June 1966: 'Welcome, you wonderful, unnatural toy, to this august society’s employ!'

Paul Nichols
  • By Paul Nichols
  • 5 May 2014
  • min read
Welcome, you wonderful, unnatural toy, to this august society’s employ!


On 1 June 1966, Sir Alan Herbert, PRS’s vice-president, celebrated the arrival of the society’s first ever computer with a musical flourish:
Welcome, you wonderful, unnatural toy,

To this august society’s employ!

Without your like, it seems, this age can’t act:

No bank can add – though they can still subtract.

Our minds are still as mighty, rather more,

But everything’s more muddled than before,

And we present our lives to a machine

Simply to ask it what they hell they mean.

Yet, lest conceit exceed its proper span,

Always remember you were made by man.

Sir Alan delivered his ode in front of BBC television cameras and microphones. It was quickly followed by a witty riposte from the machine itself: paper tape began to pour out, tapes revolved and perforated ‘punch cards’ were swallowed whole. Seconds later the computer’s comeback appeared on the print tray (composer and veteran member Vivian Ellis had penned the verse).

The whole ceremony was aired on two BBC news programmes that night and the next morning’s Today radio show. But that wasn’t the end of it. The ICT 1902 model computer went on to transform the way the society processed performance data and it paved the way for a brand new Computer Department at Copyright House, Berners Street. The machine stayed faithful to the society until the mid-eighties when it was decommissioned to make room for a larger, faster system.

Find out more about all our centenary celebrations: