Last night’s telly highlight was a programme I’ve been waiting a while for – Micro Men, the story of the Beeb vs the Spectrum, or more precisely the rivalry of Acorn MD Chris Curry vs (Sir) Clive Sinclair in the early 1980s.
It was set against the background of Cambridge and commenced with the collapse of Sinclair Radionics, designers and manufacturers of the digital Black Watch, various hi-fi systems, and the miniature TV. Much has been documented about the history of Sinclair (not least in a rather good book called The Sinclair Story by Rodney Dale) so I’m not going to rehash that here.
The casting was quite good – Alexander Armstrong as Sir Clive, Martin Freeman as Chris Curry. Armstrong’s makeup was a little false but with a little suspension-of-disbelief he carried it off: books on the Sinclair empires only mention in passing his lack of tolerance and quick temper, which Armstrong amplified to portray Sinclair as a megalomaniac whose grudges and single-mindedness ultimately contributed to his downfall regarding the C5. I’m not sure if Sinclair got a bit of a bum rap here; discussions with other 80s contemporaries who worked with him suggested not.
Although the caption at the start claimed to have dramatised and invented some scenes to aid the story, apparently many of those scenes you may have thought were made up weren’t: the wire-cutting scene before the demo of the first BBC Micro happened, as did the fight in the pub (confirmed by Professor Steven Furber, who was a supporting character in the dramatisation).
I particularly enjoyed ‘cameo-spotting’ such as the real Sophie Wilson playing the barmaid at the end, and little incidental details such as the whiteboard with the requirements for the ARM CPU (and consequently the first Acorn Archimedes). Cracking soundtrack too.
Serious kudos to the Centre of Computing History – apparently Jason Fitzpatrick was in it but I didn’t spot him. I’m sure I’ll see him when I watch it again with Nicky. I was vaguely surprised to find that Richard Hallas wasn’t involved – last I heard had been writing a history of Acorn.
The fallout’s been quite amusing – had lots of questions about Beebs from colleagues, friends and other random folks who were following the Twitter #micromen hashtag. I’ll write up a ‘getting started with your Beeb’ post at some point soon, but if you want to emulate then beebem is the best emulator and comes with the correct ROMs to start it up. I’ll also assemble a DSD so you can play a few games, maybe, although there are still quite a few legal issues (Granny’s Garden for instance is still aggressively protected by 4Mation).
You can still catch the programme on iPlayer by clicking here and BBC4 are repeating it ad nauseum over the next week or so. If you’re out of the country you’ll need to wait for other sources to illicitly distribute it I guess.