back to article Bird of Prey: 1980s IT on on the small screen

is an occasional column written at the crossroads where the arts, popular culture and technology intersect. In this first instalment, we look back at the BBC’s IT-themed Bird of Prey, a four-part conspiracy thriller “for the electronic age” and cult geek favourite. Let’s be clear about this right from the start: Bird of Prey, …


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  1. nigbose
    Thumb Up

    God I loved this show

    that takes me back - for some reason I thought Mandy Rice-Davies was in it but imdb imply I am mistaken.

    1. Toxteth O'Gravy

      Re: God I loved this show

      Yep, she's in it, playing a manager of call girls, no less. I have the DVD.

    2. nigbose

      Re: God I loved this show

      Oh no, she was.... Ah.

  2. EddieD

    Compulsive viewing for me...

    I remember both series very fondly - thanks for reminding me. THey appealed to the paranoid hippy conspiracy theorist I was becoming.

    Good to know they're on DVD, I may have to pop to Fopp and see if I can grab a copy.

    1. EddieD

      Re: Compulsive viewing for me...

      I've just spotted he's using an Apple, there's a blast from the past. Same machine as my school used (okay, we had a zx81, but no-one used that) to teach us computers. Very, very badly. It was though, 1980 or so, and no-one really knew too much about how to use a micro computer (we did more work on the big machines at the local university...which still had teletypes, not monitors).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Compulsive viewing for me...

        I actually *built* an Apple ][ :). Throws me back a couple of decennia - the days of Dai (remember that one?), zx80, Commodore 64 etc etc. Come to think of it, the starting market for computers was rather diverse before it settled on a few. Were Acorn and the BBC Micro of that time as well, or did they come later?

        It seems only a few years later I got into *portable* computing via the Psion Organiser II - still got two of those (one black :).

        1. TkH11

          Re: Compulsive viewing for me...

          You built an Apple 2? An Apple 1 I could accept, but I wasn't aware Apple distributed any bareboard Apple 2's.

          They were all supplied pre-built and in the case.

      2. Steve Evans

        @EddieD - was Re: Compulsive viewing for me...

        Sod the Apple II, check out the acoustic coupler!

        Damn I feel old now!

        I vaguely remember this series, the more I read of the article, the more it came back to me.

        I think I'm going to have to watch it again now.

        1. Stoneshop

          Re: @EddieD - was Compulsive viewing for me...

          There were several kits around for building an ][-clone; I built one for a fellow student who did have enough money to buy one, *and* a printer, *and* floppy disks by the box-full (the bastard), and also had the good sense to acknowledge that he knew the hot end of a soldering iron from the cold end, but barely anything beyond that regarding hardware.

          This was a CHE-][, which had a separate keyboard, shaped not unlike one from a VT100, and used industry-standard floppy drives (of which the bastard had *two*) instead of the "let's reduce the electronics in them to a bare minimum and do the stepper motor driving in software" ones Apple wanted to sell (initially cheaper, but soon more expensive than the conventional ones due to economies of scale)

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: @EddieD - was Compulsive viewing for me...

          "Sod the Apple II, check out the acoustic coupler!"

          State of the art. Back in the day.

          Has *some* benefits if you're somewhere so 3rd world your landline is still hard wired into a box.

  3. Silverburn

    Never heard of it, but sounds interesting. Will give it a go. I'll just pop over to my online vendor of choi...

    ...oh wait. DVD. <Scotty>How quaint</Scotty>

  4. Shark? what shark?


    And if I'm not mistaken, NP-completeness was a plot point.

    They don't make them like that any more.

  5. ForthIsNotDead
    Thumb Down

    HOW F***KING MUCH????

    At £125 for the DVD I think I'll give it a miss.


    1. Vic

      Re: HOW F***KING MUCH????

      > £125 for the DVD

      Sainsbury's have it for £12.99 ...


  6. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    It may be available on DVD but for GBP 125 ... I thought there were laws against price gouging of essential goods in the wake of Hurricanes?

    Torrent, please!

  7. diver_dave

    And another????

    There was another at roughly the same time involving bank security

    and the link between their London and Manchester backup centers.

