Looks like I had a case of clumsy fingers at the start of this tape. Dating from around 1986, the first thing on it is about a second of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a programme that didn’t start airing until 1998. So I’d clearly been looking at this tape, and accidentally started recording. Slightly annoying.
The recording flips back almost immediately to Micro Live, leaving that annoying static roll that indicates recording over something.
As if my glitch wasn’t bad enough, the programme itself has a bit of a glitch, as they play in some film leader just before one of the transitions.
The first item in the show is a preview of the Computer Graphics awards, with a look at a few of the films that caught the programme’s eye, including an early film from Chris Wedge, who would go on to direct Ice Age.
Freff reports on the downturn in the computer industry. There’s a brief summation of the industry from Bill Gates, the first time I think he’s been featured – in fact, up until this point Microsoft had barely achieved a mention.
Fred looks at speech synthesis, including a look at another product I had a small hand in, the Computer Concepts Speech ROM. That was a ROM which made it slightly easier to generate speech on the BBC Micro, and had some nice features, including the ability to adjust the intonation – I even got it to sing, albeit not very well.
There’s also a look at Richard Gomm, who appeared in one of the first episodes of the series, using a speech synthesizer to speak on the telephone.
Lesley reads the Micro Live news, and Mac talks to Which Computer’s Lynn McTaggart about the quality of Computer maintenance contracts.
Fred gives out all the ways to get the programme newsletter. Remember when URLs were new, and presenters struggled with reading them out. Look at what they used to have to deal with.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 11th October 1985 – 19:30
In the next episode, Fred looks at what it takes to upgrade from cassette to disk.
In the Micro Live News, there’s news about Intel announcing a brand new microprocessor, the 80386. This was the first fully 32 bit intel chip, and paved the way for Windows to become a useful operating system, allowing it to address much larger memory space than the 286, which could only address memory through clumsy chunk-switching.
Then there’s a piece where Fred goes on manoeuvres with the army corps of signals to find out how they solve the problem of calculating where best to set up their transmitters to avoid hills. Fred got to wear some natty camoflage, but the effect was undercut slightly by his corduroy trousers.
The report also talks briefly about encryption of voice signals. There’s an amusing bit at the end where Fred asks why modern encryption is better than older scrambling systems, and the spokesman can’t (or won’t) answer.
Then, back in the studio, Mac goes into details about encryption, and announces the Listener encryption competition.
Then Lesley is joined by John Vince of Middlesex Polytechnic to look at the winners of the Computer Animation festival.
I love the fact that CGI is such a new concept that Vince has to keep reiterating that the images are generated by computer. “That’s not a real shoe, that’s a computer generated shoe.”
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 18th October 1985 – 19:30
After this, a little treat in the form of a clip from Wogan of an interview with Carl Sagan. I’m not sure it’s entirely polite for Terry to do an impression of his guest in his introduction, but that’s Wogan for you.
Sagan is impressively pessimistic about the outcome of Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative – the “Star Wars” missile defence system that Reagan’s advisers persuaded him to back. In the event, a ludicrous concept that could never work, but one which, supporters claimed, had the effect of forcing the Soviet Union to spend so much on their own research that they were bankrupted, which led to the fall of the Soviet Union. I’m not sure the historical facts entirely bear this out, though.
He’s a lot happier talking about life on other worlds – I presume this interview coincides with the publication of Contact although it’s never mentioned by name, possibly because Wogan famously hated his guests simply plugging their book/record/film, but they do at least talk about the subject matter.
It ends a little awkwardly, as Sagan gets up immediately and leaves as soon as Wogan thanks him.
I would link to the exact Genome for this, but I can’t tell if it’s the Monday or Wednesday edition. But the Radio Times listings for Wogan for this week have a classical theme:
BBC One – 21st October 1985 – 19:00: Is Terry the 20th-century Sisyphus, struggling away on Shepherd’s Bush Green?
BBC One – 23rd October 1985 – 19:00: How would the 12 labours of Hercules compare with the toil of Terry thrice weekly?
BBC One – 25th October 1985 – 19:00: Is Terry bound to become another Prometheus, and will his liver last?
Someone was having fun.
After this we’re back with Micro Live and one of the best episodes of the entire series. It’s If I Had a Hammer… and it’s a whole programme dedicated to one subject – the use of technology and computers in the music industry.
