DFA Staff Pick: The Modern Computer (1964)

DFA Staff Pick: The Modern Computer (1964)

Date: 07/01/2022 00:00

Many people will be starting this year with shiny new laptops, phones, or tablets. In January 1964, International Computers and Tabulators (ICT) in Castlereagh were also showing off their state-of-the-art technology in this UTV archive clip.


Jimmy Greene, complete with cigarette in hand, reports on ICT’s orders for two computers at £130,00 total, almost £2.7 million in today’s money! He explains the three parts to the “small” computer taking up the whole frame behind him. It is a reminder of how far computer technology has come, from the computers of the 50s and 60s which filled entire rooms, to the phone that fits in your pocket, or the smartwatch on your wrist.

How did these computers work?

At the beginning of the clip a staff member feeds punched cards into the input/output section of the computer.

Punched cards were exactly as they sound, paper cards with holes punched either by machine or by hand, and they were the main means of inputting data into early computers. Early computer programmers would hand-write a program and then convert this into a stack of punched cards. These cards were fed into a reader and the sequence of punched holes was translated into digital information.

If a programmer made a mistake, this usually meant re-punching an entire card.

Used Punchcard (5151286161) 

An example of one punched card.

Women in computing

It is not surprising that a woman is seen working with these punched cards in the clip. In the 1960s, women were heavily involved in the world of computing and often worked in roles such as computer operators, programmers, systems administrators, and systems analysts. In fact, women’s involvement in computer technology can be traced back to the codebreaking computers of the Second World War.

However, towards the end of the 1960s, the perception of the importance of computers was beginning to change and, as a result, women were no longer seen as appropriate for this type of work. By the late 1970s women had largely vanished from the field, leaving a gender gap in computer science and other STEM subjects which persists to this day.

It's hard to miss the irony in watching a clip about a computer the size on a room on a computer in the palm of your hand. Whichever device you are using to watch this video, you are using it to watch its own ancestor at work, and it's clips like these that show the skill and talent that had to come before to allow us to have the technology we enjoy today.

Browse the rest of the Digital Film Archive here.