George E. Felton

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George E. Felton
George.E.Felton BW.jpg
Born(1921-02-03)3 February 1921
Paris, France
Died14 June 2019
(aged 98)
Alma materMagdalene College, Cambridge
EmployerElliott Brothers, Ferranti, ICT, ICL
Known forFerranti Pegasus and Orion system software, the GEORGE Operating System
Spouse(s)Ruth A. R. Felton (nee Holt)
RelativesPaul Grice

George Eric Felton (3 February 1921 – 14 June 2019) was a British computer scientist. He undertook pioneering work in the field of operating systems and programming software and is the father of the GEORGE Operating System. He held the world record for the computation of π.

Early life, education, and military service[edit]

George Felton was born in Paris in 1921 to English parents - his mother, Muriel Felton, worked at Bletchley Park during the war.[1] He was brought up in Paris and Menton but moved to England following the early death of his father. Felton attended Bedford School and Magdalene College, Cambridge where he read the Mathematical Tripos. His university studies were interrupted by World War II during which Felton joined the RAF with a commission. Exploiting his interest in electronics he served as a Radar engineer and instructor. He was demobilised and returned to Cambridge in 1946. At Cambridge he met his wife Ruth Felton at meetings of The Round Country Dance society.

After commencing research in theoretical physics he switched his attention to Numerical Analysis and Programming, spurred on by his close contact with the construction of the EDSAC prototype computer in the Mathematical Laboratory, under Maurice Wilkes.


In 1951 Felton joined Elliott Brothers in Borehamwood where he designed the programming systems and wrote software for the Nicholas and Elliott 402 computers. From mid-1954 at Ferranti's London Computer Centre Felton led the team developing innovative and comprehensive operating system and programming software for the Ferranti Pegasus and Orion computers. Hugh McGregor Ross records[2] that "George Felton tells how, when Pegasus was new, he would borrow a front door key on Friday evenings so he could get in during the weekends. Then, alone in the building, he would start up the computer to sum a series to calculate the value of π to a then record 10,024 decimal places. This was a good test of the reliability of Pegasus". His computations of π were records in their day 1957. [a] The team at Ferranti included [4] Bill Elliott, Conway Berners-Lee, Christopher Strachey, Charles Owen, Hugh Devonald, Henry Goodman and Derek Milledge.[5]

The business computing division of Ferranti was merged with International Computers and Tabulators (ICT) in 1963, and ICT was in turn merged with English Electric Leo Marconi (EELM) computers in 1968 to form International Computers Limited (ICL). Following the mergers Felton ran the division responsible for the operating system and basic software for the 1900 Series. The new system was named George, [b] was based on ideas from the Orion and the spooling system of the Atlas computer.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Felton was also a notable photographer. He was a member of the Royal Photographic Society and had regular acceptances in its International Print Exhibition. Examples of his work can be found online at the London Salon of Photography[7] and at Arena Photographers.[8]

He married Ruth A. R. Holt in Cambridge, 1951, and they had 4 sons. One of their sons, Matthew Felton, moved to the United States and became one of the designers of the Microsoft Windows NT operating system.[9] Another son, Eric Felton, worked at ICL on CASE (Computer-Aided Software Engineering) tools.[10]

Felton died in June 2019 at the age of 98.[11]

Titles, honours, and awards[edit]


  1. ^ This published result is correct to only 7480D, as was established by Felton in a second calculation, using formula (5), completed in 1958 but apparently unpublished.[3] For a detailed account of calculations of π see J. W. Wrench, Jr., "The evolution of extended decimal approximations to π," The Mathematics Teacher, v. 53, 1960, pp. 644–650
  2. ^ In "Another ICL Anthology" George Felton explains the origin of the name as follows:
    "About January 1965, there was a meeting in my office, while I was away abroad, discussing different ways of allotting functions between the proposed operating system and Executive. Scheme A was discussed and rejected. Scheme B ditto. And Schemes C, D, E and F were also discarded in quick succession. When Scheme G came up, everybody was happy, and it was decided to adopt it. The "GEneral ORGanisational Environment' was also quickly formulated as the official expansion of the acronym. But the name 'GEORGE' was in any case a natural choice: it had echoes of aircraft autopilots; it was a bit of fun; and I certainly wasn't going to object".


  1. ^ Bletchley Park Roll of Honour
  2. ^ Ross, Hugh McGregor (Summer 2001), "Ferranti's London Computer Centre", Resurrection: the Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society (25), ISSN 0958-7403, retrieved 5 June 2009
  3. ^ G. E. Felton, "Electronic computers and mathematicians," Abbreviated Proceedings of the Oxford Mathematical Conference for Schoolteachers and Industrialists at Trinity College, Oxford, April 8–18, 1957, pp. 12–17, footnote pp. 12–53
  4. ^ Simon Lavington, The Pegasus Story: A history of a vintage British computer, Science Museum, 2000.
  5. ^ Felton, George (Summer 2001), "Obituary: Derek Milledge", Resurrection: the Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society (25), ISSN 0958-7403, retrieved 5 June 2009
  6. ^ Goodman, H. P. (1 January 2004). "George Operating Systems for the ICL 1900 Series Computer Range". Archived from the original on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  7. ^ "London Salon of Photographers: George Felton".
  8. ^ "Arena Photographers: George Felton".
  9. ^ G. Pascal Zachary. Showstopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft.
  10. ^ Biography of Eric Felton in ICL Technical Journal, May 1992, page 38, available online at
  11. ^ Martin Campbell-Kelly "George Felton obituary", The Guardian

External links[edit]