Micro Men

Like watching old episodes of Tomorrow’s World, Micro Men (BBC Four) was an exercise in accessible geekery. The spattered jargon, nestled amongst the fags and spats, was understood like the weird words of a Shakespeare play.

Despite the fact that the BBC chickened out on the spurerior title of Syntax Era, the one-off drama (at 90 minutes, it felt more like a great little independent film in fairness), the show ticked all the boxes in terms of what you would actually want from something detailing the rise of home computing in the ’80s.

Alexander Armstrong and Martin Freeman played (Sir) Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry respectively and charted that very brilliant and familiar story of a team splintering and becoming sworn enemies (see Adidas and Puma for more of that lark).

For those that don’t know, Sir Clive gave us the ZX Spectrum and Curry gave us the BBC Acorn. The two tussled with each other for the lion’s share of the world’s computer market and, as wonderfully shown in the programme, spent so much time boxing each other’s ears that they didn’t hear the footsteps of those who had cottoned on to this market and eventually overtook.

With this being an affectionate look back on those weird and heady days of innovation and eccentricity, it was fun to watch the emergence of games (it’s always great to see Jet Set Willy and hear the appalling loading noises) and the wild predictions that came horrible true (or, in some cases, utterly not true… I’m looking at you Sinclair C5).

Amongst the visions of paperless offices, we got a neat little snipe at Alan Sugar, who was referred to in the wonderfuly crisp: “Now [the computing world] belongs to ghastly barrow boys like this Amstrad fella…”. Wry smiles all round.

Effectively, this show was a brilliant recap of the soap opera of British electronics in the ’80s and, just to ensure that it wasn’t an exercise in complete nerdiness, it leaned on the stylistic format of Ashes to Ashes, with period music and smoking in the offices whilst wearing bad fashion… oh… with a healthy amount of cursing.

The story has been well overdue and it’s great to have finally see it… and so well realised too. Amrstrong’s Sinclair portrayal showed a truly British eccentric, the likes we need to see more of on screen. Freeman’s Curry was also a joy to behold, yet sadly, paled next to the gonzo ramblings of Sinclair. Just like real life, as no-one outside of programming really remembers anything about the Acorn team.

Basically, this show was a real hoot to watch; well paced and tight as a drum. If you missed it (as it was tucked away in the listings) then catch it on iPlayer. You’ll learn that, for a few glorious years, we British were simply the best computers on the planet. Embrace it. Roll around in it.

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