The Institution of Analysts and Programmers was initially established as the University Computer Association in Cambridge in 1972 by a group of computer enthusiasts, including the late Bob Charles. Its influence grew rapidy and within a decade had adopted a wider remit, changing its name to The Institution of Analysts and Programmers in 1981.  Bob Charles was appointed its Secretary General and successfully led the Institution until his untimely death in 1992.

Bob Charles

Bob Charles was born in 1923. He graduated from London University in 1944 and was immediately called up to serve in the RAF in the latter stages of World War II. It was not until 1947, by this time a Flight Lieutenant, that he could return to civilian life. Bob took a job with Rotol (later to become defence contractor Dowty) as an aeronautical stressman. It was so cold that he travelled to work on ice skates.

Accurate stress calculation is particularly important in the aircraft industry. Each part needs to be kept as light as possible, but you don’t want it to break! In those days, long before the PC or even the hand calculator, stressing was a tremendously labour intensive task, needing armies of very smart people with very sharp pencils. In 1959 Bob and a colleague, Tommy Turner, decided to set up as stress analysis consultants, forming Turner Charles Limited with a capital of £170. By 1970 TC was the leading European company in its field.

It is not difficult to see what motivated Bob to set up the Institution of Analysts and Programmers, and those who didn’t know him might think this would be the crowning achievement of his career. But they would be failing to appreciate the prodigious talent and output of a man once described as “Bob Charles: engineer, entrepreneur, inventor, boxer, stallholder, RAF officer, labourer, chef, sea captain, racing driver….”

Like most of Bob’s schemes, “Share Pools” was ahead of its time. A kind of poor man’s version of the derivatives market, it merely served to upset the London Stock Exchange and Littlewoods Pools. Similarly his plan to make artificial limbs that worked better and cost less was stifled by vested interests, this time in the NHS.

Problems of a different kind thwarted his plan for a freight aircraft, larger than a jumbo jet that could carry a huge payload, yet take off at only 50 mph. It relied on a revolutionary airframe with wings at all four corners. Whether Boeing was worried is not recorded. Bob got as far as buying the factory, but flying the scale model proved beyond the capability of the unaided human brain. After a few expensive crashes the project was shelved. No doubt 30 years later there is software that could have solved the problem.

Bob worked too hard, bringing on the diabetes that eventually killed him at the relatively young age of 66. What money he made he mostly spent, pursuing his various schemes or helping his friends. He lost money when Rolls Royce went broke, but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for their cars. Envious of the future-DG’s ancient Shadow, he bought an even more splendid long wheelbase model, registered RC 9410. To most people a random number perhaps, but to a mathematician it was “all the squares”. Bob often drove it wearing a chauffeur’s cap. Apparently it made him invisible to the police.