Anecdotal A&Bs

By Margaret Stanger

Originally published in EUG #60

I'm very sorry to hear the magazine will shortly be closing down. As someone who has written extensively in both BASIC and machine code, I know 8-bit computing has given many people like me much pleasure. If you wish to put any more of my programs (i.e. Cricket, Ikon, Ice Hockey - basically anything with my name on it) onto the final EUG discs, please feel free.

I saw with interest that 8BS now offers a back catalogue of almost every A&B Computing program ready-to-run on disc. [Indeed. We compiled them! - Ed] Their programs were always of extremely high quality, along with their forerunner Your Computing, also by Argus Specialist Press. When I visited them at the Acorn & BBC Computer shows, they always had very impressive stands and displays too. Colourful T-shirts, badges, car stickers, cassettes and discs showing the big A&B logo were usually given away to free to anyone who passed! It was odd to find out later that A&B Computing was just one of four magazines edited in a single office at 1 Golden Square. Each mag had one person editing it at one desk - each desk was distinguished from its neighbour only by the logos on the piles of magazines it was buried under!

Your Computing contained listings for all the personal computers available at the time and I recall it was mostly Commodore-oriented, but that BBC users found many ingenious ways to adapt the listings so they would work on the BBC computers. So the first A&B Computing mags were full of these "converted" listings. When these started running out, A&B invited all those who had ever converted a program, or written a letter to Your Computing, to contribute to the new magazine.

The first time I wrote for A&B, I had a small 'Amber' printer which had an output 24 characters wide on paper that looked like a roll of bus tickets. My first article for A&B was a machine code routine that enabled the printer to do graphics, but I had to build a delay into the loop to stop the printer overheating! The article was submitted as a tape and hard copy (three strips of the offending bus tickets sellotaped to a sheet of A4 paper), which the editorial team just photocopied and pasted into the mag!

My next printer/plotter was slightly better - 40 characters across and each letter written by one of four miniature coloured biros. By the time I wrote Ikon, listings and text were submitted on disc with hard copy from an Epson printer. A&B requested the inclusion of style codes in the text; these were the forerunners of HTML tags, of course.

Coincidentally, A&B (in its infinite wisdom!) decided to distribute all its copies of Ikon, sold by mail order, without instructions - apparently thinking everyone who ordered must have a copy of the A&B magazine where it was originally listed. They were wrong. Either people had thrown away the mag, or tape and mag became separated when those persons who always had to have the latest (and most powerful) computer system sold their equipment on. Result: Hundreds of letters asking how to use it being sent to A&B every year.

Not that this mattered much to me. A&B had the rights to Ikon and I didn't get any royalties from the tape sales. A pirate copy was a free advert for me! Ah, any opportunity to wallow in nostalgia...

Margaret Stanger