The Contributors, Colin Barber

An Essay by Rowley Atterbury

Continuing the series of essays written by my late father, Rowley Atterbury, about the people that he felt had contributed to the graphic arts during his lifetime. Originally written in 1990 and revised and updated in A Good Idea at the Time, a History of Westerham Press published in 2010 by Hurtwood Press.


Pioneering change

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the printing trade was showing signs of change. There was a feeling that the book was becoming an inefficient means of communication where information retrieval was concerned.

Colin Barber, who had no background in printing, pioneered the application of data processing to type-setting, with the aim and idea of making information in book form more readily available. Once a book had been keyboarded into the computer memory he believed that nobody need ever keyboard that book again! Information could be sorted, indexed and re-assembled as required.

In 1964 came the London Conference where, amongst other things, the Macintosh brothers were booed. Colin Barber was a speaker at the Conference and he was then persuaded to join Rocappi UK.

A deal was done with the unions whereby Rocappi Limited would train union members in return for the non-union ‘teachers’ being given full union cards. This led to Victoria Litzinger – later to become Mrs Colin Barber – holding a full union card. Viki played a most significant role and any history of early computer assisted type-setting development that does not mention her contribution is flawed.


Maintaining typographical standards

The typographical standards of Rocappi typesetting were based on an amended version of Hans Schmoller’s Penguin rules; it was felt that computer intervention should not be allowed to cause any lowering of typographical standards. Monotype, Monophoto, Photon, Linofilm or Linotype tape output from Rocappi produced work indistinguishable from the finest conventional setting.

We felt that this was a revolution, probably the first major one since Gutenberg! We thought Rocappi would take printing into the communications industry and would make books and information more readily available.

In the end, Rocappi was shut after financial experts said there was no future in the idea. Part of the team went to the USA. Colin Barber and John Robbins remained here to form C. R. Barber and Partners and continued to create the basis of so much of the computer setting we take for granted today. Colin was a great contributor and indefatigable hard worker and like many innovators could not be said to suffer fools gladly.


Share our story

Stay in touch

From news to blog posts, latest projects and inspiration, subscribe to our emails to stay up to date with everything that's happening at Hurtwood Press.

[mc4wp_form id='498']