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Jim Bethell - Principal Programmer, Systems Design

Jim Bethell worked for the company for 13 years. He was a shy, diffident person with a passion for programming and systems design. His work was admired and respected by everyone familiar with it. He had the gifts of both being able to resolve complex design issues and of providing elegant outcomes. He could be an outstanding trouble-shooter one moment and a creative designer the next. He was a legend and yet he remained an unfussed, non-egotistical team-worker.

Jim was responsible for a huge number of systems and features over the years including the interface of the TV to systems software in 1979 to create the first online shopping system. His interface was seamless. Any function possible on the terminals was available on the TV. The system could even be run in supervisory mode from the TV. The only difference was that the TV had full colour and could receive terrestrial broadcasts. Another piece of software enabled the TV to look like an IBM 3270 mode terminal. The 1980 Redifon 1800/50 also had handprint terminals and voice response. Later the systems became ‘Telecentres’ controlling different kinds of terminals rather like modern-day servers.

When asked about his work he once said: “I would like to think that the end-user sitting at a terminal using my system is thinking ‘This is a nice piece of work. Someone was thinking about me’ and I would like to think of someone looking at my code years down the line and thinking ‘This is really neat.’

Jim Bethell died in late 1989. His systems were in use until 2006. He was the best programmer I ever knew.

Michael Aldrich
August 2010



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