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Tony Sale
First curator of the Bletchley Park Museum

Anthony Edgar (Tony) Sale (30 January 1931 - 28 August 2011) was a former MI5 engineer, computer pioneer and historian who, after his retirement, became a co-founder of the Bletchley Park Museum (BP) when he tried to save the park from demolition in 1991. When BP opened as a museum in 1993, Tony was the first curator. He was also the driving force behind the rebuild of Colossus, the first electronic computer that was built at BP to break the German Lorenz cipher.

Tony was educated at Dulwich College (South London) where he excelled in science and history. As his family could not afford any further education, Sale enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) where he became a radar instructor.

When he left the RAF in 1952, he held the rank of Flying Officer, and became research assistant at Marconi Research Laboratories in Chelmsford. At Marconi's he met engineer Peter Wright, who would later become known for his controversial book Spycatcher [4]. In 1954, Peter Wright was recruted by Military Intellicence, Section 5 (MI5).
Photograph copyright South Beds News, click here for a full story

In 1957, Sale left Marconi and started working for his former colleague Peter Wright at MI5, where Wright was one of the first scientists of the agency. During the years at MI5, he and Peter Wright specialised in radio interception. In his book Spycatcher, Wright describes the radio van that was used to intercept Russian transmissions that were sent by a clandestine mobile transmitter in the centre of London [4]. When he left MI5 in 1963, Sale held the rank of Principal Science Officer.

After leaving MI5 in 1963, Tony Sale started working for Hunter Engineering in Ampthill (Bedfordshire, UK), where he led a weapons design team for the next five years. Hunter Engineering – a defense contractor – would later become part of Lockheed Martin.

In 1968, Sale left Hunter and founded a software firm by the name of Alpha Systems. After Alpha Systems went under in 1978, he setup several other software companies until he finally became an independent consultant in 1986. Tony Sale never really retired. In 1989 he became curator at the Science Museum in London and eventually, in 1991, he got involved with Bletchley Park (BP).

Bletchley Park
During WWII, the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS, now: GCHQ) set up the largest codebreaking effort of the war at a recently acquired piece of land known as Bletchley Park (BP), some 45 miles north of London, near Milton Keynes. After the war, the successor to GC&CS, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), used the park for several years for training, together with the co-owner of the land British Telecom (BT), the former General Post Office (GPO).

Saved for the nation
In the late 1980s however, the park was used less and less by its owners, and the buildings fell into decay. In 1991, when BP was under threat of being demolished in order to make way for housing development, Tony Sale tried to save this historical site by forming the Bletchley Park Trust. In the following years, his plans led to the reopening of BP as a real museum in 1993.

Tony Sale was also a co-founder of The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC), that is also located at BP. In 1994, Tony started the Colossus Rebuild Project, in recognition of the amazing work that had been carried out at BP during WWII by people like Tommy Flowers, Max Newman and others. Tony was determined to have the first part of the project finished by 1996, the 50th anniversary of the ENIAC, the computer that the Americans had claimed to be the first electronic computer. Colossus was older of course, but that was unknown by the public until 1974. 1

Banned from the park
Tony's work for Bletchley Park was not always without incident. Initially, he was the Museum Director, but in 1998, Christine Large, a former property developer was taken aboard as new director of the Bletchley Park Trust. A fews years into the job, this lead to a clash of characters between her and Tony Sale. When the Trust wanted to announce the appointment of Christine Large as the new museum director, Sale objected and got 7 of the 12 trustees behind him [2].

After a Charities Commission investigation into the incident, the seven trustees resigned and Large was reinstated as Museum Director. On her return she accused Tony of an attempted coup against her and said that "Sale had 'made an industry' from allowing people to believe he had been connected to Bletchley in its glory days". She also stated: "I think the problem was that I was female, not retired, not a civil servant" [2].

The conflict between Christine Large and Tony Sale ultimately led to the latter being banned from the park in September 2001. As Tony was not allowed to access the park anymore, he could no longer work on the Colossus Rebuild. Work on Colossus by the team of volunteers continued however, with Tony and the team meeting regularly in the nearby pub the Enigma Tavern [10].

