David Caminer

David Tresman Caminer
David Tresman Caminer – Photo Courtesy of Hilary Caminer

David Tresman Caminer (26 June 1915 – 19 June 2008) was a British systems engineer, an early designer of computer software, one of the minds behind the world’s first business computer LEO I and the subsequent other LEO II and LEO III Computer series.

Lyons Electronic Office – LEO  Computer Series was developed by J Lyons & Co. a British manufacturer and hotel chain, started investing in the computer field in the late 1940s. The System Research Office managers at Lyons were constantly looking for new pieces of equipment or new processes for administration and management: they foresaw computers were the new cutting-edge technology that could have helped Lyons to improve business and company efficiency. As there was no commercial machine available to match Lyons requirements, the only solution was to build one.

Caminer joined Lyons as a management trainee in 1936, at the age of 21. During World War II he served with the Green Howards, losing a leg at the Battle of Mareth in the Tunisian desert in March 1943. In 1944, he rejoined the Lyons: after the end of the war the board was taking an interest in the early computers. In the meantime Caminer  was promoted to manager of the Lyons Systems Research Office and when the company started to build the first machine, LEO I, he was put in charge of the whole programming side.
Lyons established LEO Computers Ltd in 1954, with the aim of manufacturing computers to sell to other businesses. For a few years in the late 1950s Leo Computers became one of the leading computer firms in Britain. David Caminer was appointed Director of LEO Computers Ltd in 1959. However, the company was unable to compete with other companies such as IBM and Lyons was unable to invest enough in its computer subsidiary: LEO computers eventually merged with English Electric Company as English Electric LEO Marconi (EELM) and Caminer was appointed General Sales Manager. This was one of a series of such mergers in the British computer industry, culminating in the birth of ICL. David Caminer ended his ICL career in the field, directing the implementation of a computer communications network for the European Commission in Luxembourg, where he lived for nearly three years in the late 1970s. This last work was recognised with the award of an OBE.

In retirement Caminer wrote extensively on the history of the LEO computer, co-editing User-Driven Innovation, a book chronicling the history of the LEO venture and including reminescences from LEO employees, published in 1996.

In 2006 David Caminer was awarded an honorary doctorate by Middlesex University for his contribution to business computer applications.
Research on the History of LEO Computers at Middlesex University has been generously funded by the Association for Information Technology (AIT) Trust through the Master and the PhD Scholarships.