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BBC and the Domesday Project

In 1967 the National Council for Educational Technology was set up to "advise educational services and industrial training organisations on the use of audio visual aids and media".


Work in Progress - needs to be completed


BBC Logo for Computer Literacy


Tilly Blyth (2012) sets out the history and the legacy of the BBC's involvement with microcomputers in the 1980s. This included an extensive Computer Literacy Project, the development of the BBC Microcomputer and the Domesday Project as well as a number of TV series including the Silicon Factor.

Computer Literacy Project

The BBC launched a major programme to support computer
literacy, in January 1982. Its aim was to introduce interested adults to the world of computers and and to provide the opportunity for viewers to learn through direct experience how to program and use a microcomputer. (BBC, 1981)
The project was built around a ten-part television series, and included a book, a microcomputer system complete with User Guide, a range of applications programs, and an associated course
in programming in BASIC provided by the National Extension
The project f o r m s part of a long-term commitment by BBC
Education to public i n f o r m a t i o n in the broad f i e l d of
microelectronics, which has included the three-part series 'The
Silicon Factor1, and in the current year also includes the fivepart
series on applications of computers in business and
industry, 'Managing the Micro1 (to be repeated Mondays, BBC-2,
7th January - 4th February 1982), and two programmes on the
implications of microelectronics for teachers, 'Micros in the
Classroom*. For details of f u t u r e radio and television series
see below.
The ten television programmes will be entitled 'The Computer
Programme1. They are designed to be useful both to home-users
and to viewers in schools and colleges.
For colleges and schools, the series will be transmitted weekly
on Mondays at 1500 on BBC-2 from January llth 1982, and repeated
at a similar time in the Autumn from mid-October. The series
will probably have several further repeats for both home-users
and institutional use in later years.
It was originally intended that the first broadcast of the series
for viewers at home would run from January 10th 1982. However,
demand for the microcomputer has been so great that it has been
decided to postpone this transmission for five weeks, so as to
allow more potential viewers to acquire microcomputers before the
first programme. The programmes will therefore now be
transmitted on Sunday mornings on'BBC-1 weekly from February 14th
1982, and repeated late-night on'BBC-1 on Mondays from March 22nd
1982. The series will be repeated on Sunday mornings on BBC-1,
in the Autumn, from October 10th to December 12th.
Although viewers who possess a BBC Microcomputer (see below) will

BBC Microcomputer

BBC Micro

be able to try out the examples shown in the programmes on their
own equipment, the programmes will be designed to be of interest
and value either to people who own other microcomputers, or to
those who do not have access to a computer at all.
The series aims to illustrate and explain the fundamentals of
computing at both a practical and a theoretical level. The
programmes will be built around themes and the examples of
what computers can be used for will be drawn from a wide range in
the real world. Although the use of large and small computers
will be shown we will aim to illustrate principles through the
use of the microcomputer wherever possible (see also the note on
the supporting software for the BBC system).
The explanation and use of a computer language will arise
naturally out of the themes of the series and each programme will
contain a practical illustration of the use of BASIC coding. The

