The Computers That Made Britain on sale now

Looks like a good book to read.

The home computer boom of the 1980s brought with it now-iconic machines. Machines that would go on to inspire a generation, such as the ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, and Commodore 64.

The Computers That Made Britain tells the story of those computers – and what happened behind the scenes during their creation. With dozens of new interviews discover the tales of missed deadlines, technical faults, business interference, and the unheralded geniuses behind all of it. Geniuses who brought to the UK everything from the Dragon 32 and ZX81, through to the Amstrad CPC 464 and the Commodore Amiga.

You can order your copy of The Computers that Made Britain today online from the Raspberry Pi Press Store. Alternatively, you can buy it in the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge, and from other leading online highstreet booksellers, including Waterstones. As always, you can also download the book in PDF format, for free, directly from the Wireframe website.


At £12, it looks like a pretty good deal.

I’ll confess I’m reading the pay-what-you-will PDF, having chosen to pay nothing. The book is interesting reading! For example, I don’t think I’d previously understood that the PET was designed with the intent of selling the design to Tandy, meeting their spec of what they wanted to sell. The deal fell through not because of the PET, but because Tramiel wanted Tandy to carry Commodore’s calculator line as part of the deal, and they didn’t want to do that.

Nor had I quite understood (or remembered) that the PET took off in the UK and Europe as a consequence of the independence given to the UK arm, and the decisions they took to support it.


This is pretty interesting – I guess, I will have a look at it, as well.

You might notice that the book links to your site!


Indeed, on p.34! :slight_smile: :proud:

P.S., I’m still at the very beginning, the chapter about Research Machines, which I’ve always found fascinating. — BTW, a company started with money from a rat brain wave analyser. Which brings to mind Licklider’s early paper about the “The Gridless, Wireless Rat -Shocker”. – Is there a hidden history of rats and their foundational merits in computer history? :wink:


I’m now reading the VIC-20 chapter. Very interesting.

I see one of the resources used is a 1984 book, by Michael Tomczyk, available here


I’ve been reading the PDF on my e-reader, and it’s really an excellent book. It’s just a little bit rah-rah about the Raspberry Pi in places (don’t get me wrong, I do think the Pi is a phenomenal tool for hobbyists and learners, both), but that’s understandable given the publisher. :wink:

Some of the ground is very well-trod (Commodore vs. Atari, for example), but it’s interesting to see many of the developments from the UK-centric perspective; for someone who never experienced the BBC Micro or the Acorn Archimedes or any of the Amstrad offerings, seeing their relative positions in the market and a summary of their strengths and shortcomings is fascinating.

As usual, one of my take-aways from any history on early microcomputing is “oh, if only the business circumstances had been somewhat different!” I’m not sure we would have entirely avoided the hegemony we got (and are maybe now loosening a little?), but reading about very cool machines that were bungled in marketing, financing, or cost-cutting is always sad.

I downloaded the free PDF, but I will be buying it; I haven’t decided if I’m buying the PDF or the paper book, yet.


Making slow progress… got to the chapter on the Atari ST, and find it interesting to see this:

Tramiel wanted Atari to make a statement at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 1985 by debuting its new computer, and that meant making a lot of decisions and fast.
The first decision was which processor to build it around. ‘We were hot on the [32-bit] 32016 and 32032,’ said Shivji in 1988. ‘We had a bunch of meetings with National Semiconductor regarding the availability of the chip, and when it was obvious that we could not have the number of chips that we wanted and the pricing was not right, then the decision was made to go with the 68000.’


What’s perhaps most impressive is that, in the space of six months, Atari
developed four custom chips

and for me, being not too far from Bristol, the home of Metacomco, this was notable:

One section of the audience that immediately appreciated the Atari, though, was programmers. Previously, a Motorola 68000 machine cost significantly more than £1,000, but thanks to the efforts of Metacomco’s Tim King (who also wrote Amiga DOS) early users could benefit from a suite of development tools. ‘We did one in Assembler, we had a Pascal compiler, we had a C compiler, we had a BPCL compiler of course, we even had a Lisp system,’ says King.

I like the “of course”.