Brief article about the project in TNA’s RecordKeeping for Autumn 2004.

Original project

The original project was only possible because of a Government programme which had put a BBC Micro into every school in the country by 1980-81, creating a user base of compatible computers. School children in 1986 entered their own data onto their school computers, which was copied onto floppy disks or tapes sent to the BBC. All these text and images, together with analogue photographs of OS maps, were transferred to analogue videotape. The community data finally totalled 29,000 photographs and 27,000 maps. The whole database was then assembled on master videotapes from which the final videodiscs were produced. The monitor was usually a TV, which imposed a limit on the level of detail visible at once: users needed to switch between maps, pictures and text.

Restoration project

There were a number of parallel rescue projects but the one which actually worked was a collaboration between TNA, BBC and others. It did not rescue data from the videodiscs, but from the master tapes.

Independently, LongLife Data Ltd had developed a new PC interface to the community data. It works in the same way as the real one but because a modern monitor has higher resolution than a 1980s TV screen, pictures and text can be shown simultaneously. This is the version now available on the web.

Alans thoughts

  • the data was restored from analogue videotapes, not from the videodiscs or from the submitted floppy disks. After 15 years the tapes were still readable. So in a sense it’s a straightforward media refreshing thing.
  • the new interface is not an exact emulation of the old interface. It is a wholly new app. The current browsing experience has therefore lost authenticity. (Though the data is the same.)
  • can we find out anything about the authenticity of the data itself?