My brother-in-law Don Hunter, who has died aged 93, was a physicist who worked on some of the first electronic computers in the Rutherford Laboratory at Cambridge University and later helped set up one of the first major computer software companies in the UK.
Don worked as a research assistant in the maths department of the Rutherford Laboratory from 1949 until 1952. There he was involved in pioneering work on the electronic delay storage automatic calculator (Edsac 1) computer. In 1955 he took up a research post at the Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) in Harlow, Essex, where he was part of the design team for a computer called Step 1.
Later, in a collaboration between STL and a Dutch subsidiary, he was involved in the development of Zebra, another early computer. During this time, Don worked in Paris, New York and Italy; he spoke fluent French and Italian. His two sons found it exciting that during his time at STL their dad had designed software to stress test Concorde’s wings at Farnborough.
In 1962 Don and the computer programmer Alex d’Agapeyeff founded the Computer Analysts and Programmers Group (Cap), which would become one of the foremost IT companies in the UK. He then helped to set up Cap Scientific in 1979, where he worked on Elliott data-processing computers until the early 1980s. After another stint with STL, he worked on the Daily Mail’s computers and founded his own company, Planned Software Maintenance, in 1986; he also did consultancy work, including for Oracle, retiring very gradually around 2003.
Don was born in China, to Joseph Walter, a missionary, and Margaret (nee Brownlea), a Canadian who taught English in China and Chinese in England. In 1931, the family moved to Pevensey Bay, near Hastings, where Joseph became a curate. Don attended St John’s school in Leatherhead, Surrey, then went to Selwyn College, Cambridge, in 1946, where he read physics and natural science and was a cox for the college’s rowing team.
Don and I met in 1957 when we were neighbours in Harlow, and became good friends. I eventually introduced him to my sister, Patricia Rothery, a potter and calligrapher who taught ceramics and industrial design at Birkenhead Art School, and they married in 1965.
In his spare time Don was a glider pilot and a serious mountaineer, climbing challenging peaks in the Dolomites and the Alps. For many years he ran one of the few surviving Elliott 903 mainframe computers at home; it was collected by Bletchley Park in the early 2000s.
Don retained his independence until the last six months, and was able to remain in the Old Vicarage at Elmdon, near Saffron Walden, Essex, where he had lived for 40 years.
Patricia died in 2009. Don is survived by their sons, Bernard and Alex, their grandsons, James and Jasper, and his sister, Alwyn. His three brothers predeceased him.