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The BBC Microcomputer Page


Mr Robert Schmit has written a very simple run down of the history of the Beeb and most of the following text (the historical facts) were contributed to his page (the BBC lives) by Dave Jeffrey. Other technical information are from Robert Schmit's home page and contributions from all over the net. Corrections and contributions are always welcome.

Some pieces of information were leeched from Acorn's own presentation of its history. This page also has some more information on Acorn's activities in prehistoric times (i.e. before the release of the BBC micro.... :-)

The links on the micros' names usually lead to The Machine Room, a great, informative database and index of micros and their features.

The Acorn leaflets page might have also been of interest but I think it's down but still worth a try.

The Atom

The Acorn Atom was the first commercially released microcomputer from Acorn. It was sold as a kit for UKP 120, or prebuilt for UKP 170. It supported up to 128 KB bank-switched RAM, tape and disc interfaces and Econet.

The BBC and the BBC Micro

In the very early 80's BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) Education started what became the "BBC Computer Literacy Project" (it's logo was the familiar Owl made up of dots).BBC Micro Logo This was started largely in response to a BBC documentary (called "The Mighty Micro") in which a professor predicted the coming computer revolution, and how important it would be to the economy, industry and lifestyle of the country (i.e. the United Kingdom). It was a very influential film - questions were asked in parliament after it was shown.

The BBC wanted to base its project around a computer that was capable of doing all of the various things it wanted to demonstrate in its series "The Computer Programme" (1981) extremely well. It needed to be capable of Teletext/Telesoftware, comms, Controling Hardware, Programming, Artificial Intelligence, Graphics, Sound and Music, etc. It decided to badge a micro, drew up a specification and asked for takers.

The BBC had serious discussions with Clive Sinclair (or Sir Clive), who tried to peddle the terrible "NewBrain" micro to them, but it came nowhere near the specification the BBC had drawn up, and was rejected. The BBC made appointments to see several other computer firms, including Acorn.

A small Acorn team, which relied largely on Cambridge students (such as the legendary Roger Wilson) worked through the night to get a working Proton together to show the BBC. They got Mode 0 working just before they set off for London! The Acorn Proton was not only the only machine that came up to the BBC's specification, it also exceeded it in nearly every field. It was a clear winner.

Thus, during 1982, children and parents all over the UK became familiar with the BBC micro. Compared to many of the other popular micros at the time, the openness of the BBC's design was superior, proven by the amount of serious uses people found for it. Its games were charming, but not spectacular, but you could do so much more.

Acorn anticipated the total sales to be around 12000 units, but eventually more than 1 million BBC micros are sold.

BBC Education made several series "starring" the BBC Micro, which included: "The Computer Programme", "Making the Most of The Micro", "Computers In Control" (about robots and other hardware), "Micro Live" (weekly computer news magazine), and it also made the ground-breaking "Doomsday Project" in 1986. Specifically,

The BBC was often seen on BBC television programmes such as The Adventure Game, Tomorrow's World, Beat the Teacher, Doctor Who (where it provided many graphics and even special effects) and on countless educational programmes during the 1980s.

BBC Radio 4 had a programme called "The Chip Shop" which broadcast some software for the BBC Micro that could be taped and then loaded.

The BBC Micro was also used to provide little cartoons between childrens programmes for a couple of years.

The BBC broadcast Telesoftware on Ceefax (it's teletext service) that could be downloaded if you had a teletext adaptor connected to your computer until 1987.

The BBC had a software arm "BBC Software" that supported the BBC Micro, and released several books through BBC Books.

The BBC also badged a multi-purpose robot, called "The BBC Buggy", which worked with a BBC Micro and was made by the Microelectronics in Education Programme (MEP).

The Doomsday Project was a project that involved schools in gathering together information that would be put onto a set of laser disks. This information included hundreds of photographs, text, sound and even video. The idea was to create something like the original Doomsday book written for King William the Conqueror 900 years earlier. It was really a precursor of CD-ROMs today, and extremely innovative for its time. The laser disks ran on a specially adapted Master 128 which was linked to a videodisc player.

The BBC version of Elite was actually advertised on TV in Britain when it was released; the advert was narrated by the extremely popular ex-"Doctor Who" Tom Baker. The Acorn Electron was also advertised on TV in Britain as well.

Thanks to Robert Schmidt for giving us an insightful view of the History of the BBC Micro.
If you would like to learn more about the history of the BBC Micro then go here


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