Computer memories: Nick Francis

My first computer memories were two fold.

Mr Ee!

Mr Ee!

In school – J3 (as we were called then), we were given the opportunity of using the brand spanking new BBC micros, educational applications like Logo and the odd game or two that were knocking around at the time. One specific game which came to be the class favourite was ‘Mr. EE’. It was something about the dazzling (ahem…) graphics or the catchy (Cancan) music which just became addictive amongst us.

So addictive in fact, that most of us never got a look-in. However, that changed ….. one particular dismal British afternoon, I remember going completely against character, up to the Headmasters’ room, where all the software was kept and very carefully removing Mr. EE from the polycarbonate storage container and sneakily making my way back to the classroom.

This is where my memory fades, I’m pretty positive I made it back to the class and even had perhaps one/two attempts at the game, in fact I think I was pretty useless. The reality that I had ‘broken-in’ to the Headmasters’ office hadn’t really hit me, in my mind I was walking on air!

I do remember a stern teacher and a return trip to the Heads’ office with my head in my hands. What was I thinking?


On the home front, it was sometime later that I received my own, first personal computer…… I remember thinking it’s a C64! It’s a C64! which was the more popular, more expensive model at the time. I eventually unwrapped a VIC 20, which looking back at it, didn’t really phase me, I was just glad to have a Computer! (pupils of today take note!) The next week consisted of me playing one game, ‘Hunchback’ on a black & white portable that I had inherited from my father and trying to get another game to work, which never did 🙁

Vic-20 boot screen

Vic-20 boot screen

Looking back, it’s amazing that I never seemed to lose my temper with this machine, it constantly came up with ‘Syntax error at line 24’ etc, it took ages to load a game which by today’s standards is basic, yet there was something utterly fantastic about that machine, my first tentative steps into a world in which I now take computers completely for granted, demanding they perform billions of calculations every day …… my how times have changed!

Nick’s suggested links for further research:

Nick Francis

Written by in: Memories | Tags: , , , , ,

Computer memories: Russel Tarr

My first computer memory consists of my dad showing me (when I was about 9, I guess) a very flash (as in “bling” rather than “Macromedia”) digital watch. This was a chunky gold-plated monstrosity which lay so heavily upon his right wrist that he needed to use his left hand to lift it up and show it off. Not only that, but you had to press a button on its side to light up the red LED display of the time because it used so much battery power that it would otherwise last about seven seconds before dying out.


My second memory is of the time I was sent to the local supermarket to get my dad some cigarettes and, instead of typing the price into the cash till, the John Player Specials were simply “swiped” across a Star-Wars type laser and the bar code did all the work. Then, before I had time to take this in, my junior school purchased a Commodore PET with a breathtaking 3K of RAM, around which a whole “computer club” would gather every Thursday evening. Since then, I have never lost my sense of bewilderment at the wonders of technology: which is why I avoid trying to think about it (or anything else) too much. For example – the fact that my mobile phone can pick up a call from anybody, anywhere in the world, implies to me that at any given second of the day I have an infinite number of conversations whizzing around my head. That’s just too weird.


Anyway, to get to real computers, like many people of my generation my first experience of a home computer was the legendary Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which I retain so much affection for that I just this week bought one on Ebay to frame and stick in my work room (at the time of writing it hasn’t even arrived yet). I remember the sense of shock and awe I got from typing in my first line of code (copied from the manual) which drew an arc on my television screen (“Circle: 0, 40, 60” or something like that). From that point on, it was a slippery slope: an invoicing system for my dad’s roofing business, a “rummy” card game simulator for my nan, and before you knew it I was drinking black coffee and practicing the dark arts of Z80 machine code with my own version of the game “Gauntlet” – which if I remember was like Pacman, except the ghosts were a bit more clever.


The result was playground divisions of the first magnitude. Forget Montagues and Capulets, or Mods and Rockers: you were either Spectrum 48, Commodore 64, or a pitiable nonentity who insisted that an Acorn or an Amstrad was in the same league. Many bitter arguments ensued – both at school and on the TV show “Micro Live” – about whether the superior “sprites” of the Commodore outweighed the crisper sound of the Spectrum (the fact that the “48” actually had more RAM than the “64” was a truism that both sides silently accepted). My loyalties, I am proud to say, never wavered – although they came close when Clive Sinclair himself invented a zany electrically powered personal vehicle called the C5 (what was the matter with the man? This was the 1980s, there was still plenty of fossil fuels left to burn!).


Lunar Jetman


Knight Lore

The phase of my life which was characterized by endless hours loading (and even occasionally playing) Manic Miner, Chuckie Egg, Lunar Jetman, 3D Deathchase, Psst! and Knight Law came to a very abrupt end when my brother stuck an AC power cable into the wrong hole in the back of the computer and blew the bloody thing up. From that point I did not use a computer until I was compulsorily obliged to learn word processing as part of my teacher training course. But from the moment I printed off my first essay and saw how professional it looked, I was transported back into geek heaven and have never looked back (and never, of course, had the social confidence to look anyone straight in the eye, either).

Russel Tarr


Resource: Overview of older computers

This is Mikila’s overview covering the BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Acorn Archimedes, Amiga 500 and the Atari ST.

Provides brief technical information together with additional dates and details.  A good start before producing more detailed leaflets 🙂

 Overview of older computers.pdf

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