During his period of absence, Tony decided to build a complete working replica of the Heath Robinson, the machine that was used before Colossus to help breaking the Lorenz cipher. Finally, in March 2002 the Bletchley Park Trust, under strong external pressure, allowed Tony back on the park for two days a week to work on Colossus [10]. On these occasions he had to use a rear entrance near Block H, and was not allowed to enter The Mansion or any other building.

On 1 March 2006, Simon Greenish was appointed Director Designate, working alongside Large, but on 1 May he took over from her, after Large had been dismissed by the Trust. Shortly afterwards, Tony was fully rehabilitated and was granted full access to the park once again.

Initially, the entire rebuild project was funded by Tony and his wife Margret, but after the first part of the machine became operational in 1996, the project received other funding as well. Colossus was officially finished in 2007 and is now part of the impressive collection of historical computers at TNMOC, where it is located in H-Block [6]. A must see if you visit the museum.

  1. The first news about Colossus was publised in 1972 by Professor Brian Randell [7] in his paper On Alan Turing and the Origins of Digital Computers [8] but the main public got knowledge of what had happened at Bletchley Park after the release of the book The Ultra Secret by Federick Winterbotham in 1974 [9].

Since 2007, Tony had been giving daily demonstrations of 'his' Colossus and was never too tired to answer any questions from the audience. On 28 August 2011, he died unexpectedly at the age of 80, leaving behind his wife Margret (herself a volunteer at BP), three children and seven grand­children. After his death, a special award has been established in his name by the Computer Conservation Society: The Tony Sale Award - for Computer Conservation and Restoration [5].

Colossus in September 2013

Tony's legacy has been preserved well. In 2012, the Colossus display in H-Block at Bletchley Park was completely refurbished. The ceiling is now black, the floor has a new carpet and the lighting is much improved. In addition, there is now much more room for the audience, who can walk all around Colossus. The image above shows Colossus in September 2013 during a presentation by volunteer guide Kevin Coleman. At the far left is Chief Colossus Engineer Phil Hayes.

  • 1949
    Royal Air Force (RAF), Flying Officer and instructor
  • 1952
    Marconi Research Laboratories
  • 1957
    MI5 (under Peter Wright)
  • 1963
    Hunter Engineering (now: Lockheed Martin)
  • 1968
    Founder Alpha Systems (software)
  • 1986
    Independent consultant
  • Technical Director of the Britisch Computer Society (BCS)
  • 1989
    Senior curator at the Science Museum in London
  • 1989
    Co-founder of the Computer Conservation Society (CCS)
  • 1991
    Initiative to save Bletchley Park from demolition
  • 1992
    Co-founder of the Bletchley Park Trust
  • 1992
    Secretary of the Bletchley Park Trust
  • 1993
    Start of Colossus Rebuild Project
  • 1994
    Director of Bletchley Park Museum (unpayed)
  • 1997
    Comdex IT Personality of the Year
  • 2000
    Silver Medial from the Royal Scottish Society of Arts
  • 2001
    Technical advisor for the 2001 film Enigma
  • 2001
    Working replica of Heath Robinson
  • 2007
    Colossus completed and placed at TNMOC
  1. Tony Sale, Codes and Ciphers
    Tony's original website. Retrieved January 2014.

  2. The Telegraph, Tony Sale Obituary
    Rerieved August 2011.

  3. Martin Campbell-Kelly, Tony Sale obituary
    The Guardian, website. Retrieved January 2014.

  4. Peter Wright, Spycatcher
    1987. ISBN 0-440-29504-1. p. 116.

  5. CCS, The Tony Sale Award - for Computer Conservation and Restoration
    Website. Retrieved January 2014.

  6. The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC), official website
    Retrieved January 2014.

  7. Wikipedia, Brian Randell
    Retrieved January 2014.

  8. Brian Randell, B. Melzer & D. Michie, On Alan Turing and the Origins of Digital Computers
    Edinburg University Press. 1972.

  9. Frederick W. Winterbotham, The Ultra Scret
    ISBN 0-297-76832-8. 1974.

  10. Tony Sale, The Colossus Mk2 Rebuild
    Retrieved January 2014.
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Crypto Museum. Created: Thursday 25 August 2011. Last changed: Thursday, 21 January 2021 - 09:29 CET.
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