Reminiscences of some who worked for the Bell Punch Company
Many people have fond memories of the Bell Punch Company. Some reminiscences about the technical aspects of the ANITA calculators appear on other pages. On this page are general reminiscences about the company from:
"I joined the Bell Punch Company in February 1956 and after a period working on Ground Position Indicators, navigational instruments designed and produced by the Company for the R.A.F., I became involved with the SAM (Semi Automatic Multiplier) calculator. This had complex mechanisms giving an advanced multiplication feature and was probably the last notable milestone in advanced mechanical calculator design produced by Mr. C.F.Webb, the Company's Chief Designer, before his retirement. It was launched around 1958 and I recollect being given the task of producing an illustrated handbook for the production and service departments which had detailed assembly and adjustment guidance. It comprised a series of photographs in order of the machine's assembly, each with a transparent overlay pin-pointing the important features together with a detailed description outlining the checking and inspection of each stage of assembly in the correct sequence.
I joined the ANITA design and development team in the early stages when a lot of work was necessary to satisfactorily interface the electronics with the necessary mechanical features. This revolutionary calculator, "A New Inspiration To Arithmetic", was, by necessity, a transitional stage between the accepted electro-mechanical machines of that period, and electronic calculators as we know them today. It was not smaller than the machines it was replacing, and it still had a ''full' keyboard. That is, lines of key buttons numbered from 0 to 9. And it still included a number of precision mechanisms. However, instead of calculations being effected by a system of key bars, gears, cams and 'number' wheels printed with the figures 0 to 9, they were achieved electronically with the answers displayed on numicator (Nixie) tubes, fast and comparatively silent. Funnily enough, experienced calculator operators were slow to appreciate the technological breakthrough because they could not get used to the lack of ''feel' and noise that was inherent in mechanical machines. The same phenomenon was experienced by typists changing from manual to electric typewriters. ... etc."
John Sparkes attained the position of Technical Manager of Sumlock Anita Electronics Ltd., and has provided considerable information about how the company went about developing the innovative ANITA calculators. Extracts from John's information have been quoted in the relevant pages in this website, however the whole of the information deserves wider dissemination and so is made available through this link as a pdf file - JohnSparkes&AnitaCalculators.pdf
During his time he worked out of Clerkenwell Road and then Finchley/Whetstone, (finishing at Northway House) and covering Herts/Bucks/Beds,
He was recruited from his former job as a door-to-door Hoover salesman – he had gone to a call and the lady of the house invited him back that evening to speak with her husband. This was quite usual and Dad thought nothing of it until, when he went back, the man of the house, Mr Derek Jones, said "my wife tells me I am to give you a job because you're too good a salesman to miss out on" and Dad said "fine, can I have the Hoover sale as well?" (and got it).
I remember many Christmas dances… especially one at Lowestoft which must have been in 1971 or 2 when the cabaret artiste sang "Hey big Spender" to the MD and sat on his lap to my great (teenage) delight!
I wish I could remember more names – Tony Woodiwiss was one of his colleagues, I recall (because of the unusual name).
In the summer holidays he would take me out on his rounds provided I sat quietly in the car and read while he and his "demonstrator" went in to the office/factory to make the sale.
One summer holiday (1973) I worked on the switchboard at Northway House and was very amused when two pay packets came through for "P Titheradge" – I know which one I wanted!
I remember him passing out in Wall's when being shown the sausage production line, and being fascinated at RAF Cranwell…and so much more. Especially the winter of 1963 when he dug himself in and out of snowdrifts to carry on making the sales.
He did very well for the company and for himself. Our family were very lucky through that as we could afford a continental touring holiday every year; I went to private school from 13 and of course we had use of the company car.
Sadly, he and his colleagues were "made redundant" in 1974 on the company's being taken over although I was led to understand they were one of the first groups of people ever successfully to fight and win compensation for this.
Dad regularly brought calculators home – they were reminiscent of sewing machines in size, weight and cases – and let me "play" with them and I was allowed to stay up late for the elections of the early 60s as he and his team were to be seen in the background calculating the results!
I would be so happy to hear from anyone whose parents worked with Dad – and happy for you to put them in touch." [You can get in touch via this site].
So here is my story.
I joined the bell punch company in 1958 as a mechanical calculator mechanic. I worked out of the Clerkenwell office. The managers of the department were Ted Grist and Len… Also Cyril May who I had got me the job. (He was my commanding officer in the Air training Corps Squadron that I belonged to in Richmond Surrey). Along with; Tony Bell, the diminutive Arthur…. Tony Rocco, et al (the years have dimmed my memory for names but I can still see their faces). I worked on the range of mechanical calculators, Sumlock, Plus etc. The Electro/mechanical range up to the SUMLOMATIC. We were a happy team of mechanics. Having received our daily quota of machines to repair and service we retired to the cafe around the corner on Clerkenwell Green for breakfast. We worked on our own and when we had finished our quota we were allowed to go home. Becoming a skilled mechanic I very often returned around midday to my home in Richmond. I travelled all over London and became very familiar with it. I remember one company I visited was just across the street where I lived!
