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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 08:47 GMT
'Beeb' creators reunite at museum
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Ian MacNaught Davis presented a series of shows
The BBC created a series of educational computing programmes
The creators of the BBC Micro are reuniting at the Science Museum in London to discuss the legacy of the computer known fondly as "the Beeb".

Hermann Hauser and Steve Furber, who worked at Acorn, will be joined by former BBC staff John Radcliffe and David Allen.

The reunion has been organised by the Computer Conservation Society.

Dr Tilly Blyth, who is writing a book about the machine said: "The Beeb helped shape today's IT landscape."

The Beeb was released at the end of 1981 after the BBC had initiated a nationwide computer literacy programme.

The corporation agreed to "sponsor" Acorn's computer following a hunt to find a machine which could help educate parents and children.

What can be done by the private sector, by IT, and perhaps even by the BBC, to once again drive people's understanding of the computer revolution?
Darren Waters, Technology editor, BBC News website

"The story of the BBC Micro is one of British innovation; it's about how one machine inspired a generation of youngsters to use computers," said Dr Blyth.

"It created some of the industries we are strong in today - the new media industry, the computer games industry."

Dr Blyth said the BBC Micro, together with machines like the Sinclair Spectrum, overturned people's preconceptions of computers.

The BBC Micro was at the heart of an ambitious programme of education, backed up with TV programmes, lessons in schools and a nationwide network of teachers and educators who learned to use the machine.


Retro computer brains get together

"It's of an era, when the BBC was very strong, very confident, had the backing of the DTI (Department for Trade and Industry) to launch into this and effectively sponsor a piece of hardware.

Elite on a BBC Master
The BBC Micro was the desirable gadget of its day
Elite co-creator David Braben remembers the BBC Micro

Acorn had been working on various computers at the time, and had already launched the Atom prior to the BBC Micro, which was originally called the Proton.

"Acorn and the BBC were very surprised at the impact it had and the interest in it as a piece of hardware," said Dr Blyth, curator of computing and information at the Science Museum.

More than 1.5 million BBC computers were eventually sold; the BBC and Acorn had predicted they would sell 12,000.

"It was a very ambitious project. At the heart of it was education and bettering Britain; and helping us to understand what the computer could do and what you could with a computer."

'Socially acceptable'

She added: "I believe the history of the BBC Micro is really a fundamental one to understanding where we are today and explaining the British computer industry and our culture of computing that we have today.

"It became socially acceptable to have a computer in the home; it wasn't seen as a force of evil. it was seen as something to better yourself with and educate yourself.

BBC Micro
Released in late 1981
8 bit microprocessor
6502 CPU at 2 MHz
640*256 screen resolution
Cost 375 at launch
1.5 million sold

"It was more than just a piece of hardware; there were social implications and cultural changes."

One of the greatest legacies of the BBC Micro is the Arm microprocessor.

"Acorn were working on the Arm chip as a result of the BBC Micro and BBC Master project. It's a wonderful British success story; Arm chips are in practically every small mobile device that are in the world today.

"It's a massive legacy. And culturally - our strength in computer games was underpinned by the BBC; a generation was inspired to take that career path."

A number of websites are dedicated to the BBC Micro and software emulators offer the chance to run old BBC software, but there is a legal issue over the use of the ROMs which underpin the system and any software used on the emulators.

The Science Museum plans an exhibition about the BBC Micro and its legacy in 2009.

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