Bill Broderick, the man who brought the first school computer to Havering, dies

Former Royal Liberty teacher Bill Broderick

Bill Broderick in 1993. He led the way in bringing computers into schools. - Credit: Broderick family

One of Havering's most innovative teachers has died, aged 80.

Bill Broderick, a former maths master at the Royal Liberty School, Upper Brentwood Road, Gidea Park, died on December 29.

Appointed at the age of 21 in 1962, Bill was an enthusiast for a precious new machine – the computer.

He believed that there was a place for computers in schools – after all, as a Royal Liberty fundraising appeal predicted, by 1970 maybe as many as 100,000 people would be using computers in the UK!

Backed by Royal Liberty headteacher John Coles, Bill raised a massive £17,000, much of it from local industry,. 

The school bought an Elliott 903 – the machine also used by NASA to launch spacecraft.

The computer was installed in July 1966. The size of a fridge-freezer, it occupied a former cloakroom.

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Royal Liberty became the first school in Britain – state or private –  to have its own computer. Journalists descended on Gidea Park and the BBC sent a film crew.

Colin Hardy, the borough’s former director of education and community services, said: “Bill Broderick was an educationalist ahead of his time.”

He continued: “He soon convinced those in power to install the first ever main-frame computer in a school in England with pupils there the first to experience the scope and potential of the computer. From there he quickly became the first Local Education Authority adviser for computer education and manager of the first LEA Education Computer Centre to the benefit of young people in Havering.

“Bill Broderick’s role was to create confidence along with capacity for teachers to exploit this new potential. Havering LEA became the forefront of computer education both in primary and secondary schools, achieving national eminence.”

The machine operated by churning out yards of punched tape.
The new teaching aid was very popular. “We had people queueing out the door,” Bill told the Recorder in 2011.

Havering Council had helped fund the project, and pupils from other Havering schools were invited to use the facilities.
Bill persuaded London University to establish an A-level in computing. Royal Liberty students were among the first to pass the exam in 1967.

The Elliott 903 was later relocated to Havering College's Harold Hill campus. 

Mr Hardy said: “More young people than will ever understand or appreciate have benefited from Bill’s enthusiasm, his ability to create confidence in teachers, and his vision to exploit a mainframe computer for educational use when then accepted wisdom was that computers were for industrial use only.”

Bill eventually retired to Suffolk. Complications caused by Covid-19 contributed to his death at Bury St Edmunds hospital.