BBC User Guide

BBC User Guide

BBC Micro

approach will be pitched at a level which beginners can
understand. All the studio demonstrations will offer insights
into the use of the personal microcomputer and, since the 'lay1
presenter will himself be introduced to the techniques from
scratch, these will encourage the audience to feel that they
could perform similar tasks if they had access to a machine.
Viewers who buy the book or follow the course should be able to
go rather further into the subject; but since in the end the
only way one can learn about computing in any depth is to gain
practical experience of it, the hardware and software of the BBC
Microcomputer system is being specially provided in order to
create the opportunity for direct "hands-on" experience. All
parts of the project will use the same dialect of BASIC.
The BBC BASIC specification is fairly standard, close to a number
of BASICS. There is a powerful BASIC interpreter, with a number
of extensions; these include long variable names, integer type and
extensive string operations. Attention has been paid to the need
for structures and the BBC BASIC supports IF... THEN... ELSE,
REPEAT... UNTIL, and multi-line named functions and procedures
with local variable declarations. Assembly language routines can
be written into a BASIC program and high resolution colour
graphics are well supported. There are numerous other powerful
extensions. A number of minor modifications to the language
specification have been made since it was issued in April 1981.
These have partly been dictated by technical constraints and
partly by a wish to increase the number of facilities which can
be offered. A re-issue of the specification is now available.
This will look at the wide range of practical things computers
can do and, broadly, at how they work. There will be sections on
personal computing - what's possible and what's not - and an
introduction to problem solving in plain English, leading to a
section introducing the basic principles of computer programming.
It will be available in bookshops and from BBC Publications, 35
Marylebone High Street, London W1M 4AA, from mid-January 1982.
The National Extension College is providing a 30-hour
introductory course in programming in BASIC in association with
the BBC project (with which it will be software compatible). It
will be possible to follow the course as a home-based
correspondence student, to use it as a flexi-study course with a
combination of home-based work and work in a supporting college,
or simply to buy and use the course material independently. The
course is being linked to a network of local colleges where
individuals can have access to machines and tuition if they wish.
It is hoped that this will be the first of a range of such
courses in this field. For details of the course, and of
supporting services, write to: THE NATIONAL EXTENSION COLLEGE, 18
Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge, CB2 2HN.
The BBC Microcomputer system consists of two alternative models
of a microcomputer (which can both use either a domestic TV
receiver or a monitor as the display unit), a range of expansion
options, a Teletext receiver, a Prestel option, and a disk
system. A substantial part of the system will be available by
cash post from the fourth quarter of 1981.
1. The Microcomputer (price £ 235 from December 1981)
The standard model of the microcomputer is based on a 2 MHz 6502
microprocessor with 16k of RAM and 32k ROM; the ROM includes a
16k BASIC and a 15k operating system. The system has a variety
of eight different display modes, notably a teletext mode, a 40
x25 characters mode, and a 320 x 256 high resolution graphics
mode; it can display up to eight colours.
The system has cassette, television, and video interfaces, and a
full travel keyboard. It has been designed with the capability
for substantial expansion in terms of RAM, second processor, and
high-speed communication to other computers.
The enhanced model of the microcomputer (price *£335 from
December 1981) will have the following additional features: 640 x
256 high resolution graphics, memory extension to 32k RAM, A-D
interfaces, Centronics (printer) interface, RS423 (5-0-5V)
interface, "Tube" and Bus connector. These will permit users to
interface their equipment with a wide range of existing
peripherals, including, for instance, printers.
A User Guide, which will include an equipment manual, a detailed
software specification, a guide to programming, and a range of
simple introductory programs, will be boxed in with both models
of the microcomputer and included in the price. It will also be
separately available.
A 'Welcome Package1 of software, on cassette, will be included in
the price of each machine. This will contain a series of
introductory programmes which will take the first-time user
through the range of facilities offered by the microcomputer.
2. Additional interfaces
- a disk interface will be available f r om early 1982, which can
be connected to a range of disk drives.
- a networking interface will be available from early
1982. This will make it possible to connect a number of
microcomputers to each other, and to a central disk system or
3. Second processor expansion options
There will be a range of expansion options available in an add-on
- a second 8-bit processor (3 MHz 6502 with additional 64k
RAM)will be available from early 1982.
- a second 8-bit processor (Z-80 with additional 64k RAM) will be
available from early 1982
- a further 16-bit microprocessor (with additional 128k of RAM)
will be available from early 1982.
4. Disk expansion options
- through the disk interface option it will be possible to use
the system in association with a range of available disk drives.
Two disk drives will be available as part of the system
(available early 1982); a 5 1/4" single- sided disk drive
providing 100k storage, and a 5 1/4" double-sided double-track
density drive, giving approximately 800k storage.
- through the Z-80 second processor expansion (available from
March 1982) it will be possible to use the microcomputer in
association with CP/M® disk systems. This will make it possible
to run and store CP/Mfi) applications programs.
Note: CP/M is a registered trademark of Digital Research.

BBC Domesday System

Domesday Project

In 1983, BBC Television producer Peter Armstrong, proposed to commemorate the 900th anniversary of William the Conqueror's original survey with a modern electronic archive. The BBC asked schools and community groups around the UK to survey their areas to produce a database of how Britain looked to the British in 1986. This was combined with thousands of maps, photographs, central statistics, written and visual information and ln 1986, the BBC's Domesday Project launched two interactive videodiscs. The National Disc contained 9700 datasets, 22,000 photographs, and some 2000 text entries. The Community Disc compiled the work of some 14,000 schools, clubs and groups who collected some data systematically, but were also given free rein in supplying descriptive essays and photographs. The system used a unique Advanced Interactive Video (AIV) delivery system - combining audiovisual and computer data on a 30cm/ 12" disc (NCET, 1993, p.32)


Blyth T. (2012) Legacy of the BBC Micro, London: NESTA

BBC (1981) BBC Computer Literacy Project - Promotional Leaflet; BBC, London

NCET (1993) Envision vol.:1993:1, NCET, Coventry