RICHARD ZOBEL aged 81
Richard was born in Lewisham, the son of Norman and Joan. His father was a car mechanic, and his mother was a dressmaker.
During the Second World War, the toddler Richard was lucky to escape with his life when a water tank fell through the ceiling and onto his bed during the Blitz.
He won a scholarship to grammar school and graduated from London University with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1963. He had been sponsored on his ‘sandwich’ course by the American company Sperry Gyroscope, who had a UK base in Bracknell.
He worked for Sperry’s on military flight simulators. The valve analogue computers they worked on became so hot that they could only operate them during the night.
He then built his reputation by recommending improvements to DEWS (distant early warning systems), which could predict tsunamis in the Indian ocean.
He met Lesley Winks at Peggy Spencer’s ballroom dancehall in Penge, and they were married in 1964.
They had three children, Clare, Tim and Colin – the last of whom was born in Manchester.
Which was where Richard was offered a lecturing job at the university in 1966.
He was put in charge of the new Manchester University Computer Science department, a job he kept for four decades. He was at the forefront of the information technology revolution.
There, he was part of the team that created ‘Baby’, the world’s first stored-program computer.
As well as working at the university, he would spend hours at home inventing new things or trying to improve previous inventions. His children said the soldering iron was a permanent fixture on the kitchen table.
On Christmas Eve 1977, the ‘dongle’ mysteriously disappeared from the bathroom light, only to reappear on Christmas Day as a joystick on a newly invented games console.
In 1980, he invented ‘electronic mail’ – which Richard nicknamed “e-mail”.
He also created prototypes of computer games.
Outside of work he became an entertainer. He was part of the ‘Nice ‘n’ Easy Trio’, which played cabarets, dances, weddings and other socials. They wore green satin suits with frilly shirts and covered the likes of The Beatles, Glen Campbell and Showadywady. Richard played the accordion (called Nellie) and sung the lowest notes of the three-man harmony.
He loved gardening and specialised in plants that were difficult to grow. His favourite plant was the canna lily – which terrified his children after a TV viewing of ‘The Day of the Triffids’.
In the late 1980s, Lesley and Richard divorced.
He then met Margaret Graham, who became his constant companion.
They travelled constantly, particularly to Brittany, which they loved.
But then Richard was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
He moved into a care home in 2016, where he was a much-loved member of the community. When he died, the staff said they would miss his regular swearing.
Margaret died just 10 days after him – and his son Tim, just before him.
RIP – Radical Inventions Pioneer