Friday, 17 August 2012

Thomas Edward Ivall (1926-97), electronic engineer

Thomas Edward Ivall was a great grandson of Robert Thomas Ivall (1812-65), the elder brother of David Ivall (1816-67), my great great grandfather.

On 17 March 1926, Thomas was born in the village of Chalvey near Slough, the only child of Percy Bertram Ivall (1879-1971) and his wife Mary Ann nee Foreman (1891-1970) who had married in 1917. Percy was 46 when Thomas was born and Mary was 34. Thomas grew up at their house, 1 Chalvey Road East, which still exists.

Thomas was fascinated by radio from when he was a boy. He went to Slough Grammar School. In 1939 (aged 13) he sat the entrance exam to the High Wycombe Technical Institute and was one of 20 boys awarded a special place there. At the age of only 17 he was working for the electronics department of the BBC. He was part of a four man team who in 1944 developed the first truly portable disc recorder for use by War Correspondents. It was first used on D-Day and later used extensively during the Liberation of Europe. Tom spent a short time in the RAF at the end of the second world war.

Thomas was a talented writer and wrote a play “Badger’s Bus Service” which was broadcast on BBC radio in 1947.

In 1948 Thomas married Mildred May Hobden in Gourock, Renfrewshire, Scotland. Mildred was related to Lucy Hobden, the mother of Thomas’s father. She had known Thomas when he was a child and met him again when Thomas visited her on a cycling holiday in Scotland. Mildred was awarded a degree in Art from Glasgow University. They lived at 185 Elms Crescent, Clapham, which was their address in 1951 when Mildred had a picture ("Urban Spring") accepted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Thomas and Mildred had two sons. The family moved to 159 Ruskin Park House, Champion Hill, Dulwich in 1956 and then to Staines, Middlesex in 1959.

“Electronic Computers, Principles and Applications” by T.E.Ivall was published in 1956. This was one of the first books to be written about computers. A revised and updated second edition was published in 1960. The preface (written by Thomas) states “This book is an introduction for those who are beginning to take an interest in electronic computers. It is not, therefore, a book for computer experts. Nor is it a text book.” The book was translated into Russian in 1961.

Thomas’s son describes his father as a bit of a loner, who took his responsibilities seriously. He wore a moustache and was always very polite. Thomas was a member of the Labour Party and of CND. He strongly opposed the use of electronics in weaponry.

In October 1959 Thomas was Assistant Editor of the monthly magazine “Wireless World”. He left during the sixties to work on another magazine called “Measurement and Control”. However, when this ceased publication he returned to Wireless World and by April 1971 the Technical Editor was listed as T.E.Ivall M.I.E.R.E. (Member of the Institute of Electronic and Radio Engineers). In June 1973 he became Editor, and continued in this role until January 1982 when he was 55. He left the magazine because the publishers (Illiffe Press) relocated from Blackfriars to Sutton in Surrey. The journey from Staines, where he lived, to Sutton was a difficult one and, having had a heart attack in 1970 aged 44, he decided to take early retirement. He worked from home for a further 12 years doing technical writing.

Thomas died suddenly on 12 October 1997 from a heart attack. He was aged 71. In January 1998 Electronics World (the new name for Wireless World) republished one of his editorials with the comment from Martin Eccles (the editor) that Tom Ivall was “One of the most polite, considerate and intelligent men I have had the pleasure to work with.” His wife, Mildred, passed away in 2012, aged 90.     

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