back to article Doors closed by COVID-19, Brit retro tech museums need your help

Times are tough for the custodians of Blighty's computing history as both the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park and Cambridge's Centre for Computing History have found themselves bereft of visitors, events and income, thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown. Can you help? The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) houses an …

  1. Admiral Grace Hopper

    The road not taken

    If I'd got the job I interviewed for with Tarmac back in the '80s I'd have worked on the ICL 2966 they've got there. I'll send them a contribution on payday.

  2. steviebuk Silver badge

    The Centre for Computing History

    Is good. Still not visited but their YouTube channel is really good. Really needs to be saved, sad to see the Just Giving is struggling. I donated a few weeks ago. I like their room full of BBC computers. The way they are laid out reminds me of our computer room in school in the 80s. They even have the same monitors. It was two boys to one BBC back then.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: The Centre for Computing History

      Two boys to one BBC? Luxury. When I were a lad there was only one BBC for the whole primary school.

      Later on in high school there was a classroom which had about 10 of them, Prestel, and a Valiant Turtle. Mmm, marvelous.

      Although I've never been to either of these two museums, I'll be adding them onto the list of things that I'll be throwing a few coins into the hat for, as if they go they probably won't be coming back.

      1. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: The Centre for Computing History

        We only had one in primary school. And I can't remember his name now but was a kid in the class who was the whiz. No one, not even the teachers knew how to use it so he'd do it all for them including printing out. The BBCs in high school I think lasted a year or two. Was later 80s so were on there way out. Don't think we had the luxury of a turtle. I do remember them showing us a 12" laser disc. From my bad memory I think computing classes disappeared after the BBCs were gone. I just remember that room then only being for CDT and technical design drawing.

        1. ovation1357

          Re: The Centre for Computing History

          I have a feeling I was perceived to be *that* kid in my school - I loved the BBC micros and spent many hours reading the manuals.

          With the support of a very enthusiastic teacher, I wrote menus for all the various disks we had such that you could boot to the menu with shift+break and be able to load the various stuff without needing to know how to use it. This was all a huge part of my initiation into the world of computing

          As we all learn from mistakes I certainly learnt a lot very quickly when I tried a CMOS Reset from the BBC Master's manual only to discover that it meant it wouldn't even have enough config by default to load the DFS ROM. I remember spending several hours with my teacher coping settings from another machine and figuring out a bunch of other things which weren't working.

          I think you're completely right about the end of lessons in computing... All the schools in the UK hastily ripped out all the BBC micros which were 'instant-on' and very 'hackable' machines with BBC Basic and a whole wealth of interfaces plus a massive catalogue of educational software and games; and they replaced them with Windows 95 PCs which took forever to start up (or to do anything, come to think of it), had nothing useful built-in (notepad and solitaire really don't count) and were so easily broken that they became shrouded by a policy of fear and discouragement because the teachers had no idea how to fix them and any 'damage' would leave a machine unusable until the outsourced tech support could get around to reinstalling it. Therefore any deviation from the lesson 'script' would be met with stern punishment.

          Some places passed through the Acorn Archimedes before reaching the same destination. I liked the Archimedes although it too lacked the instant gratification of BASIC or other toys without loading extra software.

          I still blame Microsoft for the fact that two or maybe three generations after me learnt nothing beyond a bit of Excel or maybe a very simple 'database' in Access. The joy of computing was sucked right out of these awful white boxes.

          I'm very grateful and relieved that my kids are growing up in an era of the Raspberry Pi, Arduino and similar. They're likely to learn scratch at school and will have the option to learn to code as part of the curriculum. This is good news indeed. Although nothing will bring back the magical era of all those different 8-bit sub-128k home and school computers of the 80s.

          1. ThomH

            Re: The Centre for Computing History

            You don’t have to load anything to enjoy BASIC on an Archimedes; hit F12 to bring up the standard ACORN MOS asterisk prompt, type BASIC and hit enter. You’ll find yourself in BBC BASIC V, three versions on from the BASIC II that most BBC Micro Model Bs contained but very much the same thing.

            All from ROM, no media required.

          2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: The Centre for Computing History

            You don't need to load the DFS ROM on the Master, it's in, well, ROM.

  3. BebopWeBop Silver badge

    10 PRINT "HELLO "; 20 GOTO 10

    Ahh a wonderful game for machines that were left 'open' as demos way back in the day of a plethora of 'consumer' machines, all of which appeared to have some sort of basic interpreter available. HOWEVER

    Invariably 10 PRINT "**** is sh*t "; 20 GOTO 10 was a more usual intervention.

    No, at the age of 14 we were not very subtle let alone mature, and my partner assures me that 40 odd years later things have not improved.....

    1. steviebuk Silver badge

      I was too square that when I'd go into WHSmith in the 80s. I'd only ever do

      10 PRINT "Hello"

      20 GOTO 10

      Never occurred to me to put a swear word in place :) (and I swear like a sailor now) probably cause was always with my mum and would of gotten told off.

      1. Stuart Castle Silver badge

        You see, computers are missing that kind of simplicity now, despite the introduction of GUIs..

