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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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Unhappy

This thread must be the most achingly good outpouring of the last decade...

Makes me both sad and glad in equal measures. Which is probably what nostalgia is all about. I never had a Beeb, but wanted one, (and previously mentioned had dealings with the Electron and "TLink" in a commercial environment). I did my whole magazine listing writing thing for beer and driving lessons during the eighties based on Z80 stuff, (although did something for the 6502 Atari 800 and used the 6809 at poly - you know those places which actually taught stuff which was useful), and am very glad for the experience.

However you turn your attention away for a couple of decades and everything goes to pot!. (Just see the beebs weekly quiz on programming for an example @ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15952227. WTF).

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Anonymous Coward

that quiz

Samuel L Jackson - WTF indeed...

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Crap Graphcis

Well I lived in Germany where the C64 was king (nobody had a BBC), so my parents got me an Electron. Booooooo.

OK this led me down the IT route. Was given a second electron and connected the two via the RS423 port and had one running as a dedicated graphics card (crap for real time work), so programs had the full 28K available with the other computer as the output.

However what really let it down for me (including teh BBC B) was the graphcs output.

The C64 had more colours much better sound and sprites.

But for programming the BBC/Electron was king (imbedding assmebler within your basic code was cool)

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Hey it was my home control system

I had BBC Master and used it with the Red Box system to automate home sockets and integrate with motion detectors.

How hard is that to do now!

Many hours getting to about 800,000 credits and the order of elite - I often wish I could play that again too sometimes. Did Raxxla really exist??

Still have a BBC B programming book that I cant bring myself to throw away either.

i remember being proud of myself for working out the maths of how to draw circles and create a nice big clock (until the archimedes gave the circle command)

I miss my archimedes with the 10Mb HDD the most tho :(

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Model A had MODEs 4, 5, 6, 7 (teletext)

"(The Model A) lacked many of the graphics modes, such as Teletext"

Teletext isn't a graphics mode. The model A included all the small memory screen modes 4 to 7, including Teletext mode 7 which only took 1K. It was the large-memory screen modes that were absent.

"The Model A's reduced memory meant it was unable to drive all the system's possible graphics modes, labelled 0 to 7, the latter delivering the Telextext system ... dropped from the A. It was the highest resolution modes ... that the A could not support."

The second (correct) sentence there contradicts the first sentence.

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Facepalm

I suspect that was a case of lack of proofreading. It took me a while to understand what was trying to be said at this point!

I would take issue with your idea that MODE 7 was not a graphics mode. Yes, they were very blocky (as per Teletext type 1 graphics generally) but they were graphics. It was just that you didn't use the standard BBC Basic graphics commands to access them; rather you mucked about with CHR$ codes.

The difference came with the Electron and later with the various RISC OS/Arthur machines which emulated the chip that the BBC Micro used for teletext, but even under RISC OS 6 you can still access MODE 7 in BBC Basic.

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It’s been a while, yet I will never forget:

MODE2

?&360=255

VDU19;0;0;0;

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Happy

Boo, TRS-80

AKA TRASH-80.

I had a Color Genie after my ZX81. Since there were few games I had to write my own, in basic 1st then assembler a bit later, well acutally directly in machine code hand converted from the Z80 instruction set. Happy days!

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Happy

{shufffle}{shuffle}

Brrrrrr-Beep!

Yep still working fine.

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Happy

Help with this one

What was the name of the word processor it had blue backdrop with black text??

Also rem playing a game at primary school where the plot was u got shrunk inside the computer and had to solve puzzles etc to get out.. have no idea what its called any ideas?

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Interword had a blue background, but I thought the test was white.

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Wasn’t it...

Edword?

Blimey. I am certain I had forgotten that yet you dug it up from a neuron somewhere.

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Folio

was the word processor used in Schools around here. It had a cyan background and black text. With four (graphical) fonts and was almost WYSIWYG.

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Anonymous Coward

When I was tiny

my school had an RML 480Z. The program I remember most from that was called Jumbo- it involved an elephant, a lorry and a crane and you had to work out the sequence of movements to get the elephant into the lorry. Then we got Nimbuses and played an awful lot of Granny's Garden- best game ever, and the theme tune is my current ringtone.

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Anyone Remember Prestel?

