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The BBC Microcomputer Page

The History of the BBC Micro In T&T

The BBC Micro or "Beeb" as it was commonly known was the result of efforts by the British Broadcasting Corp to provide computer literacy and access to as many people in the United Kingdom as humanly possible. For a more in depth look at the development of the BBC Micro go to David Schmit's home page: The BBC Lives!

I have decided to write a short historical essay of my own for our own Beeb. This compliments and expands on what I wrote in my background page. I hope you find this interesting.

Special thanks to Dr Barnes and my dad, Mr Boyd Reid, for assisting me with this web project.

NOTE: This page is still UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

The following text is still sketchy and incomplete. . .proceed with CAUTION

In The Beginning. . .

Writers from the 'Golden Age' of science fiction, Asimov, Clarke, Harrison, even Wells and Verne, wrote about the use of technology by the everyday user. Science fiction dared to explore the possibilities of the future and what it could be like if computers were common place, powerful and usable by everyone. Arthur C. Clarke's vision of the future in 2001, though still not realised, comes closest to the reality that is the new millennium. Computers have made it easier for man to achieve a certain level of advancement. The spreading of the technology to as many who could afford it led to a greater awareness of its potential and so we are advancing faster, technologically, than we are mentally or physically. The presence of the home computer allowed a greater number of people to explore the scientific and technological side of their being that hitherto was reserved for the university professors and technicians. Suddenly anybody, who owned a computer, could tap into the information that became so vital for the advancement of the species.

Therefore the development of the home computer market became important for various interests who saw the need to put the power of the computer in the hands of the ordinary person. This 'democratising' of computer technology allowed the creation of competition to create the fastest, smallest and by extension, cheapest computer. From the time the microchip was invented to the present day, two decades have revealed industrial advancement that surpasses the original Industrial Revolution at the turn of this century.

Stephen Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak built their first computer in a garage, in 1985, utilising the new chip technology that allowed for powerful calculations within a smaller space.1 The Apple II was built to provide everyone with computer access, in this case various interest groups that recognised the need to own an 'advanced calculating' machine. However before the development of the Apple line of computers another company was commissioned to develop a computer for the average user. This company was Acorn and it was commissioned by the British Government.
"In the very early 80's BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) Education started what became the "BBC Computer Literacy Project" 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 Program" (1981) extremely well. It needed to be capable of Teletext/Telesoftware, comms, Controlling Hardware, Programming, Artificial Intelligence, Graphics, Sound and Music, etc. It decided to badge a micro, drew up a specification and asked for takers. . ."2 (Schmit, Jeffery, et al.)

Apple, therefore was not the first computer directed at the 'home market.' in fact in was one of many that mushroomed out of the success of the advent of the Microcomputer. Apple was just more well known. Other micros that came on the scene were the VICs, Commodore 64's, Tandys as well as a host of others, including the famed Atari series.3

Computers suddenly became small but powerful and cheap enough for the average income owner to purchase. In Trinidad and Tobago the computer revolution was slightly delayed. Technological advances began with the exploitation of the oil industry in the 30's and 40's. Technology was therefore reserved for the oil producers. By the 1970's an economic boom brought on by the increase in oil prices on the world market enabled companies to expand their resources and investors looked at the expansion of technology in other areas to boost productivity. Banks, finance corporations, auditors, government offices, insurance brokers as well as import and export houses invested heavily in the computer industry. Large mainframes and mini frames dotted the professional houses of the nation and soon everyone was being trained to program and operate these machines.

By the time Jobs and Wozinak exited their garage holding the new revolution in their hands, Trinidad and Tobago had already begun to look at microcomputers for their own market. Companies realised that in house training was becoming time-consuming and costly, not enough was being done in the school system to create a new local professional class of 'technologists' to supply the demand for computer users. Slowly the nation was waking up to the realisation that they would be left out of the technological race and the focus then changed to education.

The BBC micro was the perfect machine for education. It was fast and easy to use, utilising BASIC as its primary operating system and was easy to set up, requiring a television set and a table. Trinidad and Tobago's link to its former "mother country" Britain, made the BBC even more accessible. A company was created to supply the microcomputer market in Trinidad and Tobago. Based in the capital, Port of Spain, Minicomputer Accounting began Trinidad and Tobago's first microcomputer sales, specialising in various brands of Microcomputers 4, including the Acorn BBC Micro. MCA concentrated on the home market and immediately received buyers. It was through the efforts of MCA that BBC users met to discuss their purchases, their problems and solutions. This natural gravitation to other users with similar experiences and problems led to the creation of the BBCMUG.

Go to the next chapter

End Notes

  1. For a comprehensive history of Apple see The Mac Bathroom Reader by Owen W. Linzmayer.
  2. See Jerry Schmit's page The BBC Lives.
  3. See The Machine Room for a comprehensive database of old computers.
  4. See The Machine Room