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Science Museum hosts 'fathers of Beeb' reunion

Published: 20th Mar 2008, 21:04:46 | Permalink | Printable

Record of Acorn history ceasing after 1986 non-shocker

Andy HopperA handful of former Acorn grandees who helped bring the BBC microcomputer to the masses held a happy reunion at the Science Museum in London today. The group met up for the first time in 20 years, we're told, at a get-together organised by the museum's Computer Conservation Society to celebrate the legacy of the Acorn 8bit microcomputer.

In attendance were Hermann Hauser and Andy Hopper, pictured, from Acorn and John Radcliffe and David Allen from the BBC, who were among those who oversaw the launch of the computer in 1982 as part of the BBC Computer Literacy Project. Over 1.5 million units were eventually sold and the humble machine was used in schools throughout the UK and beyond. Acorn later went on to design the first generation ARM core and the Archimedes range, lash together RISC OS, and the rest is painfully history.

Backed by the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, the Science Museum will display and run kit generally seen by punters at every RISC OS show: a BBC Model B, a gold-plated BBC Micro (yeah, maybe not that - ed), an Acorn Atom, Archimedes and Electron and a BBC Domesday system.

Computing and information curator Dr Tilly Blyth, who is incidentally penning a book about the BBC Micro project to be published next year, said: "The BBC Micro helped stimulate the imaginations of a generation of children, and inspired them to see computer programming as a career.

"This period of intense creativity is a major reason why the UK is now the fourth largest producer of computer games in the world and a major player in the global interactive market."


Science Museum website Coverage by BBC News - plus bits and pieces about Acorn's early history. Mysteriously, it originally mentioned RISC OS and open source, and a quote from Castle boss Jack Lillingston pouring cold water on the emulation of Beeb hardware, but this was later cut.

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In Braben's article today he says that the UK used to be the third largest producer of game. I can't help but wonder if the absence of major coordination and backing like Acorn got behind modern British software and hardware would project the same industry to even greater heights that what it achieved in the 80s.

However, with Tilly Blythe's knowledge of Acorn and that era she'll well appreciate that fact. I trust with her grasp she won't overlook RISC OS and Drobe.

 is a RISC OS UserAW on 20/3/08 11:51PM
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AW: I imagine we're still up there. Look at the Grand Theft Auto franchise by Rockstar, and the likes of Rareware, Lionshead, Spash Damage, Revolution, etc. I don't think we're outside the top 5, and I think it's likely we're still in the top three. The obvious top to are the US and Japan.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 21/3/08 12:31AM
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In reply to rejek:

If wikipedia is to believed we're only just in the top ten during 2007 for video game publishers:


Although admittedly publisher and developer aren’t always the same thing.

 is a RISC OS UserCol1 on 21/3/08 11:02AM
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Tilly Blythe's book is actually about the BBC Computer Literacy Project, not Acorn as such. (Neither Drobe nor the original BBC story makes this very clear.) There's no reason for her to consider anything much beyond the 8-bit era.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 21/3/08 11:19AM
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Col1: Quite. Counting publishers is an entirely different metric to counting producers/studios.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 21/3/08 12:31PM
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The A3000 had the BBC Computer Literacy owl on its function strip (though the earlier A300/400 machines didn't). It wasn't part of a cross-media project in the same way the Beeb was though, so it's only really a curious aside.

 is a RISC OS Userninja on 25/3/08 1:23PM
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ninja: Yes, I know about the A3000. In fact, you're mistaken about the A300 series: those machines also had the owl and the nominal BBC link (top-right of the keyboard, where it said 'Acorn' on the A400 series).

It's true that those machines were still linked with the BBC and officially recognised as the successors to the previous generation of 8-bit BBC Micros (and, of course, came with the 65Host and 65Tube software to allow them to run more BBC software than BBC Basic would allow on its own). So I agree that Dr Blyth's book should certainly acknowledge them.

However, my point is that the BBC Computer Literacy Project as such was really over by then. The good relationship that had been established between the BBC and Acorn allowed the tie-in to continue into Acorn's next generation of machines, probably in acknowledgement that they were the logical successors and capable of a high level of compatibility with existing BBC computers. But the Computer Literacy Project had run its course before the 32-bit range arrived. In terms of looking at the story from the Acorn perspective, clearly the launch of the 32-bit range was massively important and the ability to continue to use the BBC name on the new machines, for a few years at least, would have been very valuable to Acorn in terms of helping its users to make the transition from the 8-bit generation to the new 32-bit one.

But from the opposite perspective, that of the BBC Computer Literacy Project (which is what Dr Blyth's book is about), all the interesting stuff happened long before then, and it was all pretty much over by 1987, so there's not a lot of reason for the 32-bit machines to be much more than an appendix to the meat of the story. Of course, they are very important in terms of the lasting ramifications of the Computer Literacy Project, and I don't know to what extent her book will consider those. But the Computer Literacy Project was all about teaching people about computers in general, not tying them to the Acorn platform. The undoubted success of the project didn't actually do all that much long-term good for Acorn's 32-bit platform, sadly, as we all know. It would have been a major factor contributing to the use of Archimedes machines in schools, but it certainly didn't get them into private homes in the way that it had done with the earlier (and much cheaper) 8-bit BBC Micros. The world had moved on by the late 80s, and there were lots of cheaper machines with better games to attract the kids.

NB I should make clear that I don't know anything about the contents of Dr Blyth's book. She may want to discuss the 32-bit legacy in some detail; who knows? All I can say for certain is that it's a book about the Computer Literacy Project rather than a book about Acorn, so I'd fully expect it to concentrate on the 8-bit micros and what happened in the early to mid-1980s rather than anything later than that.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 26/3/08 7:53PM
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Andy Hopper has pointy little red horns. </Harry Hill>

 is a RISC OS UserLoris on 28/3/08 2:53AM
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