Obituary of Dai Edwards

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My colleague, Dai Edwards, who died at the age of 92, was one of a small group of engineers who built the first commercially accessible computer in the world. Subsequently, he was interested in the development of other high-performance computers, each arising from fruitful cooperation between academia and industry. David Beverley George Edwards was born in Tonteg, South Wales, known to colleagues as Dai. He was Cecilia’s (née George) and William Edwards’ only child, both of whom were teachers.

Dai attended Pontypridd Boys’ Middle School and left to study physics at Manchester University on a government scholarship in 1945. After graduation, in September 1948, he joined the electrical engineering group of Professor FC (Freddie) Williams. Dai was one of three students working with Williams, Tom Kilburn and Geoff Tootill to enhance the capabilities of a small computer known as Baby, which was running a program on June 21, 1948 for the first time.

By April 1949, this team had developed the Manchester Mark I, which was used to research mathematical problems by Alan Turing and others.

The special duty of Dai was to create for this machine a new set of fast modifier registers. In 1949, to manufacture a full-scale production version of the university’s machine, the government contracted with a local company, Ferranti. The Ferranti Mark I machine, which was first shipped on 12 February 1951, was the result.

Dai was instrumental in the transition of technology from university to industry and developed prototypes of high-performance computers required for scientific applications during the Cold War, as a member of the Kilburn Research Community. Dai became a consultant to Ferranti in 1950 and remained in that role for the next 22 years, most recently with Ferranti’s successors, ICT and ICL. The Ferranti Mercury Computer and the Ferranti Atlas Computer, both derived from prototypes at the university, were developed during this period.

Among Dai’s many patents, he was the co-inventor of the Atlas Virtual Memory Device with Kilburn and Frank Sumner. The University of Manchester accepted its first students in computer science in 1965.

For this course, Dai took care of setting up the laboratories.

He was named professor of computer engineering in 1966, a position funded by ICL in recognition of the company’s many successful partnerships with the university. In 1988, he retired. Dai married Betty Duckworth, a teacher, in 1953, and they had three kids.

In 1977, Betty died of cancer. He married Jane Ellis two years later, a physician, and they had three children, too.

Jane and her children, Ann, Huw, Keith, Helen, Carol and Joy, eight grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren survive Dai.

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