I used my BBC micro to dial up Prestel. It worked a bit like Teletext as you typed in page numbers to access content. I remember downloading software and sending electronic mail. There was also a multi-user game that you could access through a gateway.

We had Commodore PETs at school on which I learned 6502 programming, although I had to writing an assembler and disassembler in BASIC first. This was the reason I asked my parents for a BBC B.

The most satisfying thing I did was disassembling and removing the copy protection on many games. One of them was encrypted on disk and decrypted itself in memory with some nasty self modifying code. Not sure if it was Elite or some other game.

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"online" in the early days

Ah.. the 300 baud modems which you shoved your phone handset into. Or that speedy upgrade to a 1200/75 modem, Certainly remember Prestel (and news stories of Prince Philip getting his account hacked).

Copying games among your mates in the local computer club. Or blowing your own EPROMs. Doing hardware upgrades inside the box. Controlling Lego robots via umbilical cords.

You actually got to see how it all worked, unlike these monster PCs with their flashy OS's of today.

Certainly started a career path for me after being a lucky early owner. Thanks to the Parents.

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When I was at college doing an electronics course we had Prestel terminals. They were a Beeb in a box with a different ROM or something. Anyway, we managed to turn them back into BBC computers.

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Prestel

I remember Prestel - in fact, I've got a whole website devoted to it and it's ilk. Come reminisce over at www.viewdata.org.uk :-)

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Go

Here's 3 examples...

BlinkenLights, I'll mention Knight Lore (6512 VIA anyone? Though Sabre Wulf made it too easy by using the same protection software!), Zalaga (Captain Pugwash anyone?) and Revs (*SAVE not blocked - fatal flaw) as probably the 3 "most interesting" copy protection systems used on the BBC Micro.

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Happy

And no mention of the Turtle? My college loved those things!

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Are you talking ICs? 6522 was Versatile Interface Adapter as I recall.

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I was a happy Spectrum user from 1984 all the way through 1992, but the BBC Micro with it's spiffy BASIC, built in assembler, proper keyboard, decent sound and graphics that you could actually use from BASIC (yes C64 I'm pointing contemptuously at your fatal flaw) was the reason I spent most school break periods well away from the sunlight.

I'd pick out the listings from INPUT magazine which had most promise and bring them to school with me just so I could try them out and compare to the Speccy versions. The tricks you could play with some of the *FX and *TV parameters were pretty unique to the Beeb and the Teletext mode was always fun to muck around with. The 80-column text and programmable F-keys were useful too. A true, accessible, "programmer's machine", with one major shortcoming I only discovered much later as I started to get into more ambitious projects: 32K wasn't nearly enough when you wanted 80 column text or full color graphics from BASIC.

Oh yeah and BBC Elite really is the best version, and I say that as a veteran of the Spectrum version which I was still playing pretty regularly several years after I'd supposedly replaced the Spectrum with an Amiga.

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Anonymous Coward

ROMs...

@Richard Lloyd - Ah, the joys of the external ZIF socket!

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@will godfrey

Ahh thats it interword bear in mind i was about 6 at the time memory a bit shakey lol

Trip down memory lane..

Now for that bbc game that has eluded me

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Beebs still running :-)

Have a Master 128, B+64, B+128, 6502 2nd processor, Music 500, and a teletext adapter. What I would have loved to get my hands on was the 32016 2nd processor. Has anyone actually seen one? Haven't actually switched one on for a while. Real life and having a son seems to get in the way of doing "real" computing these days...

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Anonymous Coward

Data? Rewind tape

I remember spending hours trying to get Elite to load on the electron. You had to fiddle about with the volume, or sometimes hold down the play button so that the heads on the cassette recorde were pushed in further! Happy days. There were some bloody great games considering they only had 32k to play with. Stranded. Overdrive. Combat Lynx. Phantom Combat. 737 flight simulator - which conveniently switched to radar mode as soon as you took off!

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Anonymous Coward

The best of times

I must have got my BBC B in 1982, I would have been 17 or 18. The previous year the Acorn Bus (Trailer on wheels thing) was doing the rounds of local libraries, I took one look at the network set up of BBC Bs running Snapper, Planetoid, Space Panic and that was it, went away and sold everything I owned, pooled Christmas / birthday money, presents (Saturday job money) and along with my brother we got one.

