I thoroughly enjoyed the repeat of Micro Men on BBC4 and have just read some of the reviews and comments made when it first came out. I was annoyed by the OTT portrayal of Clive Sinclair, albeit the vignette of the Mensa groupies does not do justice to some of the drop-dead gorgeous redheads who clustered round him at the party he hosted that night. Perhaps the biggest “slander” is, however, the portrayal of their long-suffering bank manager.
He was a key player, bankrolling the beer and sandwiches at the Cambridge Computer Club: which he set up with Hermann Hauser. The members thought it existed to exchange knowledge on bleeding edge technologies and get discounted flights to conferences in California. Meanwhile Matthew Bullock slipped in the occasional “business” education session: such as how to get paid for the last order before shipping the next one.
He was fully aware of the potential of what his clients were doing and also their personal backgrounds. His problem was to get them to pay attention to basic business principles. I should perhaps that Matthew and I not only overlapped at Peterhouse, (he was another of Maurice Cowling’s historians) but later when I was an external advisor to the High Tech unit which he had created for Barclays Bank – and I also tried, in vain, to find lasting solutions.
The condescension toward business of otherwise world-class UK researchers and innovators remains a major, and peculiarly British, problem. The subsequent success of many of the other members of the Cambridge Computer Club is a tribute to Matthew’s farsightedness. But the ongoing failure of Government technology transfer strategies to successfully bring innovation to market in the UK, shows how difficult it is to get the lessons implemented on a larger scale.
If you get a chance to watch Micro Men do also look out for the archive shot of what is almost certainly a young Fred Piper at a computer exhibition.
One of the other memories sparked by the programme was when, as Manager of the flagship NCC Microsystem Centre at the back of Fleet Street, I was hosting a French team looking at what we were doing. I took them across the road (High Holborn) to look at the racks of computer magazines in WH Smith compared to the small display of Playboy, Penthouse et al. One of them looked sadly at me and said “there must be something wrong with a nation whose young men are more interested in computers than in pretty girls”.
Oh for the days before computer gaming became inter-twined in the public imagination with violence and pornography.