A wry view of life for the world-weary

There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Fifty Seven


James Goodfellow (1937 – present)

There is a bewildering array of ways of paying for things these days but some of us still get an enormous amount of satisfaction in opening up our wallets and getting out some folding stuff to complete our transaction. And we don’t have to queue up at a bank to get our money. All we need to do is get out a debit or credit card, insert into one of those clever machines in a wall, punch in a few numbers, making sure, of course, that no one is lurking over our shoulder attempting to memorise our Personal Identification Number (PIN) and, hey presto, not only is our card returned but some money appears, often even the right amount in vaguely convenient denominations of notes.

So embedded into our daily life is the ATM that we barely ever give it a second thought, other than when it is out of service or chews up our card, or even consider who and how it might have been developed. This is where the latest inductee into our illustrious Hall of Fame, the Scotsman James Goodfellow, comes in.

In the mid-1960s Goodfellow was working for the Glasgow firm, Kelvin Hughes, on devising a system whereby customers could withdraw cash from banks after they had closed on Saturday lunchtimes. His solution, as described in the patent application, was a system incorporating a plastic card with holes punched in it, a card reader and a series of buttons mounted into the external wall of a bank. To access their cash, the customer would insert their personalised card into the card reader of the system and punch in their PIN number – Goodfellow invented this – via a series of 10 push buttons. In other words, other than the card with punched holes, pretty much what we know as an ATM.

After Goodfellow had prototyped and demonstrated successfully his machine, he patented it on 2nd May 1966 and it was installed in Westminster bank branches in 1967. But this was not the road to fame and fortune for Goodfellow. Part of the problem was that he had a rival, John Shepherd-Barron, who worked for De La Rue and who developed a cash dispensing machine using cheques impregnated with carbon-14 which upon matching the cheque against a pin paid out. This machine was installed at the Enfield branch of Barclays on 27th June 1967, the first publicly installed cash dispensing machine.

Shepherd-Barron was feted as the inventor of the automatic cash dispenser, something which stuck in Goodfellow’s craw, and with good reason. After all, he had filed his patent some 14 months earlier. But for some reason Goodfellow kept schtum until 2005. In 2006 he was awarded an OBE for inventing the PIN. Slowly he has begun to receive the recognition due to him. The ever popular website attributes to him the invention of the ATM as we know it, although the honour for inventing the concept goes to Luther George Simjian, and the Home Office now include him in the section of great British inventions in the booklet given to people aiming to secure a pot of gold aka British citizenship.

And what did he earn from his invention? A paltry $15, the standard patent signature fee being $1 a country and the patent was registered in 15 countries. Oh, and he was made redundant by Kelvin Hughes, refusing to move down south when the project was relocated.

For inventing the ATM and PIN and not receiving your just rewards, James Goodfellow, you are a worthy inductee into our Hall of Fame.


If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone which is now available on Amazon in Kindle format and paperback. For details follow the link


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