BBC Micro Archive
Three Decades of a Beeb
I bought a BBC Microcomputer
in mid-August 1982. It was of Model B specification, though this was via an upgrade
from an original Model A that had been done by the London based retailer. Over
time, I added various standard peripherals such as dual floppy disk drives, an
Epson FX80 printer and the Acorn Speech System (with the dulcet tones of BBC
newsreader Kenneth Kendall).
I continued to use my Beeb for nearly thirty years until January 2012, when I
finally gave it away. Before I passed the computer on, I transferred the data
from my floppy disks to a PC. The disk images contained all the programs that I
or various friends had written, been given or otherwise collected - plus loads
of documents. I worked on the principle of getting rid of junk hardware, but
preserving all the soft stuff!
Electronics had been a hobby of mine long before I got my BBC Micro. I was also
interested in music, but more in terms of creating weird sounds rather than
becoming a virtuoso player (I achieved grade 1 violin, but that was about as
far as my formal training got!). Many electronics magazines contained designs
for analogue synthesisers, so I was keen to have a go at building one. However:
where would I get a keyboard from? Then, in 1981, the disused Presbyterian church
in Maryport was being knocked down. On September 4th, I ventured into
the half-demolished rubble and retrieved the huge wooden keyboard from the remains
of the organ! I cobbled together some contacts for each of the 58 keys, complete
with a resistor ladder, which could be used to drive a Voltage Controlled Oscillator.
I build an entire (monophonic) analogue synth on breadboards and had endless fun
making strange noises.
Once I'd bought my BBC Micro, I decided to build a new interface - digital this
time - to connect the keyboard to the Beeb. The design was relatively simple, using
the BBC's User Port (at address &FE60). Writing to the lower 6 bits would select
a key, then reading the top bit would give a result showing if that key was pressed.
It was then straightfoward to write software to access the keyboard and play music
using the BBC's sound chip (with up to three notes of polyphony).
In my final year at university, my engineering project was "A Digital Audio Effects
Processor". I built this using a "Profi-kit 2" Motorola 68000 based development system,
with a Ferranti ZN432E A/D and a National Semiconductor DAC1022 D/A (both 10 bit).
The results were pretty good, but the audio bandwidth was a bit limited due the
processor requiring rather too many clock cycles (up to 32!) to perform many of its
After finishing university, I built A/D and D/A converters for my Beeb. I dropped
down to 8 bits, using Ferranti ZN427 and ZN428 chips. I never got round to making
a proper PCB, so the design continued on breadboards right up until I disposed
of the whole lot! I used the BBC Micro 1MHz Bus to interface the hardware to the
computer. Writing to memory location &FCC0 would send output to the D/A converter;
reading &FCC0 would return the current value from the A/D converter. Simple!
Software I wrote included effects such as reverberation/echo, frequency transposition,
emulation and synthesis. All of this took place in the first half of the 1980's.
Other, less custom, hardware I had included: a joystick connected to the on-board
analogue port (with additional potentiometers on the third and fourth inputs);
a light pen (though that never really worked satisfactorily); an EPROM programmer
to allow me to burn my own custom sideways-ROMs; a 32K sideways RAM system that a
friend donated to me (in 1986) after his old Beeb expired and he upgraded.
I only have one, rather poor, photograph showing my BBC Micro with the church
organ keyboard. It is from I circa 1983 and I've included it here in an attempt
to show that I've not just been writing fiction!
You may also note my ultimate A/V system of the era, consisting of: a Tandberg Series
8 mono reel-to-reel tape deck; my brother's old record deck (not that I actually owned
any vinyl discs!); a Decca CS1830 hybrid valve/semiconductor colour TV; a Pye "FenMan II"
valve wireless (which had VHF FM, hence "FenMan"); a really cheap and nasty cassette
recorder; all linked together via my own source switching unit built into an old
Nearly all of the software I preserved can be run in a suitable emulator
on rather more modern hardware. For my own use, I have a version of
BeebEm which I modified
to also emulate my custom hardware (see above). For most of the software, though,
the programs can be run using the
the BBC Speech System (nor, of course, my own additional hardware!).
A selection of disks containing programs vaguely suitable for public consumption is
provided below. The Disk Image name should give some idea of the types of programs
on each disk. Clicking on the description should load and boot the disk up in
an external instance of the jsbeeb emulator
|General Applications||The "LIGHT PEN" programs probably won't work very well in the emulator!|
|Miscellaneous Applications||Drink, date, lose weight, make decisions, work out where to go in London...|
|Family Tree||The data here is fictional, not the real family tree I put together in June 1985. Have fun trying to work out how to drive the clunky data entry system!|
|Adventure Games 1||Play "ALBA VENTURE" while browsing the Alba House section of this Web Site!|
|Adventure Games 2|
|Adventure Games 3|
|Adventure Games 4||Includes a couple of classics|
|Arcade Games 1||I became "Elite" on January 18th 1985|
|Arcade Games 2||"Breakout" won't work in the emulator, as I wrote it to use an analogue joystick|
|Arcade Games 3||The first four games were originally just demos, broadcast as cassette tones over TV sound by Channel 4 on February 12th 1985 for their "Computer Buffs" series. I hacked them back into playability|
|Arcade Games 4|
|Board Games, Card Games and Puzzles||"CLUEDO" was adapted from the Commodore Pet version (available elsewhere on this site!)|
|Creative Graphics||Several of the pictures created here are saved on the next disk, for quicker display!|
|Graphics Demonstrations||You don't need an Amiga to have a bouncing ball! Also, compare the picture of Alba House with the one in the Alba House section.|
|Digitised Pictures 1|
|Digitised Pictures 2||The last nine pictures were captured using hardware built by one of my fellow university students as part of a third-year engineering project|
|Music Development||All the programs here required my custom hardware, so won't work in a normal emulator. The code might be of some interest, though!|
|Speech & Noises||Most of these require the Acorn Speech System, so won't work in the current jsbeeb emulator|
|System Utilities||Some of these used additional hardware (e.g. speech system, light pen, fast A/D converter), so won't be of much use in a standard emulator|