At that time I became interested in amateur radio and after attending night school I eventually obtained my amateur radio certificate in 1962—The year of the big freeze. I also at that time contracted TB and the company very generously paid me a full wage and held my job for the three months while I was in hospital. It was also around that time that the company was developing the Electronic side of the business and I pestered the life out of my bosses to be allowed to transfer over to that side of the business. I was accepted and was given a three years part time day release course at Southhall college in Electronic servicing. It was a 5 year course but I managed to complete it in three. During the time up to the closing of the company I worked on the complete range of electronic desk calculators produced by Sumlock Anita Ltd. I was transferred to the Ealing branch under the sales manager Bill Snowball. In the Anita service dept. My boss was George Dunkley who had worked on the development of the Anita's at Uxbridge. Other engineers were: Dave Woods, Ernie Batson,. That is where I met my wife to be Norma Samson. It was during this time that the company took on a German machine made by NIXDORF called the "CONTI" I was one of the few in the company to be trained on this machine. I was chosen because of my mechanical and electronic experience. I remember it had a ferrite ring memory. Unfortunately mechanically it was not the pinnacle of German Engineering by any means.
In 1968 I got married and moved yet again to the Norwich branch and that is where I met Philip Titherage. As he was now the regional manager covering our area of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgshire. He only made brief visits to the sales department though so we didn't see much of him in the service department.
Colleagues in Norwich were; Mike Cole, (Supervisor), Norman Williams, Bob Doig, Mike Mallet, Mac Bottolf, Tony Bell. Chris Woods etc. At the shutdown of Sumlock Comptometer, and after 16 years with Sumlock, I was made redundant and spent a few months unemployed but eventually returned to work alongside my former pals.
On the close down of the company, each of the 32 branches were offered a buyout. Mike Cole and the others struck out on their own. The business became a very successful independent entity under the name of SUMLOCK BONDAIN. So now we could engage in the service and repair of all types of electronic equipment.
I left in 1978, after the breakup of my marriage, to work abroad in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. That was where I saw the last Sumlock machine I was to see in the flesh so to speak. It was in the company owners office, sitting in an honoured position on a window sill.
But then that's another Story!
Should this attract any former associates, my email address is:
I worked at Bell Punch from May '61 to Jan '65 as a junior design engineer. I had just finished my training at E.M.I.
I worked on the totalisator at Slough dog track. We installed from the teller machines to the computer in the control room, then to the lamp box displays. When the system was commissioned I went once a week to a race meeting to operate it. From this I learned a good lesson. The punters bought their ticket, the government took their percentage, the track took theirs and the payout came out of the rest, if their dog won. Whereas I was given £5 in hand to operate 6 switches after each race.
The other good memory of the job is the cafe across the road that did a very nice fried egg sandwich.
I then came back to base and worked on the Anita. I was involved in the printed circuit boards; in those day we drew them by hand. I also worked on the memory unit which plugged in to the main unit.
I can still visualise my bench under a window, the door behind me and Norbert's office in front and to the right. Behind me was the purchasing officer, if a salesman phoned there would be an opening at 11.30 on a given day, resulting in a lunch.
We went to a pub on or near the Island, they did a good ploughmans lunch. One day the barman suddenly said "he who flies with the crows bloodywell gets shot " I never understood what he meant. I used to walk off the lunch around the Island, this was specially bracing when there was a coating of snow on the ground.
My wife & I decided to migrate to Australia. I was given a good reference and a rise to help to start a new life. I left at the end of January and was working in Australia after just 2 weeks, we flew by Comet. My first job was with Friden, they were not far behind us. I expect they hoped for information. They gave me mechanical calculators to service, about which I knew nothing and soon moved to Repco Research designing wheel balancers.
The final coincidence in this story is that I took my family to Melbourne Museum about 1970 and found an Anita memory unit on display.
Now at 82  this has been fun to try and put these thoughts together.
Simon Southwell recalls visiting the Portsmouth factory as a boy on a Saturday in 1972 with his father, David Southwell, who was the Test Manager. Read his fascinating account at http://www.anita-simulators.org.uk/calc/article1.htm.
Text & photographs copyright © 2002 - 2021 Nigel Tout, except where noted otherwise.