[SIGCIS-Members] Two good recent TV programmes on the history of computing that are worth viewing.

Bernardo Batiz-Lazo bbatiz64 at googlemail.com
Sun Feb 7 00:57:25 PST 2010

In case you are interested in actually looking at the Podfather video
outside the UK, it has now been uploaded to youtube  (about 10 min


Also available for download



On 18 October 2009 08:25, Bernardo Batiz-Lazo <bbatiz64 at googlemail.com> wrote:
> Hi James
> I think you are spot on regarding -Micro Men-. Little for me to add
> which I will do from the perspective of an ex-pat who actually owned a
> Timex circa 1980.
> _Micro Men_ was indeed in need of a  better introduction which briefly
> told about US/IBM dominance and Wilson's 'white heat'.
> In my view the combination of comedy and factual in _Micro Men_ seems
> to have made their errors and omissions more palatable. Certainly when
> compared with claims made in _Podfather_  which positioned Noyce as
> Godfather of Sillicon Valley and the digital revolution. I am not
> disclaiming Noyce's importance, but a brief browse at Analee
> Sexenian's work might have helped to tone down some of their more
> outrageous claims (i.e. Noyce single handedly inventing Sillicon
> Valley and venture capitalism).
> Reducing the genealogy of Fairchild Corp to Apple and Google (when the
> producers did try to produce some form genalogy-tree graph) is the
> kind of simplistic representation that media people are guilty of time
> and again.
> It was interesting to see that the industry-university link and
> communities of practice (as opposed to the lonely entrepreneur) were
> strongly portrayed in _Micro Men_  while they were mute in
> _Podfather_.
> When comparing both programs I was left wondering the extent to which
> their distinctive treats were random or purposeful attempts to cater
> to different audiences (with _Micro Men_ for the UK and _Podfather_
> for the US).
> But in spite of their shortcomings, I did not mind at all ending
> Friday and Saturday night with respectively _Micro Men_ and
> _Podfather_.
> Best
> Bernardo
> 2009/10/16 James Sumner <james.sumner at manchester.ac.uk>:
>> Thanks to Bernardo for the heads-up, and to Neil for the first-hand
>> recollection. The historical material in the BBC4 'Electric Revolution' season
>> seems to be attracting a lot of interest: I hope it'll soon be available outside
>> the UK.
>> I thought I would chip in with some thoughts on _Micro Men_, as I research
>> (slowly) in this area and have an interest in how technologies, and
>> technologists, are portrayed for more general audiences. What fascinated me
>> about _Micro Men_ is that it seemed to be two concepts welded together: a broad
>> comedy about a caricatured version of Clive Sinclair, and a relatively careful
>> attempt to make drama out of techie business history.
>> I'd be interested to know what others made of this. It seems reasonable to
>> assume that the piece was commissioned on the strength of the appeal of a
>> favourite national myth (such were Sinclair's triumphs and disasters in the
>> 1980s that he remains recognisable, I'd guess, to most people in the UK aged
>> 30+). 'Factual' content in popular broadcast media is almost generally deemed to
>> require some sort of sugar-coating: the approach used here arguably has some
>> merits over the usual alternative, which is to tell very loud and breathless
>> stories about how whatever is under discussion has 'changed the world'.
>> The melding certainly had its problems. The pure farce scenes (Mensa groupies?)
>> jarred with the plot, and the genre-clash was sometimes awkward. I particularly
>> noticed the (non-)characterisation of Nigel Searle, who, as MD of Sinclair's
>> firm, was perched on the interface between the Comedy Clive material and the
>> attempt to portray real industrial developments. Conventional comedy logic would
>> require Searle to be a stock henchman; strict representation, on the other hand,
>> would have given no obvious grounds to differentiate him from the Acorn people
>> with whom the narrative sympathises. In order to fit both halves, the fictional
>> Searle became a cipher, relaying messages and influencing nothing. Meanwhile,
>> the personalities assigned to the Acorn staff (Hauser as cosmic bluffer; Furber
>> and Wilson as dull-and-duller; Curry, very improbably, as wide-eyed everyman)
