2=5 Silver badge

    Royal Mail website #fail

    Followed the link to the RM website on the rash assumption that it might be possible to see the stamps in more detail. How ironic, therefore, to discover that the pictures of the stamps are displayed postage stamp sized -- if only it were deliberate.

    Still, there is a "view large image" link and ... nope, still the same size image for the stamps themselves, just a larger border around them.

    Well done the Royal Mail.

    1. LeftyX

      Re: Royal Mail website #fail

      Do a Google image search for "Inventive Britain stamps 2015" and you'll find considerable larger pictures.

  10. Rampant Spaniel

    Did the Germans have anything similar (to colossus) during the war? Or even a program to attempt something similar.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Did the Germans have anything similar (to colossus) during the war

      We just sent out messages en clair to save them the bother, because we knew the fiendish Hun didn't speak English.

      They were possibly too busy arresting officers and having them tortured by the SS to find out who it was who was leaking Enigma messages to the British, because decrypting Enigma was impossible. That, of course, was why the work of Bletchley Park was so secret post war.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      The Germans did apparently manage to break one of the British naval codes, but not with mechanical methods. For the story of German computers, look up Konrad Zuse and his relay machines.

      1. Lars Silver badge

        Re: B-Dienst

        Konrad Zuse (German: [ˈkɔnʁat ˈtsuːzə]; 22 June 1910 – 18 December 1995) was a German civil engineer, inventor and computer pioneer. His greatest achievement was the world's first programmable computer; the functional program-controlled Turing-complete Z3 became operational in May 1941. Thanks to this machine and its predecessors, Zuse has often been regarded as the inventor of the modern computer.[1][2][3][4]

        The Z3 was an electromechanical computer designed by Konrad Zuse. It was the world's first working programmable, fully automatic digital computer.[1] The Z3 was built with 2000 relays, implementing a 22-bit word length that operated at a clock frequency of about 5–10 Hz.[2] Program code and data were stored on punched film.

        The Z3 was completed in Berlin in 1941.

        Relation to other work

        The success of Zuse's Z3 is often attributed to its use of the simple binary system.[17] This was invented roughly three centuries earlier by Gottfried Leibniz; Boole later used it to develop his Boolean algebra. In 1937, Claude Shannon introduced the idea of mapping Boolean algebra onto electronic relays in a seminal work on digital circuit design. Zuse however did not know Shannon's work and developed the groundwork independently[18] for his first computer Z1 which he designed and built from 1935 to 1938.

        Zuse's coworker Helmut Schreyer built an electronic digital experimental model of a computer using 100 vacuum tubes[19] in 1942, but it was lost at the end of the war.

        The Tommy Flowers-built Colossus (1943)[20] and the Atanasoff–Berry Computer (1942) used thermionic valves (vacuum tubes) and binary representation of numbers. Programming was by means of re-plugging patch panels and setting switches.

        Colossus was not "The world’s first electronic, programmable computer," and so what but a lie is still a lie. I suppose the I in us is just too strong when it comes to them others. We in the west have a similar problem when it comes to who ended the war in Europe.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: B-Dienst

          Well, you know what they say about people who expect technical accuracy in a Gavin Clarke story: they'll be disappointed 1,600,000,000,000,000 times out of 1,600,000,000,000,001.

  11. david 12


    From the USA one of the WAVEs on related work recalled her induction in Washington DC ("I joined the navy to see the world, but all I saw was DC"), unfortunately I can'd find the reference, so I'm recreating from memory:

    "We had a tough introductory talk about security. This was followed by another man, who we expected would give us a warm introduction, perhaps a prayer. Instead, he told us not to expect to be treated differently because we were women: If we talked about our work, we would be shot."

    1. KA1AXY

      Re: WRENs

      Mum was a WAVE officer in DC. She worked there, running a message center or something. We didn't get the entire story out of her before her death, but we do have her Distinguished Unit Citation ribbon. She used to sing us the alphabet backwards when we were kids. Looking back, I should have realised we weren't a normal family...

      1. Ru'

        Re: WRENs

        Surely she did that so it did appear normal when you looked back?...

        (I'll get my coat)

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