Steve Furber: Blake's 7 and the Acorn System 1

Steve Furber recalls how Acorn's System1 hobbyist computer made an appearance in the BBC science fiction series Blake's 7.

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When I say basic, the machine had a hexadecimal keypad, you had to programme it in hexadecimal and the output device was a seven segment LED display. So you know, it didn’t have a keyboard or screen, it wasn’t a computer in that sense, it was a small circuit board but you could write programmes, you could run them and you could see the results on this seven segment display. Physically the – the System One was a standard printed circuit board size, it was a standard Eurocard which is about fifteen centimetres by ten centimetres, that sort of size. So quite a small board, and in fact with the System One there were two boards, the bottom board had the microprocessor and memory devices on it, and the top board had the keypad and display on it and these two were stacked vertically on top of each other. So it was physically quite small and what you saw was basically a bare printed circuit board with – with chips soldered into it. One of the things we were always proud of with the Acorn System One is that it ended up featuring quite prominently in a BBC TV series called Blake's Seven, I don’t know if you remember this, but this was around the time that Clive Sinclair was boasting that his ZX80 could be used to run a nuclear power station, which is something of an exaggeration, but we – our counter to this, well this is nothing, you know, the Acorn System One can used to control a 22nd Century intergalactic spaceship, so. And Blake's Seven had this central control console with these big sort of sci-fi hemispherical domes and there in the middle was an innocent little Acorn System One. And Sophie always said that when they went up to this and pushed the buttons, they actually did the right thing to start a programme running [laughs].

Did it actually do anything?

I think it was just a prop but it was, you know, it – where are we talked, we must be talking about 1978, ’79, this thing, bare circuit board looked high tech in ’78, ’79, in the sense that it could be used as a prop in a science fiction series.

  • Interviewee Steve Furber
  • Duration 00:02:18
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 10/22/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/78

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