Among the many contributors are Martin Rushent, shown in the studio producing Then Jericho, and demonstrating (among other things) how he nicked a snare drum sound from David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. “I do it quite a lot. What the publishers and people like that are going to say when they find out actually what’s going on is going to be rather interesting.”
Another giant of the synth world is Robert Moog, pioneer of the analogue modular synthesizer made famous by Wendy Carlos and her Switched On Bach.
Frances Monkman, of the prog-folk band Sky, demonstrates the Prophet 5 synth, and complains about how easy it is for the analogue oscillators to go out of tune.
Writer Ray Hammond talks about how synths are putting musicians out of work. And a representative of the Musicians Union talks darkly about putting a stop to this sort of thing.
One thing I’ve noticed about some old computer systems, and it’s quite noticeable in the Fairlight system, is that the keyboard has a really distinctive sound. It’s not just a clicky keyboard, as many were in those days, with physical switches. The Fairlight keyboard also has a kind of squeak that I find really evokes the image of ‘real’ computers. Watch the section where Kendal Wrightson demonstrates the Fairlight to see what I mean.
Martin Rushent sums up how he sees technology and its use in creating music. “I don’t think it makes you any a better carpenter by the fact that you can bash nails in with your fist with no machine. The smart guy uses a hammer. It’s less painful.”
Mark Wood demonstrates a Roland guitar controller, allowing guitarists to play synthesized sounds.
Francis Monkman returns to demonstrate the Yamaha DX7. “It uses a technique known as frequency modulation synthesis which sounds very complicated but actually it’s quite simple.” Not so fast, Monkman, I’ve got a DX7, and I’ve tried programming sounds, and FM synthesis is actually just as complicated as it sounds. Most people tended to rely on a few geniuses with the temperament to tinker with the waveforms to produce the presets. Even Monkman himself, mere seconds after declaring it quite simple, has to admit “It’s not so easy to program yourself.”
The whole programme ends with the various musicians recreating Switched On Bach.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 25th October 1985 – 19:30
In the next episode, it’s back to the studio format. But music is still covered, as Fred demonstrates the SpecDrum add-on. Fred certainly knows the value of more cowbell.
Tony Selinger of Firebird software demonstrates the Advanced Music System. I remember trying that out, but I never really got any decent results out of it.
Alan Townsend of Roland UK explains what MIDI is and how it works.
In the news, Prestel announces it’s finally trading at a profit.
The data protection act is coming into force, and the programme looks at the possible implications of the act, talking to the data protection registrar himself, Eric Howe.
Freff reports on the building of autonomous robots, designed for use in Three Mile Island nuclear plant, which suffered a meltdown and needs machines to venture into the most radioactive areas. Serious stuff. Until Professor Hans Moravec (who sounds like a robot himself) demonstrates how a robot might open a door with its… appendage.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 1st November 1985 – 19:30
After this, over to Channel 4 for Animation at Cambridge. It’s our old friend from Micro Live, John Vince, showing some of the entries in the Cambridge Computer Animation Festival.
The films he showcases are Picture Gallery, a clip of which was seen earlier in Micro Live, Narcissus by Peter Foldes, which is a very early exanple of using computers to manipulate images
The Mathematician, by Stan Hayward
Vince talks to Middlesex Poly student Keith Waters about his film of a flyby of the statue of Liberty.
Horse Camel illustrates the old adage about a camel being a horse designed by committee.
The final film on show is Tony de Peltrie, also seen earlier on Micro Live.
Next, we’re back to Micro Live, but I’ve missed the start, possibly because it started earlier than normal.
We join it as Fred is on board a computer bus, looking at educational software. Then some news, including news of a forthcoming Sinclair business computer (after the QL) which I don’t believe ever saw the light of day.
Then Fred visits Unwins the printers, to look at how they can accept text for printing electronically. Fred’s looking very dapper.
They’re trying to see how fast they can get their programme notes printed and delivered to the school where the programme is coming from.
Lesley talks to Richard Fothergill of the Microelectronics in Education Programme.
Mac talks to former education secretary Shirley Williams about the closure of the MEP, and the large cut in spending on educational software.
He also talks to Chris Patten about why the MEP is being cut.
After a rather stodgy discussion about the woes of this cut in funding of software, there’s a bit of excitement as the despatch rider arrives with the programme notes hot off the presses. There’s some impressive spotlight work from the lighting operators as he rides in.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 8th November 1985 – 19:15
After this episode, recording stops, and underneath there’s a short burst of a black and white film that I don’t recognise.
Recording stops a few minutes into this.