A once in a lifetime day at ARM celebrating the Beeb@30

The Acorn BBC Micro turned 30 and to celebrate it the Centre for Computing History organised a once in a lifetime event on Sunday 25th March 2012 that included the original people behind the BBC Micro.

We were honoured to be invited and so got up very early on a Sunday morning and drove to Cambridge and the headquarters of ARM.

Getting In

In the window was an Acorn Computer sign – I had a feeling it was going to be a great day – and I wasn’t wrong!

There was even a really cool way to sign in when you got there!

A Look Around the Displays

After walking through the entrance doors there were a number of displays showing retro computing hardware, including various BBC Micro’s and Electrons.

The Doomsday Project

Anyone who is my age who lived in the UK will remember the BBC’s Doomsday Project. One of the laser discs along with other materials was on display.

Rubiks Cube Solving Lego Robots

David Gilday was on hand to demonstrate a number of different Lego robots he had built that were capable of solving a Rubiks Cube. They were finishing them in a few seconds, after 30 years I still can’t solve one!

And here is a video of the robots in action:

Elite

And I was very happy to see one of my all time favourite games on display – Elite!

The Panels

There were two panel sessions on the day, both entitled “The People Who Made it Happen: BBC Micro Development Team”. The panel consisted of Chris Curry, Hermann Hauser, Stephen Furber, Andrew Hopper, Nick Toop, Chris Turner, Sophie Wilson and others.

Hermann’s talk was very interesting and had lots of anecdotes. Below is a video of his talk I recorded (it runs for about 15 minutes):

The panel was moderated by Chris Searle, who was one of the presenters of the BBC TV programme The Computer Programme and then it’s successors Making the Most of the Micro and Micro Live. These were some of my favourite TV shows as a kid. Unfortunately Chris’s co-presenter, Ian McNaught-Davis wasn’t well enough to attend.

The panel sessions were very interesting, but it was a little surprising that no-one really asked questions about the BBC Micro, although there were lots of other interesting topics!

Raspberry Pi

One of the tables that got a significant amount of interest was the one with the working Raspberry Pi on it.

This was Pi number 7 and belongs on the Centre for Computing History.

Various demo’s were on display throughout the day, including a live Twitter stream via Midori showing tweets relating to the event. Here is a picture of that stream with one of my tweets about the Raspberry Pi being on display at the top. It was one of those slightly surreal moment.s

At one point people were playing the classic ZX Spectrum game Manic Minor via a port of the Spectrum emulator FUSE.

After lunch, Eben Upton from the Raspberry Pi Foundation took to the stage and gave a very interesting talk about his background, and obviously a lot of information on the Pi.

There we some really nice anecdotes including Eben saying that the Raspberri Pi model A and B were in honour of the BBC Micro models.

Check out A Slice of Raspberry Pi at Beeb@30 post from earlier in the week

Cutting the Cake

There was a beautiful birthday cake in the shape of a BBC Micro (in fact there were multiple cakes as I don’t think all the people there would have been able to share just one cake) made lovingly by Elizabeth Morgan.

And here is Sophie cutting the cake:

We did all get a bit – and it tasted every bit as nice as it looked! Nom, nom, nom.

Recreating History

Here is the original famous picture, Chris Curry and the original team from Acorn Computers show off the Acorn Atom – the precursor to the BBC Micro computer.

And here is the recreation 30 years later. Stephen Furber (far left) stood in for David Johnson-Davies.

And here is the BBC version used in Micro Men:

And the people involved in the BBC Micro project.

Props from Micro Men

Upstairs was a small display of props that were used in the BBC production Micro Men. These props included scripts, photos, computers and even a copy of Computer Weekly!

The End of a Great Day

This has to have been one of the most enjoyable days out I have had (from a geek perspective). There were lots to see and touch, and it was amazing to meet all the people behind the BBC Micro and the Computer Literacy Project.

What surprised me was just how approachable and friendly everyone was. Everyone involved took the time to speak to you and it felt like you had known them for years.

I honestly believe that if it had not have been for the BBC Micro initially getting me interesting in computers and computing, I don’t think I would be doing what I do now!

So thank you again to Jason Fitzpatrick, Simon Hewitt and the Centre for Computing History for putting on such a great event. I really look forward to seeing them in their new home in Cambridge soon.

And thank you again to all the people who signed my Beeb @ 30 event program.

I’m off to play with my BBC Micro B and reminisce about my childhood.

Did you have a BBC Micro when you were younger or do you have any memories you wish to share? Let us know.

18 COMMENTS

  1. John Zajdler
    An excellent blog post Andrew. Well Done. It's interesting how we get nostalgic in our lifetime. Thanks for sharing.
  2. Rosalie
    It has me thinking of my first Amstrad with the disk drives at the side of the screen. One for the OS and the other for saving files, etc. Nostalgia, eh? And now that we have all singing and dancing, what do we want to do? - obtain a Raspberry Pi, and start all over again. A perfect world!
  3. Dennis
    I love the beeb, got my first networking experience at school, sending "new" commands to unsuspecting students! Reserving storage for private use on the network with my first recursive algo. Getting kicked out of class for programming a game and teaching my buddies how to REALLY program comuters while in computer class ;-) Learning how to cover my tracks and overwhelm the log, from someone elses' computer of course... hahhaha Those were some seriously GOOD times!
  4. Oli
    Thanks for sharing, Andrew. Gutted to have not known this event was happening, but one consolation is that you documented it so well. Oli (former MVP)
  5. George Poles
    Thank you so much for sharing this. For me the buh-beep of a BBC Micro being switched on is as powerful as Proust's madeleine. I can still remember rushing out to buy Acorn User and Micro User, Beebug et al and slaving away in front of a hot 6502 second processor as I tried to become Elite. They're hugely fond memories and this helped bring them flooding back. I wish I could have been there - the team behind the BBC machine gave me more pleasure than any group bar the Beatles.
  6. Pluppie
    ahhhh the good old times , yes i remember , i had ( still have ) one at home , a friend of mine showed me the potential of the bbc , soon after i enrolled at a school that had a bbc network , there was no stopping me then , the teacher pulled out his hairs ;) when i had a computer lesson ( logo ) no logo for me (*i am ????) it was to easy when i recall corectly it was *exec !boot you should find the i am in reverse , to take over the network , got an A+++ and frenzy was my faforite , have a bbc micro b with sideways and dual drive 80 tracks and a recompiled drive system ( my friend ) , * i am dutch so please ignore typos
  7. John C
    What a great article, so once again, thanks for sharing. I can remember being the envy of my work colleagues when my Model B eventually turned up (they were still using ZX80 and ZX81's). My other vivid memory of the time was struggling over some de-bugging to the strains of Echo and the Bunnymen ... and they say nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
  8. Roger
    Greetings. Great work still going on! Though it does remind me of my age (62), I have a Computer Science MSc. and taught many TEC and other 'Computing' courses but everywhere I worked the science people were soon dominated by business studies who wanted IT, applications only. I took early retirement and now just 'tinker' with small computers, still have a working 8060 breadboard and an 8080 running FORTH.