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back to article The BBC Micro turns 30

The BBC Micro – the machine which, along with the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, epitomised the British home computer boom of the early 1980s – was launched 30 years ago tomorrow. Unveiled on 1 December 1981 as the Model A and Model B, the BBC Micro would go on to sell over 1.5 million units before the last of the line was discontinued …

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My first computer

Spent many hours playing this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2U7JzK2D6ZA

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When I was about 5 or 6 my dad brought one home from the school he worked at during the holidays. That was the first time I'd been able to get my hands on a computer. 25 years later I work in IT support. T'would be redundant to point out the link.

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IT Angle

Atom, SoC, CPU, it's like they invented all the names and acronyms too :-)

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Ahh yes....

Typing in code from a book instead of this ridiculous fad of downloading compiled code...

Saving to ordinary cassettes...

Playing gibberish in your cassette player...

Fun...

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Typing in code from a book / Cassette player

I was learned to write code out long-hand in an exercise book, then debug it long-hand, then sit down at a golf-ball terminal (no screen - what are they?) and diligently type it in, before saving it out to punch tape (sometimes cards if we were lucky), and we had to do that 28 hours a day and sleep in a box int' middle o road :-)

But I know what you mean. These little miniature acorn things were such fun!

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Anonymous Coward

Electron?

I knew a whole two people with a Beeb, about 20 - 30 of us with Speccies and even an Oric user.

But never once heard of anyone wanting a an Electron; a Spectrum 128 / QL, C64's yes but an Electron?

Ahh I miss those day. BBC's are Pants Spectrums rule! No Spectrums are toys, BBC are proper computers.

Shame we don't have any of that childish behavior 30 years on.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Electron?

I bought an Electron and a tonne of games for a fiver at the end of the 90s at a boot fair - just to relive some memories.

Farkin' thing didn't even work properly, although I blame its age. The ULA inside it was a bit spiffy.

C.

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Anonymous Coward

Err?

Worst. Troll. Ever.

And about thirty years old.

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in my year at school, I was aware of only one person whose parents had bought a BBC (a model B). Everyone else with a home computer either had a Spectrum or Commodore 64, as those were what the majority of games were being released for. The feeling was that anyone with a BBC was an unfortunate victim of parents who wanted a computer their child(ren) could only use for "educational" software.

That said, the one friend who had a BBC became something of a computer whizzkid - the case of his machine was always open as he tinkered with it constantly, adding all sort of home built gadgets and controlling them from his own programs. I only ended up programming my C64 because I couldn't afford many games - I would type in the listings from magazines like Commodore User, and then take the time to understand how they worked.

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yeah, not great for games

but it did have castle quest. which was probably the best game i'd ever played. and who could forget FRAK :)

for some reason i never had elite!

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Proud Electron Owner !

I had an Electron and loved it, although I have to admit that originally it was a BBC B that I wanted.....

It all started In 1982 when I wanted a Spectrum for Christmas (a few of my friends had one and I was forever round at their houses begging a go), but ended up with a second hand ZX81(with ZXPanda 16k RAM Pack) - both parents were out of work at the time, so they bought what they could afford....

So whilst most of my peers were busy playing Jet Pac and Manic Miner, I was a bit more limited with the ZX81 (apart from the odd classic like 3D Monster Maze). The result of this was that I spent more time typing in magazine listings and learning to program than I did actually playing games - and found that I was in my element. The programming bug was well and truly caught and I spent the next year playing about with the ZX81.

Starting sometime in 1983 we got BBC Micros at school and I loved programming those. So for Christmas 1983 I tentatively asked my mum if I could have a BBC B (one parent was working by that point, so a bit more money was available). It was decided that a new BBC B was too much, and they were scarce on the second hand market at the time. So a compromise was suggested - the Acorn Electron, which was "almost" a BBC B (bar the Teletext mode and a few ports round the back); and that's what I got (although I had to wait until my birthday in July 1984 since it was out of reach for Christmas 1983).

What wasn't appreciated until I started using the machine though was, apart from losing Mode 7 Teletext and a few ports, it was also a hell of a lot slower than a BBC B. To maintain the speed, a lot of Mode 2 games from the Beeb (8 colours) ran in Mode 5 (4 colours) on the Electron, likewise a lot of Mode 1 games such as Elite (4 colours) ran in Mode 4 (2 colours) on the Electron.

