Mike joined Wordmiths back in 1982 or thereabouts, to take over the marketing (which I was ill-equipped in the extreme to do!) and, later, the day-to-day running of the London office. One of our clients, Angela Langdon, brought in a request from the Daily Telegraph to devise a program not only to typeset crosswords, but to validate them before setting – an urgent issue, since they’d recently had to pulp an entire edition of a crossword book with errors that had slipped through the editorial vetting process. I hacked up the program (nicknamed XFit) in a couple of weeks or so, on the back of my existing TypeFit program (all in assembly-language in those days, of course). A first pass validated every crossword in the book – about 200 of them, as I remember – in less than a minute, running on a fairly basic PC-XT; then we ran the typesetting pass on our then brand-new Monotype setter, generating the masters for an entire crossword book in something like half an hour. We probably did three or four books for the Telegraph that way.
Then came the debacle in ’86, when a screw-up by our accountants forced the sale of Wordsmiths to a London setters who didn’t really understand what it was that we did – we were a fairly oddball outfit from a hick little town, after all, and our software was pretty much unique. Following a near nervous-breakdown on my part (a result of my first and, so far, last brush with being ‘owned’ as an employee) I left the company; Mike stayed on, and, from what I hear, combined the XFit program with his own interest in puzzles to become the Telegraph’s resident crossword expert. More recently, Mike introduced sudoku to the Telegraph, and, it seems, to the wider world. The rest, as they say, is history – he was a much-deserved millionaire by the time he died.
A good friend. I’ll miss him. Vale Mike Mepham.