A couple of years later I was working in Watford Electronics. We had an Econet setup and I had access to all sorts stuff, towards the end of my time there we had a prototype external box for a BBC B that used the 80186 co processor (probably for the Master series computer) and I was running Microsoft Flight simulator on it. My BBC B had a 65C02 processor in it, so I could use the EDIT ROM from the BBC Master (it needed the extra instructions to run). What I remember most is we did our correspondence on Computer Concepts InterWord and Interspell. Ten or so years before Microsoft finally got around to it, I had spellcheck as you type with a custom dictionary (saved to battery backed up sideways RAM). I remember the press release for Word 6.0 much later going on about spellcheck as you type and thinking, took you long enough.

I did not do computing at school, left the year before the BBC B arrived in the classroom, however I did meet many people to do with the BBC Micro scene, sometimes worked the BBC Micro User Show Stand for the magazine when they did the London shows at the Royal Agricultural Halls and once at UMIST in Manchester.

Got into communications with a Pace Grapevine (ne Nightingale) 300 / 1200-75 baud modem and used the bulletin board run by the magazine. That's when I discovered how much telephone calls cost back then to other cities. I think I racked up a bill in the region of £95 in the first quarter (a lot for 1984).

Got into electronics by working with the 1 MHz User Bus to control various things.

Got into machine code thanks to the Beebug Exmon sideways ROM, peeking and poking away.

It was this accessibility to the heart of the machine, using practical tools, that I really believe created a whole generation of pretty decent computer software engineers. Several embedded software coders I have met in subsequent years say they got their start on the BBC B.

I also went to a talk at one of the BBC Micro User shows that described the new Acorn Risc Machine processor and (this from memory so it may be wrong) how the original design was proved by using BBC Micro B with a co-processor and worked first time when it arrived back from the fabrication plant.

I met a lot of geniuses and entrepreneurs during that period from 1982 to 1987 and looking back on it had some of the best times and went to some great parties.

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Yes. Steve wrote the first simulation model of the ARM processor in BBC BASIC and ran it using a second processor.

CBT

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Joke

Watford Electronics? That's where I bought my A3000 about 20 years ago. It doesn't work anymore... can I have a refund, please?

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Elite

A fond 80's memory of mine was storing about 30 games on a C60 cassette and writing on the tape inlay the name and index number of each game. Worked great.

@nemo2000: You remember obscure commands across 3 decades and yet it is hard to recall that "wget" switch from a fortnight ago. Poke 65495,1

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Devil

If you thought they were expensive....

Out in the colonies of NZ, thanks to protectionist measures and exclusive import licenses they were hideously priced (as were all computers)

import duty 45%

importer's markup 100%

retailer's markup 100%

sales tax 40%

Beeb model Bs went for around 1900 pounds in the local currency (about NZ$2500) - and _everything_ that wasn't inside the case was an extra cost item - even the power lead. (Those were the days when retailers would take slip cases out of calculator boxes and sell them as an accessory for 30% of the price of the calculator.)

As a result my first few computers were handbuilt designs from hobyist magazines.

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Anonymous Coward

For thsoe interested...

The BBC Ring is here - http://8bs.com/cgi-bin/webring/hub.cgi

My own page on the BBC (I have three) - is here - http://msknight.com/bbc/

...and there are still new games being released for the BBC even today. This year sees the launch of the latest Repton game, and also "Blurp!"

There are so many emulators, and even one has come out for Android.

The work done on the BBC was so complete, such a well designed, all round machine, that it still lives on today.

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Anonymous Coward

My class in school (can't remember whether it was Higher Physics or Higher Maths ?) won a BBC A in a competition to imagine the future of computers in schools. It was fun (but not in a good way) compared with the Apple II we were otherwise using.

I've always wondered if it was pre-production, certainly the manual was. It led me into a lifetime of not RTFM since the index either referred you to page 0 or to a page number beyond the end.

The machine also ran hot, very hot. It took a while, but one of the physics teachers did eventually fry an egg on the casing (in a pan obviously).

Its other foible was loading from tape. Fussy was not the word - a cheap cassette recorder supplied by the school just wouldn't load, everyone in the class brought in their own and the result was the same, or worse in that it sometimes did/sometimes didn't. Reel to reel from the music department, no, reel to reel "acquired" from the language lab, no. Eventually a music centre (remember them) belonging to one of the teachers was found to work, but it was hardly an ideal solution.