Having said all that, I loved my Electron to bits for it's BBC Basic and spent many an hour over the next couple of years programming away on it (and admittedly playing games a bit more than I did on the ZX81). It confirmed for me that I had the programming bug and that I wanted to make a career out of it (which I did - and am still doing over 25 years later). For my next computer I went serious and got an Amstrad PC1512 in 1988 since that's what I was using at college at that point.

Happy days !

( Incidentally, although the Electron and PC1512 are long gone, up in the loft I still have the ZX81 in it's original box with the RAM Pack and a box of tapes....wonder if it sill works? )

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Happy

business use

in 1985 or 86 my father bought one as an upgrade to the zx81. it was educational, we built a business around it, using it to calculate of area of wood needed for hardwood triple glazing that he manufactured. you'd select the frame style type in the size of hole for the window and it would work out the wood required and it had graphics so the client could sign off on it.

it was truly exceptional just rectangles area and a unit cost and all achievable in basic for a 13 year old.

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Forgot to add....

....that about 6 years ago a local school was fitting the classrooms out with new PCs and the old kit was free to a good home otherwise it was being scrapped. I popped down and walked away with a Master 128, a CUB colour monitor, twin Cumana floppy drives and a box full of discs (including some original Superior Software collections). All in working order and set up at the back of the home office at home office. Every couple of months or so I'll switch it on and play Revs, Codename Driod, Boffin and loads of others just for the memories.

So in the end I got the BBC I always dreamed of, just took 20 years or so !

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Devil

RE: yeah, not great for games

Ah, Elite! I blame Braben and Bell for all those hours I wasted, especially with the upgrade to the Archimedes port. Without their fiendishly addictive game, I could be ruling the World by now! Muahahahaaa, etc, etc. Eve? Shmeve!

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Joke

Oh, yes we do. It's just that the names that are different, now we have 'Android is rubbish, Apple rules', 'Apples are toys, PCs are proper computers'. Or vice versa if that's your thing. (Me personally, I own various devices, each has their strengths and weaknesses, much like the Spectrum and BBC themselves.)

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Got me into IT...

When I was at school computing was only for the folks doing both pure and applied maths, who used to go down the the technical college once a week and play with punch cards.

Some years later I used to help my then landlady's son out with homework from time to time. He started doing stuff on a BBC. It rapidly became clear that I was far better at this stuff without having had the lessons than he was with the benefit of them. So I gave up sheep farming and building greenhouses and went off to the local technical college to do a TOPS course. Not the language, a government training scheme where basically you did the Btech syllabus compressed into about a quarter of the time. Haven't really looked back - except possibly on a warm sunny day when the lambs are frisking round the field. Don't miss 2am lambing in January, that's for sure...

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So many memories..

I remember playing Strykers Run (1 and 2) and loving the fact that you could get into a helicopter and fly it about.. I remember hours getting lost in Repton 3. I remember avoiding the big bird in Chucky Egg, or the witch in Granny's Garden..

Dambusters and Cylon attack too.. blub blub blub!

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neb
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i'm off for a walk down memory lane...

10 print "neb is great"

20 goto 10

run

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: i'm off for a walk down memory lane...

Only shame is you can't go and do it in WHSmith, Boots, Laskey's, etc any longer

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Happy

ah..

I think you'll find, Tony, that this is the 21st Century equivalent of 10 PRINT "Boobs!"; 20 GOTO 10

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/25/ipad_pron/

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I remember it (almost) well

Cassette relays were more fun...

10 *FX 137,1

20 *FX 137,0

30 GOTO 10

RUN

(Exit WH Smith in a hurry)

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ahh, memories

i had cylon attack too... and loved strikers run but IIRC it was a bloody hard game!

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Yep.. I'd give up on Strykers run now after 10 minutes, not sure if I ever got past the first level!

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Heh, a friend and I would spend hours in John Lewis in Milton Keynes in their special 'computer room' doing just the same, while the sales staff walked around 'demonstrating' customers the capabilities of the machines by showing them us messing about! Great! :-D

In other news I heard on the radio about an initiative to reitroduce programming into education, we got so much out of these machines when they came out because of the price constraints you *had* to fill your time programming to get anything out of the machine for free.

