Hugh Walton was a mathematician, electrical engineer and old-fashioned inventor. He specialised in finding simple solutions to complex problems. He published papers in the International Journal of Management Science and the Journal of Operational Research, and had a number of patents.

From designing an electric mousetrap as a child (which unfortunately caught the family cat’s tail), he moved on to electronic circuit testing, radar, traffic control systems and magnetics. Amongst other projects, he designed metal detectors so sensitive they could detect the tiny stainless steel springs used in mines left by the Argentinian army in the Falklands (the detector rings having been illegally removed). Working with John Tomlinson, he designed the electronics to convert vehicles so that they could be used for driver skid training anywhere, at any speed, without the need for a skid pan. In later years he designed equipment for killing cancer tumours using a diathermy technique.

From 1964 he worked in Operations Research and became interested in Linear Programme modelling of company economics, recognising the potential of direct electrical analogues to encapsulate mathematical rules too complex for real-time use on the lumbering digital computers of the time, and which would be accessible to non-mathematicians. He was able to help a large company to maximise profits and operate more successfully, instead of laying off staff as advised by its accounts department. This was reported by the Financial Times. The models he helped to create of companies were designed to be used with direct interaction by local staff, and could be used equally effectively to find optimal solutions and to identify the boundary limits within which feasible solutions can be found. He strongly believed that an interactive approach to planning using ‘what if’ scenarios was a most powerful tool, giving a feeling of control to those running the company. His genius lay in the combination of mathematics with electronics design, and the awareness that inclusion of real, experienced people in the process would give robust solutions.

However, Hugh’s skills were less evident in sales and marketing, and he could never make sufficient allowance for the possibility that concepts simple for him were less accessible for other people. The technology programme Tomorrows World intended to feature his work, but even the talented presenter Raymond Baxter decided that an explanation was too difficult. Another difficulty was that in the early 1970s, the newly affordable digital computers were seen as an answer to everything for small companies, and nobody was interested in interactive modelling on a completely different machine. But early digital computers did not have the capabilities that Hugh’s systems needed, and it would be many decades before this type of computer power became routinely available.

Hugh Walton was a brilliant man whose work, though produced through commercial enterprise , was of an outstanding academic standard. His discoveries remain pertinent and still offer great benefit.