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Job 18 Nessun Dorma

Into the Dust and Disorder. 1979 &ndash 1980
This page is part of my CV, Resumé or Work Record. It describes my time as computer systems manager at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London during 1979 and 1980. To see this in context, look at my CV.
I implemented the first computer that the Royal Opera House ever bought, an ICL 1901 to run payroll and accounts. The equipment had been acquired by the finance director, Adrian Doran, who felt that the existing systems they had were:
a) too reliant on a small number of skilled staff
b) beginning to creak and become obsolete
c) perhaps most important of all, inadequate for producing speedy and accurate management accounting figures
Adrian had been advised by ICL that the best solution was an ICL 1901 and software for payroll, sales, purchase and nominal ledgers from a software house called TOPS, run by Phil Everton. Phil died unexpectedly and prematurely in the mid-1980s.
Adrian had acquired from somewhere a computer department manager called Rodney Tranmer who had been present while the hardware and TOPS were installed.
The hardware and TOPS were installed, but no one seemed to be able to get the data loaded up and the systems operational. It looked like the Opera House had spent a lot of money on a white elephant, which was not going to do Adrian’s reputation any good at all.
Adrian put an advertisement in the newspaper, might have been Computer Weekly, for someone to get it sorted out and this took my eye so I applied, went for an interview and was offered the job.
The first thing was to get the people weaned off the old systems, that they thought worked perfectly well and which in fact from their perspective did work perfectly well, it was a forward-looking management view that the systems were inadequate. So I recruited from an agency some clerks and data entry operators and we worked overnight. We could not get the job done during the day because of shortage of desk space and terminal capacity, so I got my clerks to do a night shift and I stayed with them to make sure things went more-or-less to plan. It took a couple of weeks if I recall correctly at the end of which all the data had been coded up on coding sheets and entered by the two data entry operators.
So we had the data on the computer systems, now to implement it.
There was great reluctance to move away from the old index card systems, so one evening a contract computer operator and I dismantled the card machines and chucked them out into the car park (amazingly, in those days, a patch of land next to the Opera House in Bow Street was a staff car park). Next morning the pile of machinery was still there and I overheard some members of the chorus puzzling over what it was. One of them said in a Welsh accent (for many of the chorus were Welsh): ‘Whatever it is, I don’t think it’ll ever replace the human voice you know.’
Possibly because of my tendency to wave my arms about while seeking to make anything at all happen, they used to call me Superwoman, though not to my face, fortunately.
Having got the computer in use I then recruited some staff to run it. Somewhere along the line I got Patrick Hardy to help me with this. I can’t remember how I came to meet Patrick but we worked closely together at the Opera House and again for a while after we both left there.
It was something of a struggle because the TOPS system from Phil Everton’s company was not really the system that the Opera House needed and had to be stretched and tweaked pretty-much to breaking point.
And then Patrick Hardy and I set about rewriting the payroll system to replace the one they had that was rather inadequate. But I think this fizzled out along the way somewhere, though I can’t exactly remember why.
An odd time at the Opera House. Initially I was quite unpopular there, bullying the systems into use as I did, and I’m not sure that image got all that much better over time, I let Patrick be the charm front. But that said I very much enjoyed working there and perhaps could have stayed. Rodney Tranmer left during my time there, probably he could stand working for me no longer. I recruited Ray Knight to be the computer operations manager and Ray and I got along extremely well.
But it was hard to see how I could have done much more there really. Ray had the day-to-day running very firmly under control and apart from rewriting the systems with Patrick there was perhaps not much more for me to do. Though in principle I could have stayed there as the Opera House IT expert adviser I suppose. Maybe I should have, yes, maybe I should, maybe I played it wrong.


Anonymous said...

I remember putting in the BOCS system in about 1990, and it was an excellent bit of software, ran on 2 vaxes, and I remember doing e bespoke report that was given to each department with the full cost of any comp tickets show in full. Also the ROH had something called private property seats, which had some funny features, like being zero VAT rated or something like that.

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