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BBC Micro

Gaming life lessons from the trusty Beeb...

It wasn't always the surprise birthday Spectrum or the C64 under the Xmas tree that gave '80s kids their first hands-on game time.

Thanks to the BBC, the classroom also became an avenue into that world of chunkily tantalising adventurers, invaders, space freebooters and hyperactive egg collectors.

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If you've seen BBC4's Micro Men then you'll know the story: the BBC came up with a Computer Literacy Project to heave UK schools into the digital age, calling for companies to pitch a purpose-built BBC-branded computer to lead the charge. Competition exploded between the likes of Acorn, Dragon and Sinclair, with Acorn breaking their backs to get the gig.

The result: the BBC Micro Models A and B strode forth in 1981 with a stiff upper lip and a modest sales prediction of 12,000. When the range bowed out in 1994 (having climbed through Model B+ and Master upgrades into the scary high-spec world of the Archimedes), that number had passed 1.5 million.

For the most part, the Beeb remained a thoroughly British computer after an attempt to pitch it against the Apple II in the US fell solidly on its arse. But it was tough, expandable and just about future-proof enough to hold its position in UK schools for the full decade.

And while the Micro was mainly an educational tool, it did get some traction in the living room and elsewhere. Well-meaning parents were the main cause, but despite its inevitable reputation as a homework-enabler and bad luck substitute for a proper computer with more games full of aliens, helicopters and aliens in helicopters, the regard it receives 30 years down the line is rosy enough to compare with any other system.

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Even those kids who scoffed at the time would eagerly dump their databasebuilding exercise for a game of Daredevil Dennis whenever the teacher went to the toilet...

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