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Friday, 31 December, 1999, 01:16 GMT
Computer pioneers given UK honours

The first truly programmable computer, Edsac The first truly programmable computer, Edsac


Alan Sugar, the man who founded Amstrad some 30 years ago and now runs Tottenham Hotspur football club, has been knighted.

So too has Maurice Wilkes, who developed the world's first practical stored-program computer in 1949.

"I'm tickled pink by the news," said Mr Sugar, whose company launched the world's first mass-market word processor built with low-cost components from the Far East.


Alan Sugar: Working class background Alan Sugar: Working class background
At the height of its success, Amstrad was worth 1.5bn on the FTSE-100 index. Mr Sugar eventually broke Amstrad up, spinning off Viglen Technology, its personal computer business, of which he is now chairman.

He said the knighthood was "a wonderful sign of the times that a man that started his life in an ordinary working class background should, through hard work and application, be honoured by his country".

Maurice Wilkes led the Cambridge University team that developed the Edsac - Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator. It was a huge contraption that could carry out just 650 instructions per second. Nevertheless, it went down in history as the first truly programmable computer.


Maurice Wilkes with Edsac Maurice Wilkes with Edsac
Earlier in 1999, Professor Wilkes was reunited with his colleagues for a 50th anniversary party.

Tony Hoare, professor of computing at Oxford University, also gets a knighthood. He is regarded as one of the fathers of modern computer science, having made fundamental contributions to the definition and design of programming languages.

And there is also an OBE for Professor Bob Hopgood from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. Professor Hopgood is another veteran of UK computer science having worked in the field since the 1960s. His main interest is in computer graphics, where he has played an important role in helping to devise standards.

Other figures from the fields of science and technology to be honoured include:

Wally Herbert gets a knighthood. He was the first man to reach the North Pole on foot in 1969. He made the journey with two others. Prime Minister Harold Wilson hailed the 6,100-km (3,800-mile) journey from Alaska to Spitzbergen as a "feat of endurance and courage which ranks with any in polar history". The Prince of Wales said he should be stuffed and put on display because of his achievement and "determination and courage".

The Hon Miriam Rothschild becomes a dame. She is one of the most celebrated female scientists in the UK this century. The scope of her work has been extraordinary. Her name appears on some 350 papers about entomology, neurophysiology, chemistry and zoology. But this does not even begin to describe the woman who also worked with Alan Turing during the war on the top secret project to decode German communications.

Professor Andrew Wiles is knighted. The Princeton mathematician found fame in October 1994 when he succeeded in proving Fermat's Last Theorem. This was an amazing achievement that had eluded some of the greatest minds since Pierre Fermat conjured up his theory in the 1630s. His work has received every major honour and he had the pleasure in 1999 of seeing some of his former pupils crack another of mathematics' great puzzles: The Shimura-Taniyama-Weil conjecture.

Dr Joe Farman, who led the British Antarctic Survey team that discovered the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, gets a CBE.

Sir Jonathon Porritt gets a CBE. He made his name as director of the green lobby group Friends of the Earth - a post he held between 1984 and 1990. Since then he has worked as a journalist, broadcaster and policy adviser. He has been closely associated with the Prince of Wales, who has been at the forefront of the campaign against genetically-modified (GM) crops.


Susan Greenfield: An expert on the brain Susan Greenfield: An expert on the brain
Professor Susan Greenfield is honoured for her work in promoting the public understanding of science. She gets a CBE. The Oxford professor is currently the director of the Royal Institution, the first woman in the RI's 200-year history to hold the prestigious post.

Professor Christopher Leaver, plant scientist and loud proponent of GM crops, is honoured with a CBE.

Professor Malcolm Longair, former president of the Royal Astronomical Society, becomes an OBE.

Professor Janet Bainbridge, chair of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, also becomes an OBE. Her committee has enormous influence over the "new" foods that we will soon be eating.

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See also:
23 Sep 99 |  The Company File
Digital TV helps Amstrad recovery
15 Apr 99 |  Sci/Tech
Pioneers recall computer creation
22 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
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19 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
Mathematicians crack big puzzle

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