Whether it was ever got to work reliably I don't know. By that time I was doing CSYS Computing and was allowed evening access to the Apples with their nice reliable floppy drives so bye bye Beeb.

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Pre-production?

The first production machines used a 'linear' power supply with conventional transformer and regulators which did get quite hot. We quickly sourced a much better 'switched mode' power supply which ran cooler and could provide the extra power required to run accessories such as floppy disk drives. And yes, the first edition user guides were printed with a simple blue cover. These were replaced with the colorful ring bound manuals a few months after production started.

CBT

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Coat

...and in case you had suspicions I was mad...

... here's how I took a BBC Micro keyboard out to a plugboard..

http://msknight.com/bbc/joyboard.html

... then wired in an Atari Jaguar controller...

http://msknight.com/bbc/joyboard2.html

...and then wired up an Xbox controller to it...

http://msknight.com/bbc/joyboard3.html

Now that's what I call ... insane :-D

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Very nice.

Beautiful article.

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Childcatcher

Hunting down a copy of Elite

Man, this brought back memories. I spent an entire day trawling around Cardiff looking for a copy of Elite. Finally picked up a copy in Laskeys in the St David Centre. What a game! The Beeb's now in my brother's loft but thanks to emulators I can revisit Elite (and that other, less known gem "Nutter" - where you controlled a little Adolf Hitler and head butted dropping bombs - they just don't make games like that any more...)

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Happy

Memory lane

The defence company I worked for ordered about 200 for staff at a reduced price. We paid for them over 12 months deduction from pre-tax salary. After delivery, there was a long queue in the stores corridor. After that, things went quiet as roms were copied to eproms, additional PCBs with eprom sockets designed to fit just above the keyboard. One could switch betwen Elite, the word processor and a clover bod wrote something like a spreadsheet. Another wrote a program that kept the BBC churning over all night generating a simple fractal image. Still got tapes, advanced users manual etc in the attic, but I daren't power it up in case the capacitors all go bang since it was last used 25 years ago.

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So technology companies used to make technology !

Rather than just sue each other like they do now....

I never owned a BBC myself but some of my friends had them. I was blessed with another British machine - the mighty Dragon32...

In those days the benefit of multiple computer formats, and not being one huge patent troll of a company with an illegal monopoly, meant that going to someone's house with a different computer meant a whole new selection of games you couldn't get for your machine.... My Neighbour had a Vic20 - it was radar rat race at his - at mine it was Wizard wars ....

http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/1307/Wizard-War-Spell-Book-for-the-Dragon-32/

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Some corrections

As project Manager of the BBC Micro at Acorn and working with the BBC during the project perhaps I can clarify the actual position with some of the points made by Jim 59.

The BBC Computer Literacy Project was squarely targetted at the home user not schools. The schools aspect came about through some far-sighted people at the DES who saw the additional schools potential around the time of the BBC Literacy project and launched the DTI schools schemes. The subsidy for each machine went to the schools not to Acorn, although, of course, Acorn got the sales. The DTI provided no direct subsidy to Acorn.

Although the BBC in one sense 'advertised' via it's Computer Literacy programs, it never had specific adverts and took great care to avoid mentioning Acorn's name. This indirect advertising obviously did help machine sales but Acorn, the manufactuer, was largely unknown. Acorn always paid a royalty to BBC Enterprises for each machine sold bearing the BBC name. You could argue this helped offset licence fees or other BBC program expenditure.

The BBC Micro had a high price as it was a 'premium' product. Few people have any idea how much the product cost to design, tool-up, manufacture and support and provide profit to support the design of future products. Other products may have been cheaper but you get what you pay for. To imply that other much cheaper products had an equivalent specification isn't supported by the facts.

BTW, Locomotive Software's BASIC was not available at the time of the BBC Micro's development. It was subsequently made available as part of the Z80 Second Procesor software bundle. What the BBC Micro had was a real operating system, the MOS, and superb filing systems better than any other desktop computer at the time targetted at the home or business user. It is also not correct to imply that the home user was mainly interested in programming. I can assure Jim 59 that this is not what I found talking to customers at Acorn shows and seeing their correspondence into Acorn.