>> were as much inventions as Comedy Clive, and rather less upfront about it.
>> As to names, places and chronology, however, this was closer to the documented
>> evidence than the vast majority of drama-docs. More importantly, there were
>> earnest and sometimes very successful attempts to represent an episode in
>> technological identity-forming and the trajectories of the businesses involved,
>> rather than going down the easy legend-making route. Capital, in this drama, was
>> raised not by self-evident visionary brilliance, but by pandering to the bank
>> manager's prejudice. There was no hint of the 'lone developer' myth. Tension was
>> wrung from overoptimistic sales projections. Above all, the fictional Clive
>> Sinclair mirrored his real-life counterpart in rating the microcomputers which
>> defined his public identity as a distinctly secondary concern.
>> It's in the nature of these productions to truncate, telescope and omit. There
>> was only one simplification which I found seriously distorting: the virtual
>> absence, until the closing scene, of the USA. Sinclair's principal rival from
>> around 1982 was not Acorn but Commodore; the ill-fated Acorn Electron was an
>> attempt to carve a share of a sector defined as much by Commodore as by
>> Sinclair, while the even more ill-fated Sinclair QL was at some level a response
>> both to the emerging office dominance of the IBM PC, and to Apple's visible
>> commitment to promoting alternatives. Acorn's unreleased business machines, and
>> both firms' adventures in the American retail market (via Timex, in Sinclair's
>> case) further complicate the tale. Oddly, the show's closing caption -- "The
>> home computer market is now dominated by giant American companies" -- presents
>> the sloppiest message in the whole production.
>> Cheers
>> James
>> Roger Neil Barton wrote:
>>  > IMHO the Bob Noyce telebio last night was as brilliant as the other
>> programmes in the series in the series were terrible.  In fact most lasted only
>> a few minutes before I switched off and I missed the second (or more if there
>> were more) part of the drama about Sinclair and Acorn.
>>  >
>>  > In Ken Tennet's blog he talks about "Acorn's descent into financial
>> difficulty as the bank happily gives the company bigger loans for expansion, and
>> it carries out an ill-advised stock exchange flotation."  Acorn was not a client
>> and I didn't do the float but I did organise and host a conference ('84 or 85?),
>> on the paperless office (ha ha), at the NCC in Manchester to which I invited
>> Acorn.  I don't remember now but Acorn were represented either by Chris Curry or
>> Herman Hauser.  It was required by Stock Exchange rules then, and is legally
>> obligatory now, not to make any statement that provides new information to the
>> market without a formal statement to the Stock Exchange.  The Acorn presentation
>> included the jaw dropping news that sales were down some massive number and that
>> the company would miss expectations by miles.  By the end of the immediately
>> following coffee break the share price had collapsed and they hurriedly
>> departed.  I'm sorry now I didn't persist with the drama but perhaps I'll catch
>> up on the iplayer.
>>  >
>>  > kind regards
>>  > neil
>>  >
>>  >
>>  > Dr Roger Neil Barton
>>  > http://www.uclmail.net/~neil.barton/
>>  > ----- Original Message ----- From: "Bernardo Batiz-Lazo"
>> <bbatiz64 at googlemail.com>
>>  > To: <comban at sigcis.org>
>>  > Cc: <members at sigcis.org>
>>  > Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 12:34 PM
>>  > Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] Two good recent TV programmes on the history
>> ofcomputing that are worth viewing.
>>  >
>>  >
>>  >> A heads up to Ken Tennet's Blog (he is part of the Business History
>>  >> Unit at the London School of Economics):
>>  >>
>>  >> http://kdtennent.blogspot.com/2009/10/recent-business-history-on-bbc.html
>>  >>
>>  >> He comments on two recent tv programs on the history of computing. Not
>>  >> sure if everyone will be able to download and play.But at least you
>>  >> can get an idea from Ken and if really keen, then ask for a copy for
>>  >> your uni's library.
>>  >>
>>  >> You can keep up with Ken via Facebook.
>>  >>
>>  >> Best,
>>  >> Bernardo
>>  >> University of Leicester
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