Sir Maurice Wilkes, widely regarded as a "father of British computing" and the first president of the British Computer Society, died this week aged 97.

Sir Maurice was an acclaimed computer scientist credited with several major developments in computing, including the world's first usable stored-program computer, the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC).

This machine was switched on in May 1949 under the leadership of Sir Maurice who ran the EDSAC project at Cambridge University.

In 1951, he was responsible for the development of microprogramming as adaptable software to control a computer instead of less flexible fixed circuitry, which became a standard approach across the industry.

Many other important developments followed in the ensuing years, including his first paper on cache memories and a book on time-sharing.

Sir Maurice was a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. He was a Foreign Associate of both the US National Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Engineering.

He was awarded many accolades including the Turing Award (1967), the Faraday Medal from the Institution of Electrical Engineers in London (1981), the Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology (1992), and the IEEE Computer Society 60th Anniversary award for seminal contributions to the discipline of computing (2007). He was knighted in 2000.

He was one of the founder members of the BCS, which brought together all the UK groups interested in bridging the gap between computer engineering and the techniques of computer use.

David Clarke, the current chief executive at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said: “Sir Maurice Wilkes was responsible for some of the most fundamental and important computer science and engineering contributions over the past century. He was a visionary - his contributions have been immense and long lasting.

"He will be greatly missed by all who knew him."

Photo: Copyright Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge. Reproduced by permission. 

Picture shows Sir Maurice inspecting the mercury delay line of the EDSAC