        In past days, I could walk into almost any Smiths, Dixons or Boots (or any of a half dozen or so other chain shops), go up to the computers on display and type

        10 PRINT "Stuart woz 'ere"

        20 GOTO 10

        Today's kids would need to find the right program (probably Wordpad if it's a PC), fire it up and type their message again and again to get it to repeat like that.. Like doing lines.

        1. steviebuk Silver badge

          Can still surf the net on some in store machines so I leave them on my website :)

        2. gypsythief

          Today's kids ...type their message again and again...


          Gypsythief rulez ok!

          Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V

          Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V

          Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V

          Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V


          (I won't follow my own *ahem* advice here lest the Vultures-That-Be decide I might be a tasty morsel)

        3. Simon Harris Silver badge

          If a passerby can get to Wordpad or Notepad they might be able to knock out a bit of HTML and JavaScript to replicate their 1980s shenanigans.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If memory serves me correctly was there a peek or poke command so you couldn't escape? I think there were explicit commands on some. I remember many fun trips to town and the frantic look on their faces when they realised it was locked. I put a down payment on my secret island last week and I often stroke my cat while it's sat on my lap.

  4. BebopWeBop Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    Like many who will read these pages, I have given my modest donation.

  5. Louis Schreurs Bronze badge

    It hurts

    to think maybe some stuff could get a one-way ticket to binary heaven.

  6. BenDwire Bronze badge

    Advance tickets

    TNMOC are offering post-pandemic tickets as one of their rewards, which obviously gives them funds now and something for you to look forward to!

    Now, where's my little green "Basic Basic" book ...?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tech companies?

    Maybe some of the tech companies could help to keep these museums open?

  8. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    It only took a handful of infected to bring the NHS to the brink of collapse within a couple of months, so let's face it: Multiple infection peaks will occupy the coming decades and more and more institutions and companies will be brought into state ownership. This type of museum will disappear.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Are you just assuming a vaccine is impossible or do you have evidence to this effect?

    2. RayG

      Oh for goodness' sake.

      This strain of coronavirus is a nasty disease, but not so dangerous that it is worth destroying society panicking about it. It's not as dangerous as disproportionate fear of it that destroys society, culture, heritage, and all the things we bother surviving FOR.

      It didn't get anywhere near bringing the NHS to "the brink of collapse" (huge emergency temporary hospital near me only got to about 1% of capacity) and it hasn't "collapsed" health systems (whatever that means) in any country, with or without lockdowns. Yes, it'll probably recur (not necessarily as badly) but no reason to panic when it does. Lives worth having come with risks. I for one have bunged some cash at both of these museums and will be first in queue for them as soon as I'm allowed in. Long may they continue.

      1. osakajin Bronze badge

        Thanks for the common sense. Now just about undoing all the unnecessary damage that has already been done.

        Oh wait....

        Yup we are already totally screwed.

      2. Kevin Fairhurst

        Looks like the health system in Brazil is struggling, here in the U.K. we cancelled a fuck tonne of services and if you rely on those, the NHS collapsed from your perspective that’s for sure.

        As for the Nightingale hospitals, the caveats around sending patients to them (Sending us a patient? You need to send half a dozen staff, plus equipment, too!) meant that most hospitals just knuckles down and got on with it. At KGH (where our “esteemed” leader went shaking hands with all the Covid patients, clever chap isn’t he?) they just got some porta cabins in and made their own Nightingale ward in the car park. Same isolation, no need to commit vast resources to a shed in London...

    3. Danny 2 Silver badge

      freakishly giant house mice that have evolved into merciless killers

      It might just be my toothache and lack of dentist but some sentences are still scary. I don't know how covid made freakishly giant merciless killer mice but we are in zombie apocalypse territory.

  9. Ambivalous Crowboard
    Thumb Up

    Promote & sign the petition

    Would be good if you mentioned the petition that enables furloughed charity workers to continue to volunteer (for free) for the charity. This should help.

  10. ItsMeDammit

    The Retro Computer Museum in Leicester...

    The RCM in Leicester are also hoping for assistance in keeping their doors open, as it were:

  11. Winkypop Silver badge

    Well worth supporting

    Get at em guys

  12. Danny 2 Silver badge

    I'm utterly broke

    but I'll use this as an excuse to contact my school computer club members. One of them is a director of a blue chip.

    Four boys, one BBC, one Spectrum, one Commodore, one Dragon. Didn't think that through, couldn't share anything.

    1. William Towle

      Re: I'm utterly broke

      > Four boys, one BBC, one Spectrum, one Commodore, one Dragon. Didn't think that through, couldn't share anything.

      I too seemed to be a lone Speccy owner in a sea of friends with (mostly) other things, which in my case helped prompt me to create my own things rather than swap others'. ISTR Input magazine publishing BASIC programs with machine-specific panels for where the dialects diverged, and found reading this more interesting that trying to talk about it ... although I tried that too - the varied experiences led a small group of us to propose a computer magazine at two different schools that had fairly broad coverage considering for the most part we were basically kids discussing what pocket money had been spent on.

  13. dermotw

    Well worth visiting

    Well worth visiting and supporting for anyone with a history in either computing or indeed electronics of any sort.

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