I have long joked that I have no “normal” English friends, that the English friends that I have are all not actually English or are otherwise somehow sympathetic to my plight having been expats themselves, or married to foreigners, etc. I had dinner and a few drinks at the pub recently with one of my semi-English friends, and he managed to clear up a little mystery that had long bugged me. As an engineer, I continue to be sort of surprised that there is not much UK-based engineering expertise compared with the US. In the states, for example, we have Apple, Intel, Microsoft, AMD, Seagate, Motorola, etc. etc. etc. In computing the UK has … ???? If I’m missing something, please do let me know, but I can’t actually think of any. However, my friend did tell me about the BBC Micro, the computer that swept this country in the early eighties, when I was at home in the states with my Commodore 64 or at school with an Apple II. There’s a nice history/overview here (“From education to obscurity”) but which begs the question of why the thing ended up in obscurity, why there was no Apple-like revival of Acorn. The BBC is kinder, giving the machine’s creators credit for essentially all of modern mobile telephony, although if it was really that much of a clear impact, wouldn’t the guy have gotten a KBE instead of a CBE?
So we now have the UK computer market partially unravelled, and we have some, but not all, of the answers concerning the lack of engineering companies here, especially in the high-tech commodities market. It’s not that there was never anything here in the UK in this area, it just didn’t survive into the modern era. Is it because the BBC was involved, and thus there was not a free market for the machine independent of governmental intervention? Is it because there was no competition? Because the attempt at export to the US market was, like so many of the attempts with Brit-pop, a total bust? Was it due to the claimed “high” prices?
What else could be the case? Inquiring minds want to know.