    Main character a computer security consultant

    Can't remember the title though....

    Nice scene where he's in a cafe looking for the competition

    doing their pitch for a contract and being charged 50p extra

    for another 1/2 teaspoon of instant coffee....

    1. Tascam Holiday
      Black Helicopters

      Re: And another????

      I think that may have been The Consultant with Hywel Bennett.

      As for £125 for the Bird of Prey DVD... I'll have to think about flogging mine, comes with the sequel series too.

      1. diver_dave
        Thumb Up

        Re: And another????

        That's the one...

        I *think*

        Random numbers and photo lightbox????

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: And another????

      I think you'll find it was called "The Consultant"

      Howell Bennet was the consultant and was written by John McNeil, who IIRC actually founded one of the big UK IT consultancies (Logica? F International?). I think his death was covered in an El Reg report a while back.

      You can guess what books in my pocket.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    £13 @ Sainsburys

    Where's this £125 coming from?

    Sainsburys online has the DVD for £13.

    I bought one earlier in the year for rather less than that, can't remember where.

    I'd seen it first time round, happy memories. The missus (non geek, likes mysteries) hadn't.

    We both enjoyed watching it.

    They really don't make them like this any more.

    1. Vic

      Re: £13 @ Sainsburys

      > Where's this £125 coming from?

      That's Amazon's price.


  9. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Thanks, Vulture Central

    I've been trying to remember the name of this for years.

  10. ukaudiophile

    Lovefilm to the rescue

    £125 seems rather excessive - this is available via Lovefilm.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    No one has mentioned the opening credits using a PacMan-style game animation. That was neat.

  12. Peter Galbavy

    find-dvd is a good jumping off point

    Sometime they actually list the right availability, but looks a bit word at the moment:

  13. Paul Johnston

    Okay but...

    No "Edge of Darkness" (Bob Peck not Mel Gibson!)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Okay but...

      Oh dear - I'd managed to utterly forget that there was a film version... One of life's mysteries how Martin Campbell hoped to top his original outing - I'm not reflexively opposed to the concept of sequels but when the first swing knocks the ball out of the park just what do you hope to achieve with another?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Okay but... what do you hope to achieve with another?

        "what do you hope to achieve with another?"

        Pay some bills?

        Troy Kennedy Martin (RIP) thank you. And the many many others.

        Who'd have thought that, decades later, another Kennedy (this time, Mark Kennedy/Stone) would turn up for real as an undercover cop who had been illegally (?) infiltrating peaceful protest organisations. Ring any bells?


    2. CAPS LOCK

      Re: Okay but...

      Yeah, Bob Peck in Edge of Darkness, astonishing stuff. Hard to think of anything that comes even close. RIP Bob, you were the real deal.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Okay but...

        Yep, watching Bob Peck just do "nothing" was also bewitching, eg that long take of Craven sitting crying silently in his car in the rain, motorway traffic grinding noisily past. Probably lasted as long as Pendleton's total screen time in the movie - so while "paying the bills" is a fair motivation, why try to condense a long and richly-charactered piece like this to a (Hollywood) screen?

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Okay but...

          What are you guys talking about? There is no re-make of Edge of Darkness! Don't be stupid! What idiot would reverse the actors, so Craven becomes Mel Gibson, and Jedburgh becomes Ray Winstone. That just couldn't happen, and anyone who says different is a liar!

          La la la la la la, got my fingers in my ears, not listening, la la la la...

          I don't know how I'd managed to miss this show. I remember Edge of Darkness at the time, because I caught the last hour or so, and was disappointed at having no way to watch it all, even though it seemed great. Except that happened to so many people that the BBC repeated it within a few weeks, and again later in the same year I think. Which was pretty unusual at the time.

          In a brilliant piece of BBC organisation, I bought the video when it came out in the 90s, ordered the first day it was released, only for them to ship part 1, then forget to release the other half for about 18 months! So I had 'Half of Darkness'. The dog savaged that tape, before it came out on DVD.

