Something for the weekend? The halcyon days of British computing


If you fancy a geek outing this weekend, the fellows at Bletchley Park have launched a special exhibition featuring PCs dating from the 60's.

The PC Gallery, part of the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, exhibits 50 computers, many of them British, on interactive display.

The earliest model on display, a PDP8 from the USA, dates from 1965 and is the first mass-produced computer.

But much of the exhibition focuses on "the heyday of British computing", with working models of the BBC B micro, the Dragon 32, the Sinclair ZX80, the Amstrad PC1512.

“We have been keen to celebrate the British contribution to computing. In America, the development of personal computing is often seen as a battle between IBM and Apple, but in Britain the story was quite different with many small entrepreneurial companies breaking new ground in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” explained Kevin Murrell, a director and trustee of TNMOC.

Of course, if you're a computer geek, chances are you could stumble upon some of these relics in the back of your garage. If you do, I'm sure the Gallery curators would love to hear from you. The museum is on the hunt for a Sinclair MK14, the first home computing kit that went on sale in 1977 for £40.

There is more to see at Bletchley than home PCs. The Park was also once a hotbed of intellectual activity and code-breaking during World War II. At the height of the codebreaking efforts in January 1945, some 9,000 people were working at Bletchley Park trying to decipher messages encrypted with the Enigma machine, including genius mathematician Alan Turing.

Today it operates as a computer museum, where you can come up close with an Enigma, and discover the tales of spies and deception.

Sadly, the Park is in dire need of funds. But luckily one visit to the Park secures 12 months worth of free visits. Only a tenner, so get going!

Incidentally, the PC Gallery was funded by PGP Corporation, IBM and Hewlett Packard. Two other major galleries are being planned for later this year and ideas about a gallery on supercomputing are being formulated.

The Museum is currently open on Thursdays and Saturdays from 1pm, and on bank Holidays in spring and summer. Groups may visit at other times by arrangement.

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