The Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Ltd – an early-adopter of computers

One of the Coventry branch members helped a colleague with a new book about the history of “The Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Ltd” (BMMO) which was originally registered in 1904 and began running horse buses in Birmingham and surrounding areas. It became widely known as “Midland Red”, and was probably better known as that name rather than its official company name.

It is known that BMMO/Midland Red was an early-adopter of computers, and took delivery of one in 1959. In one of their “Staff Bulletins” (an internal newspaper) it said “…in the February 1961 issue of this Bulletin, we published a full account of the work of our Computer Installation, accompanied by a “centre-spread” of photographs showing the Computer itself… This installation was originally delivered to our Bearwood offices in October 1959 and following tests and extended trials during the 1959/60 winter, was brought into operational use shortly afterwards.”

Our member was trying to source a copy of the February 1961 article that was referred to, as that would seem to be the only way to identify what the make and model of their first computer was, but the old Staff Bulletins are extremely rare.

This dilemma was posed to the Coventry Branch membership, and the following conversations ensued:

I am sure your member knows about
The Bus Archive – the memory of the bus industry
They might be able to help.

Just quickly looked at the online archive and this might help:
Archive ref 58448
Title Staff Bulletins
Creator Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Co. Ltd.
Date from 1960
Date to 1961
where held Droitwich

I do not have any information regarding the Staff Bulletin document itself, mentioned in the request for the Midland Red computer.
However, it did occur to me that on the Midland Red dot net website it says the computer in question was replaced in 1968 with an ICL 1904 computer.
See: Midland Red depot information
• The first computer owned by Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO—Midland “Red” Motor Services) was installed at Midland House at the end of 1959, and after testing, became operational in 1960 calculating vehicle mileage statistics, and fuel and lubrication usages. By 1964, the payroll and stores records were also computerised and, at the time, this was considered a major achievement for the company.
• In 1968, a new computer centre located between Midland House and the main Carlyle Road site was built. The centre opened in 1969, and housed a new ICL1904 computer and all the necessary equipment and staff.

Is there any mileage in trying to find information about that computer as it may well indicate what computer system it was going to replace ? I see by searching on google, the University of Manchester Library holds at least 418 items about ICL from 1955 to 1989.
See History of Computing Collection: International Computers Ltd (ICL) Collection – Archives Hub (
And subsequent sections: Working Papers and Reports – History of Computing Collection: International Computers Ltd (ICL) Collection – Archives Hub (
Clearly a computer that replaces a previous system will, most likely, be designed with the previous system in mind. In which case a reference to it may well be present. Providing of course the ICL documentation has been retained.

Thank you to everyone who sent suggestions of how I might find more info on the old Midland Red computer.

I managed to track down a copy of the staff bulletin, and with a bit of extra detective work identified it as a PowersSamas PCC. Apparently it was programmed by fixing a set of rivets in a large board – sounds a bit too low-level for me!

Thanks again!

John (to Branch):
Dear All;
Thank you to everybody who contributed to the recent Brainstorm/Metaplan with regards to the Midlands Red computer.

It has been identified as a “Powers-Samas PCC (Programme Controlled Computer)” (Programme was spelled with that ‘me’ on the end in 1954.) Apparently it was programmed by using a patch-board, and had a magnetic drum memory.
Input and output was by punched cards. (Sorry, if you youngsters don’t know what that is … please see an overview on Wikipedia).

In the 1970s when I was doing my first programming, we had punched paper tape, which was worse. At least with the 80-column punched cards the punch machine typed along the top of the card as you punched it, so you could see what was on the card. I used to recognise the punch paper-tape code for ‘*DIAG’ which told the FORTRAN compiler to run the diagnostic syntax analyser, but not the code generator, so we could trap the bugs in our programmes without the local Polytechnic having to load the full complier…

Mid-morning I remembered that PCC was short for Programme Controlled Computer.

Just now I found the following link: Powers-Samas PCC brochure – Promotional Item – Computing History. Note the two ‘m’s in programme 1954.

Fascinating stuff! I started work as a Fortran programmer with Thorn Lighting in Leicester in 1972. I can still remember some of the finger sequences for the hand punch for punch cards. The computer was an ICL 1900 series and the language Fortran IV – also wrote in Plan assembler language. It would be interesting to do a survey of how many machines and languages were used by the branch members in total during those early computing days.

John’s comments on paper tape reminds me that in 1960 we ‘upgraded’ our Pegasus by changing the output from a 5 hole tape punch to an 8 hole punch. The flexowriter printer was also faster than the previous 5 hole one.

I was given the job of changing all the output subroutines to use the new facility.

Yes, but if you drop the box of punched cards you have ask for a sort and they come back without the printing so inserting an edit could be a pain.
With paper tape, I learned to read at dictation speed and you could splice in edits, but chads could be a pain. OK if it was one as the parity check spotted it, but I once had to completely re-write a report because of a double chad. Thank goodness they are history.

…of course if you do a web search for ‘Powers-Samas PCC’ (now we know what it was) there are quite a few resources, including images.

Thank you to everyone who contributed … I thought it would be worth recording the discussion for posterity…a sort of 2022 time capsule. Will the BCS Webmaster in 2082 come across this and be filled with wonder – wondering how we managed to programme such primitve hardware without a speach interface (or will it be DMA by then???)

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