From the archive, 18 February 1988: The Tandy was love at first sight

Originally published in the Guardian on 18 February 1988

It is just possible to remember the early rapture of a Tandy [portable computer], I can date the onset of it, as one can with all first loves: February 1983 in the postwar Falklands. In those days a 60-second Marisat (Naval satellite) telephone call 8,000 miles to London cost over £5. A journalist's traditional method of filing copy was shouting words down a telephone. But the cost from Port Stanley made that prohibitive. A single 1,000-word story (of which the Guardian wanted many) can take an hour or more to dictate on a bad line.

So you spent hours punching words on a primitive, heavy-keyed telex machine with no correction facility. During a particularly heavy session that February day, an islander astonished me. "Last month a Time Magazine journalist down here sat in an armchair and wrote a 3,000-word cover story on a word processor," he said. "Then the guy squirted it electronically down the 'phone to his office in 15 minutes flat." Back in London, colleagues were starting to think along the same lines. The first experimental Tandy reached Guardian head office a year later. It seduced almost everybody who touched it.

And it transformed our working lives for the better. It enabled us to write a story on a train, bus or plane or on the back of a swaying Indian elephant if need be. Used as a desk-top, it proved as robust as a heavy-duty typewriter, took up four times less space and was three times quieter. It lived on four AA batteries a fortnight. Above all, we could correct or rewrite invisibly and produce immaculate type-scripts with word counts.

Filing to the Guardian telex room via Telecom Gold instead of by voice, you could save the Tandy's £500 purchase price in a single foreign assignment. I have used one on three subsequent trips to the Falklands. Even at a limited 300 baud rate, it has become commonplace to transmit 2,000 words in 15 minutes.

Outside the office, direct input has given us another asset. We can now file instantly into the Guardian's Atex computer (when its telephone line is working).

But here comes the bad news. The inside of the office is now dominated by the giant rectangular toadstool profiles of scores of VDUs. They were promoted to us as 'Rolls-Royce Tandys'. In reaction speed, they are, but they have turned a lively village of an office into a Jacques Tati milieu without the laughs.

John Ezard


John Ezard

The GuardianTramp

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