Leader: In praise of ... the BBC Micro

Leader: The computer built to accompany a series of television programmes has left an extraordinary legacy

As time goes by, the more extraordinary the achievement of the BBC computers of the 1980s appears. Conceived while Mrs Thatcher was prime minister, the project involved building a computer to the BBC's specifications to accompany a series of television programmes on computer literacy. Initial sales projections were put at 12,000 machines but more than 1.5m were sold in the end - and that was only the beginning of its influence. In direct line of descent from the BBC Model B, the more popular of the two versions, were the thousands of schoolchildren who started programming on it (and its rival the Sinclair Spectrum) before going on to take up careers in information technology. To the simple standards of BBC Basic, and the programmers it encouraged, Britain owes the strong position it enjoys in the computer games market today. The machine, manufactured by Acorn of Cambridge, never conquered world markets because its undoubted technical brilliance was offset by incompatible standards and poor marketing. But Acorn spawned other companies including ARM, also based in Cambridge, valued at over £1.1bn on the stock market last week, which has had phenomenal success in getting its chips into most of the mobile phones sold around the world. The founders of the project met up last month to remember its legacy after 26 years. With the Science Museum planning an exhibition on the BBC B for next year, they should be well pleased with themselves. They made a difference.


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