          Looks like time for a wander through some old British drama. Things like 'A Question of Attribution', 'A Very British Coup' maybe a bit of 'Prime Suspect' (which I've never seen). Wonder if all this stuff is on Netflix or Love Film?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beware: Many different productions using same title

    It's amazing how many films/tv series have used the title "Bird of Prey" or "Birds of Prey".

    Make sure you buy the right one.

    1. The FunkeyGibbon

      Re: Beware: Many different productions using same title

      Or worse still "Birds of a Feather".... :-D

  15. BuddyBrunson

    Why did you show me this? i want to watch it now, and apparently its only available in region 2 disc. ANd its 125 pounds how much is that in american tokens? BAAHH

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Its no torrent tokens....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Lots of intertron sellers have it cheaper- and if you offer a friendly brit who wants to do some sneaky shopping a swapsies arrangement, I am sure you could get it cheap. Then rip it, and who cares what region it is? :)

  16. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    This was an excellent show!

    No beeping noises as a screen prints out characters at the speed of a teletype, no "Enhance!", no derring do and gunfights, just an ordinary bloke who gets caught up in extraordinary events and decides that he's not going to be pushed around or act as one of the "little people"...

    "Hibou et Minou allèrent à la mer.

    "Dans une barque peinte en jaune-canari..."

  17. Antony Shepherd

    I seem to recall the second season suffered greatly from the same degree of product placement that saw a BBC Micro embedded in the TARDIS console.

    I mean, I'm not even sure the bog standard Acorn Electron COULD connect to an acoustic coupler.

    1. Stoneshop


      Mine is somewhere deep in a stack of boxes (see the hoarding article), so I can't easily check the real thing, but I'm fairly sure the Electron had a serial port like the Model B. is not very definitive on the matter, but a lot of the Beeb's circuitry had been stuffed into a single ULA, making the bare Electron technically a B with mode 7, the User port, printer port and the ADC left off. On the B, the serial port was kindof close with the cassette interface, and I think it would be easier to simply include it on the Electron than to leave it off.

    2. Sean Timarco Baggaley

      To be fair, the BBC Micro was available for cheap to the Beeb – it was their name on the case after all. They'd have had dozens of them lying around for use in their IT programming, so why not use one on the TARDIS console to provide some cut-rate CGI? Hiring Fred Harris to program it to draw some basic shapes instead of paying someone to provide Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy-style animations is a lot cheaper too. (The computer was used as an integral part of a few stories, so it wasn't just eye-candy.)

      If they'd nailed on a Commodore VIC-20 instead, you'd have a valid complaint, but a BBC-branded computer in a BBC TV series was always going to be cheaper. And the BBC's status as a public broadcaster meant they couldn't accept advertising from third parties back then anyway, so using their own computer was probably their only option.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple ][

    Two disk drives and they couldn't afford a proper sized screen?

    Not to mention the heresy of not putting the screen on top of the unit and stacking the disk drives at the side, so the screen is the right height when you look at it...

    Tsk, nothing beats experience!

  19. Self-evidently!

    God brits are so stupid.

    Just look at that wallpaper!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Did you see the 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' film last year? In the scenes in the meeting room, there was some proper wallpaper: link of yucky-ness

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "Did you see the 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' film last year? In the scenes in the meeting room, there was some proper wallpaper: "

        But s**t wallpaper was part of the 1970's. Anything less than some kind of garish geometric design is simply *not* authentic.

  20. Sean Timarco Baggaley

    For ex-pats with an iPlayer Global subscription...

    ... "Bird of Prey" has been available on that for a while now, so no need for a DVD if you live abroad and have an iPlayer Global subscription. They haven't gone out of their way to advertise this though.

    Given the parlous state of Italian TV – RAI really has gone downhill over the decades – I have no problem with paying for the iPlayer Global subscription. Even "Father Ted" and "Black Books" are on there. (The "Global" app seems to include some ITV and Channel 4 archive programming too, so I'm guessing it's a UK Gold-style joint venture behind the scenes.)

    No "Blake's 7", and only a few Doctor Who stories from the archives – mostly converted from what looks like the original archives rather than the restored material used for their DVDs. Which is a shame, but not surprising given that they can still milk more money out of SF fans for those.

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