Christopher Strachey

The first computer wizard

With father a cryptographer, mother a suffragist, Christopher Strachey was a school teacher when he first started ‘playing’ with computers in the early 1950s having been given the chance to use first the National Physical Laboratories’ ACE computer and then the Manchester Mark 1: two of the earliest working computers in the world. The range of things he achieved is amazing. He probably created the first computer game, the first recorded computer music, the first “creative” program and that was just when he was playing. He became an early computer consultant and later led the Oxford University Programming Research Group. He invented the idea of time-sharing computers, develop the CPL language (the ancestor of C and so many modern programming languages, so has had a powerful effect on all subsequent programming language design. Perhaps most notably, with Dana Scott he pioneered the idea of using maths to describe the meaning of programming languages, called denotational semantics. Oh, and he was famously a wizard debugger too.

He achieved all of this despite poor performance at school and university when younger, and despite suffering a nervous breakdown when at university that interrupted his studies. It has been suggested that the breakdown might have been due to him coming to terms with the fact that he was homosexual: homosexuality was illegal at the time in the UK.


The algorithm that could not speak its name

The first program that was actually creative was probably written by Christopher Strachey, in 1952. It wrote love letters…possibly gay ones… (read on).

The secret of being a Wizard Debugger

Target on bug in code

Elite computer programmers are often called wizards, and one of the first wizards was Christopher Strachey, He gained a reputation as being a “perfect” programmer and an amazing debugger. So what was his secret?… (read on).

The first recorded computer music

The first recorded music by a computer program was the result of a flamboyant flourish added on the end of a program that played draughts in the early 1950s. Written by Strachey, it played God Save the King… (read on).

Find our activities and resources based on Strachey’s Love Letter Writing program on Teaching London Computing.

More to come …

This page was funded by UKRI, through grant EP/W033615/1.