Derek Kyte, UK pioneer of CRT typesetting dies at 90

Derek Kyte, one of the fathers of modern electronic typesetting, died last Saturday aged 90.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to him is on Google, a tool we doubt even he would have imagined when he was making a name in the 1970s as the first wave of CRT typesetter technology swept the world.

Key his name into the ubiquitous search engine, and a mass of patents - covering all aspects of electronic imaging and colour scanning - present themselves. In a 1967 patent specification, he talks electrostatic modulation and "light chopping" at a time when most typesetting was still being done in hot metal.

As technical director at Linotype in Cheltenham, UK, he drove the development of a range of Linotron phototypesetters based on the cathode ray tube technology Merganthaler had acquired with KS Paul. The need for speed was the key element in the success of the Linotron 505, which imaged groups of words on a CRT instead of one character at a time - as in the case of drum and disk-based systems - as newspapers and the whole graphic arts industry moved to cold composition, polymer plates and then web-offset. The 505 was expensive, but cheaper machines, including the 303 and in 1978, the Linotron 202 leveraged emerging technologies to become the leading phototypesetters in their class... and a significant earner for the company. Much of that success is due to the efforts of Derek Kyte, and his constant flow of technical improvements.

David Page, most recently managing director of DTI Asia Pacific, recalls several days spent with Derek Kyte on a British government-sponsored manufacturers' mission to Poland in the "dark days" of the Iron Curtain: "Linotype-Paul had joined this mission to present various products including imagesetters and scanners to the Polish market, and Derek came along and spoke at the presentations," he says. "He then extended his visit so that he could visit the birthplace of his favourite composer, Frédéric F. Chopin."

During David Page's time as a product manager at Linotype-Paul in the 1980s, he worked with Derek on several new developments.

While it lasted, the business was sweet, with the Linotron 202N commanding a mark-up of about 150 per cent on the cost of manufacture. "Unfortunately, Allied Chemicals - the holding company at that time - decided to close the R&D department in Cheltenham and many great development engineers left, going on to form new companies."

As consolidation within Linotype - and the intra-country politics of a sprawling group - saw development moved to Linotype Hell in Germany, the UK product line was abandoned and the manufacturing facility there closed.

Kyte and a handful of other developers moved to set up Chelgraph - of which he was a director - in 1985, creating a number of smaller products for the graphics industry including a specialised laser printer, and undertaking SGML work for large publishers.

In Kiel and elsewhere as the era of desktop publishing dawned, Linotype moved to imagesetting and the race for the fastest raster image processors (RIPs) led to an endless flow of obsolete "boat anchors".

• Patrick Venn (employed by Linotype-Paul/Linotype from 1973-1987) writes: "Much of the success of Linotype-Paul and Linotype was due to the inventions of Derek - truly one of the great inventors and contributors to the graphic arts and publishing industries.

"Derek played a major role in the birth of electronic imaging for publishing starting with scanners in conjunction with K.S. Paul and the filing of patents for electronic unsharp masking and development of electronic halftone reproduction. Around 1967 Linotype-Paul, was born, a company formed from K.S. Paul and Linotype and based in Kingsbury, North London. Derek became technical director (no CTOs in those days) and all of products from Linotype-Paul subsequently Linotype, Linotype Gmbh and the American company Merganthaler Linotype had Derek's design and/or involvement.

"The first Linotype-Paul phototypesetter was the Linotron 505, a Purdy Macintosh invention that filled a room! Derek took the concepts and productionised it to a saleable unit at the same time updating the technology so that it was easier to build and more reliable. The first 505 was purchased in a very prototype form by Portsmouth & Sunderland Newspapers in 1968, and HMSO also purchased 505s, as did GCHQ. The 505 ran from either paper or magnetic tape and used a cathode ray tube for output to bromide paper.

"Derek also revised the digital algorithms for transferring the grid fonts into scan lines capable of being output on the 505 CRT. He filed many, many patents from unsharp masking circuitry for the Linotype-Paul scanners to digital font algorithms for the Linotron 202 and the digitisation of Japanese fonts for the Morisawa-Linotype joint venture in Japan.

"It is fair to say every product from Linotype-Paul or Linotype had Derek's input to it, including the phototypesetter range, Linotron, 505, 303,606,404 and of course the Linotron 202.

"The first online System V production system was Derek's brainchild, developing into System 5500 that encompassed production, advertising and editorial. The first page-composition terminal, the PVT was also from Derek.

"I was privileged to accompany Derek on many occasions, mainly to NYC, Australia and Japan. He had a short fuse, in the nicest possible way; you certainly did not try and speak to him when he had his specs on top of his head! Especially when he was coding or debugging Linotype System 5, you would be told to F-off but later he would then find you and apologise.

"To see Derek and (Linotype sales director) Peter Pollock in action together on a sales visit was incredible; Derek inventing it and a few seconds later Peter selling it. That's how 5500 came about.

"Linotype grew to be a company with over 1,000 personnel, with a turnover of something like US$400-500 million. Without the genius that was Derek Kyte this would never have been achieved.

"A great man and a genius indeed, he also worked out a blackjack beating system when we were at ANPA in Las Vegas in 1976 but did not finish it in time to test it; he was also an avid crossword fanatic. After the dissolution of Linotype manufacturing in the UK, Derek set up a company with the best designers and development people from Linotype called Chelgraph specialising in systems, phototypesetting and RIPs.

"Hundreds of people, companies, newspapers and magazines owe their success to Derek and his invention. Truly a genius!"

Pictured: The Linotron 505 in 1969

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January 19, 2017 at 4:38pm
I worked as well at Linotype for some 20+ years in all its forms. As to the comments from Pat Venn who worked alongside Derek Kite in Cheltenham I totally agree. I had the very fortunate experience of being with both Derek Kite & Peter Pollack when they visited Australia and sold to what was then the HWT Group the Linotype 5500 and Linotron 606 typesetters. The Linotype 5500 system was actually born on a white board by both of them whilst in Australia. They sold it and then had to go away and build it. A true double act of genius.
One story told is whilst Peter was waiting with a client for Derek to arrive in London in view of the Thames Peter apologies to which the client commented don't worry I'm sure if you watch the water he will walk across it shortly.
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