I was raised in an itinerant RAF family, and was educated at Newmarket GS, Queen’s School Rheindahlen, and John Mason High School in Abingdon. From there I went to Lincoln College, Oxford University and got an honours degree in English Language and Literature.
In my first proper job I became a project leader for a mining finance company, and was tasked with bringing in the company’s first computer system. In the end it was two computers: a PDP 11/34 running Word 11 to automate the typing pool; and the UK’s first installed VAX 11/780 to operate a transaction processing purchasing system.
And that was it. I got sucked into the world of computers, evaluating them, writing about them and forever wondering what they would be capable of tomorrow. As a freelance writer I was paid to find out.
This was back in the days before Microsoft. I used an M3 microcomputer running CP/M. It was state of the art with two 7-inch floppy disk drives, one for the operating system and the other for the application (my trusty and much loved WordStar, faster then than Word today, and who cared if it wasn’t WYSIWYG?); and a Diablo metal-wheeled Daisy Printer. They were the pioneering days of desktop publishing: typesetting without seeing what it would look like, receiving back galleys and praying they weren’t full of errors; physically cutting, and pasting with the smell of hot wax late into the night to meet the morrow’s deadline.
This was when my partner, Kate, joined me. For more then a decade until 1990 we worked together as Townsend & Taphouse. In one of her early reviews, a few years before the Web dawned, she reviewed a revolutionary hypertext word processor. “This,” she concluded, “is the future of computing.” It was published, but not without the editor commenting, “No, it will never happen.” Kate also provided the artistic side of the partnership (sample work here), illustrating our articles and books, and providing a series of cartoons to Computer Weekly.
Together, our early work included hundreds of reviews, features, case studies and interviews for all the leading computer trade papers of the day (Computing, Computer Weekly, Which Computer, Communicate and about 40 other long-departed titles); lots of work for the Financial Times Surveys; a series of ‘How to use…’ books for Gower publishing (How to use the Dragon Home Computer, How to use the Sinclair ZX80, and seven others); editor of VNU’s Micro Computer Users’ Year Book; a CP/M user manual for Research Machines, and much more. Scoops included the first view of Digital Research’s Concurrent CPM in the UK, the first interview of Microsoft UK’s first managing director (they took over the old Wordplex offices in Windsor at the time); three months exclusive access to DEC’s new Rainbow PC; and the very first review of a US upstart with a revolutionary new product (Adobe and PageMaker published in the Financial Times).
In the ’90s I thought I needed a proper job, and became the paid employee marketing manager of a small security software company. But when I wrote the software user manual and developed the online help system, I knew that I had to get back to writing and being self-employed.
I left in 1999 and had short stints as contract editor of Information Security Bulletin and Infosecurity Today before founding ITsecurity.com. At its height ITsecurity.com got more than 250,000 monthly visits and produced a weekly newsletter with 10,000 subscribers. I sold ITsecurity.com to Tippit Inc.
And now I’m back doing what I’ve always loved most: writing. If you want to know more, just ask.