My former colleague and friend Peter Bird has died aged 82. Today computers are ubiquitous and have transformed many aspects of business administration and how we live our daily lives. But the so-called information age ushered in by computing and communications technology dates only from the middle of the last century.
Peter, who had worked with J Lyons Co, the food company famed for its teashops, and the unlikely pioneer of the use of computers in business from the 1950s, chronicled the Lyons initiative in his groundbreaking book LEO: The First Business Computer (1994), and later the story of J Lyons itself in The First Food Empire: A History of J Lyons Co (2000). Both books were meticulously researched and compiled, with original photos from the respective eras.
Peter worked at J Lyons Co between 1964 and 1991, starting as a computer operator on the LEO III computer and eventually rising to company director of Lyons Computer Services. In the late 1980s he began his research into the origins of why and how the company decided to embark on building a computer. This initial interest led to writing these two important books.
It also led to him becoming an expert on all J Lyons Co-related history and trivia and he was often asked by TV companies to provide information and artefacts. The most notable event in this context was Peter’s appearance in 2006 on Nigella Lawson’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, her great-great-grandfather having been a founding director of the Lyons company.
Peter was born in north London, the second son of Jack Bird, a solicitors’ clerk, and his wife, Eileen (nee Darnell). Bombed out of their home in 1940, the family were evacuated many times. After the war Peter joined the merchant navy, rising to first officer. He left in the early 60s and started work at Lyons. In 1965 he married Sylvia (nee Hasler).
A generous and knowledgable man, he was honoured this year by the LEO Computer Society when they dedicated their LEO Remembered book, a series of recollections by early computer pioneers, to him.
Sylvia died in 2011, and Peter is survived by their son, Philip, and two grandsons, Alexander and Jake.