Twenty five years is a long time in politics... it feels even longer in the home computer industry. In fact, a quarter of a century is pretty much the time computers have been in our homes and this year sees the 25th anniversary of the birth of Pd Computing and the computer magazine ‘Micro’.
So what do two thirteen year olds do when football, Rubik’s Cubes and the A-Team just don’t cut the mustard? Take a rubber-keyed Sinclair ZX Spectrum and a chunky white BBC MIcro and turn them into a thriving business venture of course.
Admittedly, not the normal actions of two teenagers but these were the Miami Vice-inspired, Thatcher-fueled Eighties that spawned the Yuppie, the ‘brick phone’ and aircraft carrier-sized shoulder pads.
OK, one of them was me (yes, they are my cherubic cheeks on the left of the picture) the other being Paul Neville – now a successful Finance Manager at BT.
Starting a magazine is an altogether simpler exercise when you’re at school and expectations from peers, family and the publishing industry are somewhat lower. No one was expecting us to deliver a polished literary masterpiece but our first fourteen page effort wasn’t a bad start.
Typewritten articles, computer screen shots and hand drawn illustrations were cut, stuck and comped into A4 pages ready to reproduce on the school photocopier. Issue 1 of Micro was born.
Not content to sit back and simply report on the home computer boom, Pd Computing introduced a number of educational software titles (on cassette tapes!) for the Spectrum and BBC Micro. A chance to cover more bases and the first retail opportunity through local computer and video stores.
The magazine went through several evolutionary stages over its 18 editions from the first black and white school photocopied attempt, to the next big break – double sided photocopying, provided by a local computer shop, now hand coloured by our first employee. Moving on, Micro received further sponsorship from a local printing firm, enabling us to increase circulation and pages, litho print in colour and begin distribution through John Menzies and WH Smith.
Whilst Micro’s production values went from strength to strength, Pd Computing started to collect plaudits for its business achievements. First up was a special category win in the BP Youth in Business competition, in fact a category created especially for us as we were the youngest entrants.
Awarded live on BBC1’s Pebble Mill, we shared the bill with a true eighties cast including Shakatak, a troupe of breakdancers and an aspiring young entertainer, Michael Barrymore! All went to plan until, during an opportunity to plug our next software release live on British television, I managed to get the cassette stuck in my jacket pocket and make the whole exercise look like an on-screen tussle between Rod Hull and Emu (see below left).
After our next gong, a BT Business Initiative Award, we headed back to the small screen, now ITV and another special category just for us in the TVS Enterprise South Awards.
Having tackled publishing and software head on, the Pd steamroller now thundered on to make an impression on the home computer peripheral market. A working prototype of the ‘Thumb-controlled joystick’ nearly made production following interest from Atari. It turns out that we were ahead of the game. Now most game controllers rely on thumb control but in 1987 we might just as well have suggested steering a car with your genitals. A near miss.
It never ceases to amaze me how a unique story makes headlines, and these headlines it turn open doors that talent or skill on their own may never unlock. Take the successes of Britain’s (not) Got Talent or similar and how the viewers love to see their heros with disfunctional Jeremy Kyle-style families or sob stories involving pets, relatives or alien abduction. You may be able to sing like Katherine Jenkins but if you haven’t got an ‘add-on’ then try again next year.
Our age undoubtedly helped our case and guaranteed additional column inches and airtime. Honorary membership of the South East Hants Chamber of Commerce and Industry came our way thanks to our unique story as much as our accomplishments. Our awareness of this has given us an advantage in business ever since – from enhancing a client’s brand to identifying a product’s USP, personal experience is a wonderful thing.
My somewhat unorthodox publishing background is still put to good use on Brandwidth’s Widescreen magazine along with our pursuit of innovative 3D and interactive technology. Some habits die hard.