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BBC Micro design team

The picture on page 3 is actually of the Acorn Atom team taken in 1980. I'm not aware of any pictures of everybody who worked on the BBC Micro, but their names are all listed inside the MOS ROM as follows: David Allen, Bob Austin, Ram Banerjee, Paul Bond, Allen Boothroyd, Cambridge, Cleartone, John Coll, John Cox, Andy Cripps, Chris Curry, 6502 designers, Jeremy Dion, Tim Dobson, Joe Dunn, Paul Farrell, Ferranti, Steve Furber, Jon Gibbons, Andrew Gordon, Lawrence Hardwick, Dylan Harris, Hermann Hauser, Hitachi, Andy Hopper, ICL, Martin Jackson, Brian Jones, Chris Jordan, David King, David Kitson, Paul Kriwaczek, Computer Laboratory, Peter Miller, Arthur Norman, Glyn Phillips, Mike Prees, John Radcliffe, Wilberforce Road, Peter Robinson, Richard Russell, Kim Spence-Jones, Graham Tebby, Jon Thackray, Chris Turner, Adrian Warner, Sophie Wilson, Alan Wright.

This list includes key contributors from the BBC and also credits other individuals and organisations who worked with us throughout 1981.

On the pricing: There was some escalation of cost as we included all the features that were determined to be necessary but this was largely offset by purchasing efficiencies as manufacturing volume increased. One major reason for the price increase was a change in Acorn's business model from direct mail order sales to selling through distributors and dealers. This was necessary to give the machine the market penetration and customer support it required but the price had to be increased to provide an adequate margin structure in the sales channel.

CBT

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Alert

Raspberry

You end this piece with a mention that the A3000 was the last BBC Micro. NO IT WASN'T!!!

You either forgot or never knew about the very last fling for the Beeb in Acorn. Some years after the A3000 was brought out, Acorn's chip folk tried again at the "let's put most of the system on one bit of silicon", something they had tried with the Electron years before. To this end, the ARM250 was designed which tied together a number of the functions performed by separate chips in the A3000. The up sides were that the motherboard was far less dense in its population and the resulting systems ran a bit faster, though not as fast as the ARM 3 powered machines that were being built at the time. There were three machines based on the ARM250; the A3010, the A3020 and the A4000. Of these, the A3020 was made as a BBC Micro, complete with the distinctive red function keys, and was a direct replacement for the A3000. The A3010 had green function keys and a slightly different layout within which was aimed at the games market while the A4000 was a three boxer in a half height version of the A5000 case and a standard (for that time) Acorn keyboard.

The disadvantages of the A3010/A3020 machines compared with the A3000 were that the A3000 had more expansion capability than the later machines and, if you were prepared to pay for it, you could up the processor in an A3000 to an ARM 3 which meant that the older machine could feasibly run a lot faster than the newer machines. There were a few other differences surrounding the podule arrangements in the different machines and it was not supposed to be possible to change the functionality of an A3010 and an A3020 between each other without much effort. "Chris's Machines" (link elsewhere in this article) has some examples of the machines in question.

Me? Well, I still have my early model A Beeb (with much upgrading) though it has been many years now since I last powered it up. I was one of the first folk in my class to get one and, as a result, the college I was at then borrowed me and my Beeb to do a display in a local school fete one year. I never found out if they made their target, but I suspect that they did.

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Yay for The BBC

The BBC were responsible for driving computer literacy in the UK and making it a real choice for people to attain the skills as a career.

Sure there was some insider dealing, but it was the right machine for the time and lit fires under many children's interest in computing.

I had a Dragon then an Electron and finally a BBC B before I got my first PS1.

Happy days.

Great article by the way - excellent!

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Happy

Perfection personified

After 9 months of a Commodore PET at school, my Beeb was delivered in March 1982 (a very late Christmas present after being ordered in around October 1981).

I was hooked. Built in 6502 assembler. Wonderful. A BBC, Electron, C64 and Apple ][ development system free of charge! :-)

For me, a career in hardware and software engineering from a 1980s hobby...

Sold first commercial product in mid-1983, whilst doing my O Levels.

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Roger (later Sophie) Wilson:

All it needed was a woman's touch...

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Happy

Still being used at my high school in 1994

Used the BBC Micro in high school from 1989 to 1994, they upgraded soon after I left. "Edutainment" games included - "Petra's dream", some game about African cattle herders "you sell butter and buy one cow", another one about climbing Everest that always crashed, one with giant mushrooms and "timeslip"

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