It certainly was a great learning platform and I still use the skills I gained then to this day, mainly writing macros in Excel which definitely improves my productivity.

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MrT
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Laskey's...

... there's a blast - I'd forgotten all about them...

Still got my Master 128 in the attic, alongside the unbuilt ZX81 kit and all my old Sinclair QL kit.

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Pint

Chucky Egg

::chortles::

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Happy

; ?

Ahh, you forgot the semicolon at the end of 10, always better with a whole screen full :)

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Misty eyed memories

The Beeb was a very important machine but it did get kicked into touch pretty quickly by the arrival of firstly the Spectrum, then the C64 and finally in April 1984 the Amstrad CPC.

By 1986 you'd struggle to get software on the high street for the Beeb. I had a mate who had one. While I could go into WH Smiths or the local software shop and pick up the latest titles from the likes of Ocean and US Gold, he was restricted on picking up naff looking titles from Superior Software via mail order.

And as soon as the school subsidy ran out, schools started to look look elsewhere. The computer room at my secondary school ended up being kitted out with Amstrad CPC's. Why CPC's? Well I'm guessing the bundled monitor helped. You got 4 times the RAM, a colour monitor and a built in disc drive for the same price as a bare BBC B. Add a 5 inch drive and a monitor and your eyes would start to water at the price of the Beeb.

Not that the Beeb wasn't a remarkable machine, indeed I own a Master, but its high price and the fact it was first to market meant that more powerful cheaper machines quickly overtook it.

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Indeed. Nobody I knew had a beeb. It was speccy or C64 mostly.

The BBC was the home PC, largely a more serious tool and massively expandable.

But the speccy had a big following and some talented games designers producing software for it. The C64 lagged a little on that front, but the C64 had the benefit of custom video and sound hardware, the sound chip even putting arcade machines to shame at that time. That's the benefit of getting a sound chip designed by people who know about synthesisers.

Lets also not forget the failure of Microsoft with their MSX platform. I had heard it mentioned by a neighbour who mentioned it was going to take over the industry. So it seems Microsoft had a hype machine even back then.

Quite why we failed to capitalise on those days I don't know. Our one success from that era is the ARM CPU which goes back to Acorn and the Archimedes computer. Lack of compatibility with stuffy American business software probably killed off anything different.

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Devil

One of the odd ones

Dragon 32 FTW!

(But how I envied those who could afford a BBC B!)

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Devil

Ditto

Yes, indeed, I cut my teeth on the Dragon 32. It wasn't until years later I realized how awesome the 6809 was compared to the 6502, with it's actual 16-bit index registers.

What do you think of this part then:

"School playgrounds quickly polarised into BBC – or 'Beeb' – and Spectrum camps, with the odd folk with Dragon 32s, Oric 1s, Texas Instruments TI-949/4As, Commodore VIC-20s and, later, 64s, oscillating between the two groups."

For my money, the Dragon users knew the Spectrum was a POS and dreamed of having a BBC, but hey, trying to make the Dragon do things the BBC could do (like 4-channel music) was a great learning experience!

Don't suppose you ever played Space Trek did you? :)

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Ah !

6809 - yes !

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Ah !

6809, the only CPU, IIRC, with 'BRA' and 'SEX' as assembler mnemonics.

BRanch Always and Sign EXtended, since you ask.

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For those who wonder why Branch Always is useful ..

Using a sub-set of 6809 op-codes you could write true position-independent code and I think BRA was the JMP relative version of JMP

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Re : Re: Ah !

I've still got a chart of the (gigantic) number of op-codes on my study wall. Spent a long time writing 6809 assembler including a floppy disk driver & formatter for my home-brew Forth system

Simpler days !

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The 68k processors have BRA as well, although they don't do SEX

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I remember the BBC Basic shortened command code for RUN was RU. (yes, R U dot)!

Although this site doesn't say that:

http://www.ncus.org.uk/dsbbcoms.htm

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ah yes, the dragon

me and all my mates got species or C64s..

except one poor bastard, who got a VIC20.

It broke.. so his mum took it back and they didn't have any VIC20s.

YES!! He thought = at last a speccy or C64.

His mum came back with the dragon32.

I think he's the only person I ever met that had one.

