30 years ago today the BBC Micro was first unveiled. The computer became a firm fixture in classrooms across the UK in the Eighties thanks to its tie with the BBC’s Computer Literacy Project, a television show aimed to teach children the basics of computer science.
Looking for a versatile computer with which to base its project on, the BBC approached a number of British computer manufacturers in its search. But it was Cambridge-based Acorn Computers who won the contract after impressing with a demo of its new machine, the Proton. The Proton was unveiled on December 1st as the BBC Microcomputer System and came in two flavours, Model A (16K) and Model B (32K)
Thanks to the publicity of the show, the BBC Micro became hugely popular on its release, particularly in the education sector. However the arrival of the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 the following year saw these more affordable computers dominate the interest of Britain’s software industry and with it the lion’s share of the market. Having established itself as a bit of a teachers’ pet, the BBC Micro failed to enjoy the same level of success.
It was a real shame too as the BBC Micro was a versatile piece of kit with a library of fantastic games – Frak!, Repton and of course the epic space trading game Elite – that show off its power.
As the Beeb celebrates its 30th birthday today, Elite’s co-creator, David Braben, shares with us his thoughts on the computer.
“The BBC Micro (and the Acorn Atom – which in many ways was very similar), inspired a generation with the accessibility of technology. A great many people, me included, had our eyes opened to how easy it was to get a computer to do amazing things. Through schools, this changed the lives of many people in a good way. Many of those people went on to do great things as a result; just look around places like here on Cambridge’s Science Park to see the results 30 years on!”