The Special Projects Division or “Only at the BBC”

The following was originally intended as a footnote in the final part of Press ‘6’ to Move Right. As it’s a significant digression from that article, I’ve spun it out here as a separate entity.

The BBC Special Projects division could be described as a significant inspiration to me in so many ways, both here and in terms of what I do for a living. Not just the public facing stuff like their graphics work or, say,  Maggot Moments, but in terms of an encounter I had back in 1990. (Forgive me if details are vague, but I have no paperwork of this, so you’re relying on the first hand testimony of around 28 years ago).

At the time, Children’s BBC were doing a quiz feature as part of their programming, the 9:25 Express. This used the same Acorn Archimedes setup as the other games they were playing, but instead of being a regular phone in game, there was an application process. I don’t have the letter any more, but I remember making reference to having heard that it was an Archimedes machine used, as at the time I owned one (for some reason it was the machine of choice where I lived at that point, as many used it as a business machine).

Suffice it to say, I never got to appear on the item (someone that unashamedly geeky even at that age would never make decent television) but a week or so later at about 6:30 at night we got a phone call from someone identifying themselves as from ‘BBC Special Projects’ asking to speak to me specifically. Hurriedly I ran to the phone and an avuncular type who we’ll call ‘Bob’ (because regrettably I’ve forgotten his name) said that the CBBC producer had read my letter, and since I’d shown so much of an interest he’d passed my details on so that he could explain a bit more. For about 45 minutes ‘Bob’ explained how they had a few of these units set up, how they differed only slightly from consumer versions because of the hardware to hook them into a TX gallery, and a brilliantly pitched explanation of how everything worked. I listened intently, and he said that although it wasn’t his place to do so, and he wasn’t sure if he could, he was going to see if he could get a copy of one of their titles to me. That didn’t happen regrettably, but I did end up with literally every scientifically minded factsheet the BBC had by return of post.

BBC Special Projects is now Round One, thanks to the BBC’s privatisation/spinning out of most of their internal divisions. Perhaps that individual is still there, heading towards the end of his career. If he is, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for, on a day when he presumably had some time to fill, offering to reach out to a young boy with a curiosity and foster an interest in science and technology that lasts to this day. Bob, or whatever your name was, thank you.

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