The BBC monikered machine from Acorn, known as the BBC micro.
This chunky heavyweight home computer carved out a unique niche for itself during the 1980s.
Manufactured by Acorn computers this machine was used by the British Broadcasting Corporation as 'their' computer - and ended up being a premier 8-bit machine in the education and home computing sector.
With it being an excellent machine for teaching BASIC programming and robust enough to last for years in the classroom, the BBC micro is surely one of the most important machines of the 8-bit generation.
Let's look at another classic computer from the 1980s...
The Acorn BBC Micro
Inception of the machine
The BBC decided to badge a micro computer and drew up plans for what was (at the time), an ambitious specification.
They decided to approach a number of hardware manufacturers and see what was on offer from each.
Sir Clive Sinclair (of ZX80, ZX81, ZX Spectrum, and even ZX Spectrum Games fame) held discussions with the BBC over the matter, and offered the NewBrain micro to them.
Unfortunately the lovable 'Uncle Clive' and his offer was not taken up by the corporation.
The BBC also made appointments to see several other British computer manufacturers of the era such as Acorn and Dragon. It was Acorn who eventually won out.
The Acorn team had already been working on a follow up machine to their existing Acorn Atom computer.
Known as the Proton (they went for scientific sounding names), the new machine had better graphics and a faster CPU (the 2 MHz MOS Technology 6502).
The machine was only in prototype form at the time, but the Acorn team which was mostly made up of students (including Steve Furber and Sophie Wilson) worked around the clock to get a 'Proton' machine running to demo to the BBC.
When the machine was eventually demonstrated to the BBC it actually exceeded their expectations and was snapped up.
An 8-bit legend was already in the making...
A chunky machine
How it sat with other machines of the era
The machine became very popular in the educational sector, with many schools from the top to the bottom of the UK using them as teaching tools.
Despite being the equal (and in many ways a superior machine) to the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, it never had the same level of cool as those two micro's.
Perhaps part due to the name, and part due to the fact that your school most likely had them, they almost had an image of 'serious computing' - for learning, for programming, for wordprocessing - and for little else.
You didn't want a 'school computer' at home in your bedroom did you?
On top of all of this, they were expensive when compared to other home computers of the era - the average cost was a wallet busting £399, which was serious wedge back in the early 1980s.
Despite this, the 'Beeb' as it effectionately became known, had an impressive range of software titles including games, which really built up in number (with classic games such as Revs, Elite, Planetoid and Rubble Trouble) over the years.
It never was the gamers first choice though and did not have the same amount of games as the other macines did - and no machine ever out did the amount of Spectrum Games available.
It was an important 8-bit machine though, and sits alongside the Amstrad CPC 464 as one of the pioneering machines of the era.
Revs on the BBC Micro
Elite running on a BBC Master
Elite really is one of the most iconic computer games of all time - and it's influence on modern gaming cannot be understimated.
The game was so vast and so unique at the time it deserves it's own page.
Planetoid on the BBC Micro
A great machine with fantastic attributes
The BBC micro had a decent sound chip capable of three channels over seven octaves, which could be output through a built in speaker.
The model A had 16k of RAM, the Model B sported 32k of RAM, and the Model B+ released in 1985 sported a whopping 64k of RAM.
In it's later life there were even B+ models with a massive 128k of RAM.
The model B would probably have gained more popularity with home users and games developers if it had more than 32K of RAM. 64K would have been very nice.
It did have a great built in BASIC though and other features.
For instance it was possible to change text modes and graphics modes, and the machine also had 16 colours to play with; meaning on this front it was in line with most other computers of the era.
In one aspect is was certainly ahead of it's time - the built in BASIC language was very impressive, and one of the reasons why many schools used the machine as a teaching and learning tool.
It was possible to create code procedures with BBC Basic using PROC and ENDPROC, case statements were available and even error handling functions were included. All of this back in 1981 on a home computer - pretty impressive!
Typing code listings was easy enough on the 64 key QWERTY typewriter style keyboard, which also had ten function keys and a set of cursor keys.
There were plenty of peripherals available - if you could afford them: disk drives, tape recorders printers, joysticks and so on.
Because of it's excellent built-in BASIC, it's range of peripherals and overall ruggedness, the Beeb enjoyed a good lifespan right the way through the decade as both an educational and home computer.
It was superseded by the BBC master in 1986, but many model B's were still being put to good use in schools in the early 1990s as valuable teaching tools.
Even by then they were still an excellent machine to learn BASIC programming on; now how's that for longevity?
The Inside Of A BBC Micro And A Spot Of Arkanoid
Classic Platform Action In Chuckie Egg on the BBC Micro
Some Notable Games
The BBC Micro was (eventually) blessed with some truly classic games.
The machine was usually treated to versions of the 'hot' games of the era, and also had many fine games that were specific only to that machine.
