Prime Minister Holt’s Computer Portrait

Harold Holt

Bryan Sullivan kept this newspaper clipping. Read the full story below.

“It took station staff 20 hours to program the computer for the picture.”

Scan by Colin Mackellar.


How we created the computer printout of Harold Holt – by Ron Hicks

“Bryan Sullivan and I got a large photograph of Harold Holt from The Canberra Times and scribed it with horizontal and vertical lines making little rectangles where each teletype character would print.

Next we printed every teletype character in large blocks and stood back and selected a grey scale from 1 to 20.

We pasted up a huge sheet of paper on the wall in Bryan’s lounge room and marked it off in rectangles proportional to the lines scribed on the photograph.

We then painstakingly examined each and every little square on the photograph and assigned it a value between 1 and 20. One being a space character.

Then, using a black marker, we wrote the appropriate character in each rectangle on the paper.

Lo and behold, when we stood back from the wall, there was old Harold.

The Printout

The Portrait


That was the easy bit.

Now we had to carefully type the thing into the Univac 642B computer in complete secrecy.

We figured (correctly) that, when the entourage came through the computer room, time would be of the essence. So when the group entered the Telemetry Section, we started the computers printing and stopped them just half-way through the picture. The idea was to grab Holt’s curiosity when he came through and keep him there while the rest of the picture printed.

It worked. We hit the front page of most of the newspapers in the country.”

Harold Holt’s portrait

Prime Minister Harold Holt and Minister for Supply Denham Henty (left) onlookers watch the Prime Minister’s portrait beging to emerge from the teleprinter.

At right, Ron Hicks and Bryan Sullivan anticipate the reaction.

John Crowe is behind the Prime Minister.

The PM and Senator Henty are each holding a tie clasp and cufflinks set, apparently depicting an Apollo Command Module.

Photo: Australian News & Information Bureau.
Negative preserved by Hamish Lindsay, 2021 scan by Colin Mackellar.

Harold Holt’s portrait

A larger crowd has now gathered.

Photo: Australian News & Information Bureau.
Negative preserved by Hamish Lindsay, 2018 scan by Colin Mackellar.

Holt and Zara

Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt holds a computer generated portrait of himself printed out on the teletypewriter.

The first Station Director, Bryan Lowe, is on the left, and the Prime Minister’s wife, Dame Zara Holt, looking a little startled, is in the centre.

Large, Larger.

Photo: Australian News & Information Bureau.
Scan by Colin Mackellar.

Harold Holt’s portrait

Prime Minister Harold Holt, Ron Hicks and Bryan Sullivan.

Photo supplied by Ron Hicks.

Holt at Computer 2

Left to right:

John Crowe – TLM engineer
Prime Minister Harold Holt
Ron Hicks – Computers
Robert Seamans – NASA Deputy Administrator
Tony Eggleton – Prime Minister’s Press Secretary
Bryan Sullivan – Computers

Photo supplied by Ron Hicks.