by Anura Guruge
>> 46th anniversary … — Aug. 27, 2013.
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August 27, 2014, marks, continuing from what I talked about last year:
>> the 47th anniversary of me leaving Ceylon in 1967, a week ahead of my 14th birthday.
>> the 40th anniversary of me joining IBM Hursley, as an ‘Junior Associate Programmer’, in 1974, a week ahead of my 21st birthday.
August 27, 1974 was a Tuesday. My official start date had been the Monday, August 26, 1974. That happened to be the August Bank Holiday Monday. But, that was my first day as an IBMer. I had never had a days employment prior to that! So that was my first day of paid employment. So I started working on a holiday and got paid for it, since I was salaried. I spent much of the day watching cricket, on a small b&w TV, in a hotel room in Winchester. Nice way to start work. That I started work on August 27, the same day that I left Ceylon was a coincidence.
Yesterday, knowing that I wanted to do this post, I went looking for pictures of Katunayake Airport in the 1960s and any pictures of IBM Hursley from the 1970s (other than the ones that I have posted). I, to my dismay, couldn’t find any of Katunayake Airport from that era. Shame. There are pictures of Ratmalana Airport but not Katunayake. Katunayake was still a military airport at the time though most of the jet services were from there because it had a longer runway. That is where I left from. Katunayake, when it was but a small, brownish, very intimate, single story building …
In the case of Hursley, I cam across this picture. Of course I recognized it at once. That was EXACTLY what he used to look like. John Fairclough, the Managing Director of IBM Hursley during the time I was there, viz. August 1974 to November 1979. So I decided I would write a bit about John. I had NO IDEA that he was knighted or that he was dead. Poor John. He died in June 2003 aged 72.
So in away this story that I am about to tell, #3 below, will serve his memory well. Here is his obituary in the U.K. “The Guardian“.
OK. Three things I want to say about John.
1. He was the Managing Director during all of my time at Hursley. I cannot say I knew him. I am sure, given that this was IBM, that I was introduced to him at some point and shook hands with him. I would, however, see him, a fair amount, walking around the many miles of corridors and walkways we had at Hursley — including some beautiful glass enclosed walkways. John would typically be on his own — without an entourage. That was the IBM way in the 1970s. He would, of course, smile and say ‘hello’. Very handsome, dapper gentleman. Immaculately dressed in nice suits. I would note, because I notice things like that, that he would check out the ladies, appreciatively. Nothing wrong in that. He was a good Brit. We are expected to do that. Yes, I had heard from some of the ladies that they were aware of getting checked out by John — but it being Britain, and Britain in the 1970s, nobody minded.
2. In those days John had a very nice, dark green Jaguar XJ6. John travelled a lot — as would have been expected of him given his job. So he wasn’t at Hursley all that much. Much negotiations and battering would have had to have been done in the U.S. to ensure that Hursley got enough plumb assignments. But I would notice that when John was at Hursley he would park his Jag in the prime parking area, directly in front of the historic Hursley House, that was explicitly designated for visitors. We weren’t even allowed to look at those spaces. So I being who I was, I one day called up his secretary, introduced myself, and asked her whether John planed to be leaving Hursley soon. She was confused. She asked me why I was asking her that. I said because I keep on seeing John’s car in the visitor parking lot and was wondering whether he was trying to tell us something. There was silence and something like “is that it?” But, I never saw him park in that area again. I don’t know whether this in any way impacted my career at IBM. I guess I didn’t stay long enough to find out. I, however, don’t think so. I can’t see John has having been petty or vindictive.
3. GREAT John story and I hope it is not apocryphal. John, as I already mentioned, had to spend a fair amount of time in the States. Actually ALL of us at Hursley made at least one trip to the States, to a sister lab, whether it be Poughkeepsie (NY), Kingston (NY), Raleigh (NC) every year. That was the IBM way in the 1970s. On one of his trips back to the U.K. John had to bring back a deck of punched cards. Now remember we are talking the mid-1970s. Punched cards were still widely used. We had these nice carrying cases for punched cards. [I still have one of these, possibly two. I used to use them to store my model trains. They were perfect for that. Now I use it as a tool carrier]. Why he had to bring back a card ‘deck’ as opposed to a tape I do not know but carrying cards around, at IBM, pre-SNA, was not uncommon — and I talk as one who managed to drop at least one metal container of punched cards in the corridors of Hursley. [I think they they had sequence numbers at the end and that I was able to use a collator to put them back in the right order. People just don’t know the fun you could have with punched cards.] Thinking back he might have been bringing back some very important CICS code — Hursley just having received the charter for taking over the development of CICS.
Well those were also the days when everything had an ‘excise duty’. Going through airport customs was never easy. They tried to tax you for everything. John was not immune and neither was ‘data’. It appears that in those days British customs taxed you on imported data by its weight! Again, remember we are talking very early days — way before PCs.
So John got stopped. They established that he was carrying data. So he had to pay some duty. Not a big deal. John worked for IBM. But, John was clever, very clever. He got the customs officer to agree that the duty was based on the weight of the data. Once that was confirmed John, quite correctly and cutely, pointed out that the data was in the HOLES rather than in the cards. That is very true. So he told the agent that he will pay for the weight of the holes! Honest. This is the story that circulated around Hursley as to our ingenious M.D. That he told British customs that he would pay for the data by weight but that they had to remember that the data was in the holes. Suffice to say he walked out without paying anything. Apocryphal or not I like that story. That is what I remember about John Fairclough. A very nice man.