If you get the chance please have a look at some of the following titles:
- Arkanoid - A truly awesome arcade conversion that plays almost perfectly
- Chuckie Egg - A classic game on every 8-bit machine
- Crystal Castles - Another fine arcade conversion for the BBC Micro
- Elite - The original (and best) seminal space trading sensation
- Hopper - A very nice version of the classic arcade game Frogger
- Monsters - If you like Panic, you'll like this
- Planetoid - A marvellous and very playable version of the classic Defender
- Repton - A must have game for any Acorn enthusiast - Repton was brilliant on this machine
- Revs - A classic 3D racing game that raised the bar
- Rubble Trubble - Simple but utterly playable
- Sabre Wulf - Ultimates classic arcade adventure game is extremely playable on the BBC Micro
- Wizadore - A tough but great arcade adventure that was hugely popular
The BBC had a very good sound chip and could create those 'arcadey' sound effects properly to match up with the colourful graphics.
Despite being known as an educational computer the BBC was also a fine machine for the home gamer.
Elite on the BBC is the best version I ever played (and I even include the Amiga version in this) and really opened our eyes to what was capable on a humble 8-bit piece of hardware.
Repton on the BBC Micro
Hopper (A rip-off er I mean a 'clone' of Frogger)
Planetoid (A Defender Clone) On The BBC Micro
Wireframe Graphics on the BBC Micro
As we all know the BBC Micro was capable of creating fast moving vector graphics (or wireframe graphics).
Not only was this machine blessed with the seminal Elite - a version of Atari's Star Wars was also created for the BBC.
A great version that runs very well.
Star Wars on the BBC Micro
BBC Micro - Collectors Items
These machines are very collectible in the UK.
They were built to last and withstand a fair amount of punishment (they had to be due to school use where the computer lab was usually unforgiving!) and many good examples that are in good order, are still available to buy online.
A BBC Micro is well worth picking up if you are a fan of older machines or even enjoy old school BASIC programming and old school gaming.
Acorn's machine was a great all rounder that did very well in the UK.
For gamers there are many classic titles that are well worth playing on the BBC Micro.
Useful retro links
- Acorn Archimedes
Acorn also entered the 16-bit fray
- Acorn Atom
The Acorn Atom was the ancestor to the BBC series of computers manufactured by Acorn
- Acorn Electron
The Electron was an 8-bit Micro manufactured by Acorn
- Amiga CD 32
Commodore's attempt to enter the console market...
- Amiga Games
The Amiga and it's fantastic games
- Amstrad CPC 464
During the 1980s entrepeneur Alan Sugar made a foray into the home computer market
- Atari Falcon
The Falcon was Atari's final home computer
- Atari ST
Asteroids - classic vector gaming
- Astro Blaster
A table-top scramble clone from Hales / Tomy
- Astro Wars
A legendary table top arcade
- Awesome Graphics
Some awesome graphics were created on many retro computers
- AY Music
During the 1980s a lot of the 8-Bit micros available used the AY3-8912 sound chip...
- Best PC Games
Best PC Gaming - get the best in online games
- Commodore 16
The C16 was an 8-bit micro manufacured by Commodore
- Commodore 64
The Commodore 64 was the flagship of Commodores 8-bit fleet
- Commodore 128
The last of Commodore's 8-bit machines
- Commodore Amiga
We love the Commodore Amiga!!
- Computer History
A fine collection of 8-bit and 16-bit machines
- Crash Magazine
From Ludlow with a little bit of colour clash
Frogger is an arcade game which was released waaaay back in 1981
- Funny Games
Game to tickle yer ribs
- Games Online
Games online are both modern and classic...
- Ground Zero
Quality text adventuring
- Jupiter Ace
The 8-bit machine from Jupiter Cantab
- Miniclip Games
Just what are Miniclip games? Well, if you are into games online then miniclip games might well be just for you
- Missile Command Games
Missle Command - a world famous arcade game
- Ocean Software
Ocean Software were mostly great!
- Oric 1
The Oric 1 was a British computer
- Oric Atmos
The Oric 1's big brother
- Pacman Game
Who can forget the year of 1980 when Pac-man first appeared?
- Space Invaders
Space Invaders, an all time classic
- Spectrum emulator
Want to play those classic Spectrum games? Please read on.
- Star Wars Computer Games
It's just like beggars canyon back home...
Tetris - what more do you need?
- Tomy Sky Attack
Tomy 3D Sky Attack. The ultimate in Tron-style thrills!
- VIC 20
The Commodore VIC-20
Home video game system
The ZX81 was a sleek looking beast
The Sinclair ZX80 was a home computer manufactured by Sinclair
- ZZap 64
From Ludlow with 64K
- 80s theme tunes
If you were a child during the 1980s there must be lots...
- 8-bit to 16-bit
Making the jump