Explore Computer History With BBC Archive
Written by Sue Gee   
Thursday, 28 June 2018

Providing a remarkable trip down memory lane for anyone who learned to program in 1980s Britain, the BBC has released an archive of its Computer Literacy Project.

The 1980s was the era of the home micro and gave a new role to the domestic TV - that of output device on which you could view the results of running your programs and also the program listings. In the UK the BBC became heavily involved with home computing and designed, built, and marketed the BBC Micro. This was part of a wider Computer Literacy Project aimed at introducing computers and computing to young and old alike in keeping with the attitude prevalent at the time that you had to learn about computers to stay ahead.

bbc micro use

According to the archive site, which has been assembled by David Allen and Steve Lowry:

The Computer Literacy Project chronicled a decade of information technology and was a milestone in the history of computing in Britain, helping to inspire a generation of coders.

This site contains all 146 of the original Computer Literacy Project programmes plus 121 related programmes, broken down into 2,509 categorized, searchable clips. It also includes 166 associated BBC Micro software programs that can be run on some platforms on an emulator (written by Matt Godbolt).

It enables visitors to:

  • Watch any of the 267 TV programmes
  • Explore 2,509 programme clips by topic or text search
  • Find out how the BBC Computer Literacy Project came about
  • Run 166 BBC Micro programs that were used on-screen

Matthew Postgate, the BBC's chief technology and product officer, comments:

"This archive offers a fascinating and nostalgic glimpse into an important milestone in the history of computing.

"The hardware may have changed, but the principles still apply - which also makes it a unique resource for teaching and learning that will hopefully encourage a new generation of computer users."

Having delved into the archive, it certainly does remind me of the excitement surrounding home computing more than 30 years ago. The sorts of programs we were able to write and run may now seem primitive - see our recent conversion of Commado Jump (one of 21 Games for the BBC Micro) to run on the the micro:bit for an example - but they inspired a lot of people to take an active interest in programming both as a hobby and as a career.




The archive includes all three series of  Micro Live originally broadcast as a live show between October 1984 and March 1987. It is fascinating to watch them new with over 30 years extra experience and thinking how much has changed - in particular how Bulletin Boards and Modems have been replaced by Twitter, smartphones and of course the Internet which has enabled this archive to exist.

bbc comp lit arc

More Information
BBC Computer Literacy Project 1980-1989

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Last Updated ( Friday, 29 June 2018 )