The British Broadcasting Corporation recently announced that it is making its archive of material from the Computer Literacy Project available online for the first time. The BBC Computer Literacy Project was a pioneering educational initiative which ran from 1980 to 1989 and included literally hundreds of television programmes on how to use and program microcomputers plus a wealth of supporting material such as computer programs which viewers could try out for themselves.
The Project also spawned its own microcomputer, the BBC Micro, which became a very popular model in the UK home computer market, selling more than 1.5 million units over a 13 year period. BBC Micros were a common sight in UK schools and colleges, where they were responsible for nurturing a generation of games programmers. I even had one on my kitchen table for a while, one of a batch of unwanted machines from the R&D laboratory where I worked, which had replaced them with more capable models such as the Commodore PET, Apple ][ and IBM PC.The huge success of the BBC Micro in the UK did not extend beyond its home market and the machine is almost unheard of in other parts of the world. However, the company behind it, Acorn Computers, later evolved into Arm Holdings, the firm responsible for the design of most of the CPU chips used in today’s smartphones. So, the powerful mobile computing and telecommunications device that you probably have in your pocket right now owes at least part of its existence to an obscure, low-cost microcomputer from the 1980s. A mighty Micro indeed!