Humanity and warmth recalled

Michael Aldrich, inventor of online shopping
Michael Aldrich, inventor of online shopping
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A Horsham man who is credited as the inventor of online shopping has passed away aged 72.

Michael Aldrich set up what he called ‘teleshopping’ using a 26 inch colour television, printed circuit board and a television line.

He realised the television could be connected over a telephone line to a computer to handle transaction processing and network with other computers.

It was the start of online shopping and the wider world of e-commerce.

Michael went on to develop and trial the first live videotex shopping experiment anywhere in the world in conjunction with Tesco and its Gateshead supermarket, which went live in May 1984.

Born in Welwyn in 1941, Michael read history at Hull University in 1959.

He married Sandra Hutchings in 1962, and together they had four children - two daughters, Gabriella and Philippa, and two sons, Tobin and Luke. Michael, who had lived in Horsham for 35 years, was described this week as a very private man devoted to his large and close-knit family.

He stood, unsuccessfully, as the Labour candidate in Richmond, Yorkshire, in the parliamentary election of 1970.

Teleshopping was just one, though far and away the most important and influential, of Michael’s data processing innovations.

They included the ‘Teleputer’ home-office workstation, ‘Signcheck’, the world’s first practical signature recognition and verification system, as well as a number of speciality techniques and processes in data capture, scanning and voice response systems.

Michael cut his teeth in computers over 15 years with the US multinationals, Burroughs and Honeywell.

He joined the board of Redifon (later Rediffusion) computers in January 1977, becoming CEO three years later and adding responsibility for other Rediffusion companies.

He then bought out the computer company, renaming it ROCC Computers, and ran it through to his retirement in 2000 when his son Luke took over. The firm continues in business to this day.

Alongside his computer activities, Michael developed a number of external interests and was chairman of the Tavistock Institute Council for ten years, from 1989 to 1999.

He also began an association with Brighton Polytechnic in 1977 sponsoring student employees for electronics engineering and computing degrees.

This mushroomed into an invigorating and productive relationship with Michael eventually overseeing the transition of the polytechnic to university status as chairman of Brighton University.

The university dedicated its new library to him, as well as the library gardens, and granted him an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

In conjunction with the university and his wife, Sandy, he also built the Aldrich Collection of Contemporary Art that was put on public exhibition for the first time in 2000.

Michael passed away following a long battle with leukaemia on May 19.

A dominant theme at his funeral was his humanity and warmth in reaching out to others. He was a giver, not a taker, said Professor Bruce Brown of the university, in his funeral tribute.

He is survived by his wife, four children, eight grandchildren and a brother, John.