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Sadly Motorola changed the 'SEX' mnemonic in the 68k to 'EXT'

The 6800 had a 'BRA' too (and a relative BSR - branch to subroutine for position independent code)

I learned 6800 assembly code on our school computer (an SWTPC computer built buy the computer science teacher), naturally every program had to have labels CUP and STRAP somewhere, and of course you just had to define a constant ASM for the starting address of the code, so ORG ASM would appear at the beginning of the code.

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Happy

Unlike on the BBC computer, Atom BASIC didn't tokenise anything, so your program was stored exactly as you typed it (except for line numbers which were a 2 byte number).

With only 5K of program memory to play with on a standard Atom, any serious program needed those abbreviations to make it fit into memory - you could end up with something pretty cryptic!

Best abbreviation - to get a disc or tape file catalogue listing (normally '*CAT') you could use '*.'

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Coat

Re: Sign EXtend

The 8051 had 'ORL' and 'ANL' (logical OR/AND), but no straight 'SEX' opcode...

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Happy

As much as I wanted a BBC, Dad ran the numbers on his Olivetti (mechanical) calculator and came back with a Dragon32. It was good preparation for coping with incompatible later in life.

Apart from playing Defender and Elite on friend's machines, I only really came to know the BBC at Swansea University - Prifysgol Abertawe - where they were used as workstations to access the Prime mini. I spent more time writing a screenscraper in 6502 assembler for the BBC than doing my assignments on the Prime. Happy days.

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Defender?

Are you sure you don't mean Planetoid ? The Beeb's Defender-clone was probably the best version outside of the Arcade.

Killer Gorilla was pretty good too :)

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Actually...

...Planetoid was actually originally released as Defender before legal problems ensued. My mistake.

Carry on :)

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Fab
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Planetoid = Defender

Indeed the posters comment that Planetoid was released as Defender is 100% right. I own an original boxed version of Acornsoft Defender. I think that Pacman suffered the same fate.

I was on that original waiting list for my BBC Model B although I had the second generation board. Thats a good thing as the first one used to die even more frequently than the second generation. My ASIC died as well.

Totally , totally LOVED that machine. It is in my atic gathering dust of course and maybe I will request it will be buried with me when I died. With my boxed Acronsoft games of course, Elite, Defender, Revs, etc.

I think I've also got that poster with the pyramid as well and the original review by the magazine PC World. Think writen by Guy Cheney.

Awesome... happy days....

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I think you're right about Pacman.....

....I have an the original Acornsoft disc - it's called "Snapper".

I also loved "Starship Command"....

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Plantoid/Defender High score

I got 306k once - without using the cheat of letting lots of the fast ships that turn up when you take too long finish the level up behind you, then smart bombing them. Can't believe I remember the score...

Also liked Starship Command, Pacman/Snapper, and the Space Panic rip off, Monsters I think. That was a laugh when you got the the double speed levels.

Ahhh, good 'ole days.

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Now that brings back memories

Mainly of the Acorn Atom and Electron, which were used throughout the 80s and well into the 90s in various labs here. Two key aspects were that you had the complete schematic, and that all external buses were buffered. It is quite hard to blow up buffered TTL buses, and believe me, various klutzes in the lab did their best.

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yup, my first computer too...

i wanted a speccy as thats what my mates had but in the end it was a good buy. we used them at school and i ended up writing various bits of code to control i/o and tilt switches etc. not too bad for an 8/9 year old!

our junior school was one of the tech centres in the UK. we had people coming in with the turtle machines - remember those? and various bits of kit that could connect to the BBCs I/O and you could script their movements.

i was on a school's educational video for the stuff i was doing, it was quite exciting at the time

oddly, when i went to senior school they had 1 computer room and for some reason my class didnt get to use a computer for the first 3 years. i then moved school and no computer at that school at all. i lost interest over those years and only got back in computers when i was in my 20s

i sometimes think how fucked over i was by my secondary school education. i might have been something more impressive than a php coding IT manager!

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Camping

I don't remember my school dividing into Speccy and Beeb camps, it was more a case of, Speccy/Amstrad/C64 camps (as and when they were released), and the Beeb remained "That computer for schools".

A good machine none the less, many a lunch time spent on logo and malarry manor.

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