Brian Randell

Brian Randell (born 1936) is a British computer scientist, and Emeritus Professor at the School of Computing, Newcastle University, UK. He specialises in research into software fault tolerance and dependability, and is a noted authority on the early pre-1950 history of computers.

Brian Randell
Alma materImperial College London
Scientific career
FieldsComputer science
InstitutionsNewcastle University
Notable studentsRoy H. Campbell, Eike Best, Luigi Mancini


Randell was employed at English Electric from 1957 to 1964 where he was working on compilers. His work on Algol 60 is particularly well known, including the development of the compiler for the English Electric KDF9, an early stack machine.[1] In 1964 he joined IBM, where he worked at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center on high performance computer architectures and also on operating system design methodology. In May 1969 he became a Professor of Computing Science at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has been working ever since in the area of software fault tolerance and dependability.

He is a member of the Special Interest Group on Computers, Information and Society (SIGCIS) of the Society for the History of Technology CIS, and a founding member of the Editorial Board of the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing journal. He was also a founding member of IFIP WG2.3 Programming Methodology, and is a founding member of IFIP WG10.4 about Dependability and Fault Tolerance. He is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (2008).

He is married (to Liz, a teacher of French) and has four children[2]


Brian Randell's main research interests are in the field of computer science, specifically on system dependability and fault tolerance. His interest in the history of computing was started by coming across the then almost unknown work of Percy Ludgate. This was over thirty years ago, when he was preparing an inaugural lecture, and led to his producing the book: "The Origins of Computers". This triggered his further investigation of the Colossus wartime code-breaking machines.[1]

Bletchley Park

In 1972, Randell wrote to Prime Minister Ted Heath regarding the wartime status of Bletchley Park, and obtained the first-ever admission of the existence of the war-time organisation, let alone its impact. [3][4][5] Subsequently, the role of Bletchley Park and its main outstation at Eastcote, in reducing the length of the Second World War, has been widely acknowledged as well as the pioneering role of Colossus in the history of the development of computing.

Software engineering

In the 1960s Randell was "involved in the original NATO Software Engineering Conferences" in 1968 on Software engineering, at the time he was working at IBM in the very secret Project Y and then ACS super-computer projects.

Software fault tolerance

Beginning in the 1970s, Randell "set up the project that initiated research into the possibility of software fault tolerance, and introduced the "recovery block" concept. Subsequent major developments included the Newcastle Connection,[6][7] and the prototype distributed Secure System".[8]

Northern Informatics Applications Agency

In the 1990s Randell "became involved in a project to improve data networking provisions in the North of England, and to promote their effective use by all sectors of the community. This project resulted in the setting up of NiAA, the Northern Informatics Applications Agency". He wrote: "I served for several years as a member of NiAA's Management Group, until my attempts to delegate this to others bore fruit! NiAA existed, and worked to good effect, for seven years."[9]

Work in Genealogy

Brian Randell has for many years been one of the leading members of the team of volunteers responsible for GENUKI, the web portal for Genealogy in the United Kingdom and Ireland. He maintains the pages relating to the county of Devon, and has transcribed and made available online many documents of genealogical interest.

See also


Randell published several articles and books. A selection:[10]

  • 1964. Algol 60 Implementation. With L. J. Russell, Academic Press, London.
  • 1973. The Origins of Digital Computers: Selected Papers. Ed. Springer-Verlag.


  • 1971. "Ludgate's Analytical Machine of 1909", Computer J., 14 (3), pp. 317–26.
  • 1972. "On Alan Turing and the Origins of Digital Computers", in Machine Intelligence 7 (B. Meltzer and D. Michie, Eds.), pp. 3–20, Edinburgh Univ. Press.
  • 1979. "Software Engineering in 1968", in Proc. of the 4th Int. Conf. on Software Engineering, (Munich), pp. 1–10.
  • 1982. "From Analytical Engine to Electronic Digital Computer: The Contributions of Ludgate, Torres and Bush", Annals of the History of Computing, 4 (4), pp. 327–41, October.
  • 1998. "Memories of the NATO Software Engineering Conferences". IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 20 (1), pp. 51–54.


  1. SIGCIS profiles Archived 14 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine, last updated 2007. Retrieved 17 October 2008.
  2. Professor Randell's page at the University of Newcastle/
  3. Professor Brian Randell. "Uncovering Colussus".
  4. Professor Brian Randell. "The Computer Pioneers".
  5. Professor Brian Randell. "The Computer Pioneers".
  6. Brownbridge, David R.; Marshall, Lindsay F.; Randell, Brian (1982). "The Newcastle Connection" (PDF). Software – Practice and Experience. 12: 1147–1162. doi:10.1002/spe.4380121206. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 August 2016. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  7. Callaghan, Brent (2000). NFS Illustrated. Addison Wesley. ISBN 0-201-32570-5.
  8. Brian Randell at School of Computing Science. Last updated March 2008. Retrieved 17 October 2008.
  9. Northern Informatics Applications Agency. Brian Randell, last updated 11 April 2003.
  10. Brian Randell Publications.
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