Heath Robinson →
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 .
In 1954, Peter Wright was recruted by
Military Intellicence, Section 5 (MI5).
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
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 .
When he left MI5 in 1963, Sale held the rank of Principal
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).
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
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 .
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" .
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 .
During his period of absence, Tony decided to build a complete
working replica of the
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 . On these occasions he had to use a rear entrance
near Block H, and was not allowed to enter The Mansion or any
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
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 .
A must see if you visit the museum.
The first news about Colossus was publised in 1972
by Professor Brian Randell  in his paper
On Alan Turing and the Origins of Digital Computers 
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 .
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 .
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
1949Royal Air Force (RAF), Flying Officer and instructor
1952Marconi Research Laboratories
1957MI5 (under Peter Wright)
1963Hunter Engineering (now: Lockheed Martin)
1968Founder Alpha Systems (software)
- Technical Director of the Britisch Computer Society (BCS)
1989Senior curator at the Science Museum in London
1989Co-founder of the Computer Conservation Society (CCS)
1991Initiative to save Bletchley Park from demolition
1992Co-founder of the Bletchley Park Trust
1992Secretary of the Bletchley Park Trust
1993Start of Colossus Rebuild Project
1994Director of Bletchley Park Museum (unpayed)
1997Comdex IT Personality of the Year
2000Silver Medial from the Royal Scottish Society of Arts
2001Technical advisor for the 2001 film Enigma
2001Working replica of Heath Robinson
2007Colossus completed and placed at TNMOC
- Tony Sale, Codes and Ciphers
Tony's original website. Retrieved January 2014.
- The Telegraph, Tony Sale Obituary
Rerieved August 2011.
- Martin Campbell-Kelly, Tony Sale obituary
The Guardian, website. Retrieved January 2014.
- Peter Wright, Spycatcher
1987. ISBN 0-440-29504-1. p. 116.
- CCS, The Tony Sale Award - for Computer Conservation and Restoration
Website. Retrieved January 2014.
- The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC), official website
Retrieved January 2014.
- Wikipedia, Brian Randell
Retrieved January 2014.
- Brian Randell, B. Melzer & D. Michie, On Alan Turing and the Origins of Digital Computers
Edinburg University Press. 1972.
- Frederick W. Winterbotham, The Ultra Scret
ISBN 0-297-76832-8. 1974.
- 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.