Wednesday, 8 August 2007

My first video game "dealer" goes under...

The recent turbulent events at Evesham Technology have stirred up some memories from childhood and teen years.

Evesham is a small place - about 23,000 people - and was (when I was young) a very agricultural town with big markets for trade in local fruit and vegetables. Like the home county Worcestershire it's a forgotten place (most people have heard of it, though they can't place where it is). The Wikipedia entry damns it with faint praise: "Evesham could reasonably be described as a pleasant rather than an exciting place to visit."

And it's the kind of place where some things don't change; the barber is still a place where he offers you "Something for the weekend, sir?" - as hinted by the sign (which am sure has not changed in decades) outside:


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It's when I was young, and bored in town one day, that I noticed a tiny one room shop being opened in the Crown Courtyard. The shop sold mainly games computers, and various games software (mostly cassette tapes).

"Evesham Micros" it was called. During several years of geekily (nerdily?) hanging out there, I got to test and buy a lot of games, and also do some probably not-that-legal work for the owners. They didn't mind me hanging around, as I had geek status and it tended to attract other geeks to the shop. I remember (just) Richard Austin the now high-profile owner, when he was poorer, and had a tiny and rubbish car that customers sniggered at.

I'd already purchased a Binatone games console a few years previously, which made me top geek of my home village (until Neil's rich parents bought him an Atari 2600 and all the games he wanted, overnight resulting in all the geeks switching their allegiance).

But it was from Evesham Micros that I bought my first four programmable games machines. First, the ZX81, which made me feel like a scientist on the cutting edge of technology (this was a computer advertised as being powerful enough to run a nuclear power station):


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A week after purchasing the ZX81 I returned to buy the 16Kb RAM pack ("Sixteen times the memory! Infinite possibilities!") that fitted badly into the back. A day later I returned to buy some sellotape to keep said RAM pack in place. This was my brief foray into video game design and production, managing to programme two games which Evesham Micros sold in their shop (I think it was about 20 copies sold in the end). Dreams of being the next Atari abounded, but work on that summers harvest pushed them to one side.

A year later, the 48K ZX Spectrum. This one was my breakthrough business venture (aged 13), as with my double tape deck recorder I was able to run off copies of various games, selling on C30 tapes at school. The Hobbit and Trader were particularly popular, as was anything by Ultimate (e.g. Jetpac, Lunar Jetman, Cookie). Ah for the rubber keyboard, and the printer that sparkled (text being burnt into the silver paper) in the dark: 


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Having spent rather too much of my ZX Spectrum earnings in video arcades in South Wales, I wasn't able to afford a BBC Micro B, but instead got the "chopped off" version, the Acorn Electron. It was okay, though the lack of a "BBC micro mode 7" meant gameplay was usually inferior to the Beeb computer:


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And finally from this shop, and in a strange parallel to the winner of this years Apprentice, one of Alan Sugars earlier products, the Amstrad 6128. This strange hybrid of gaming machine (being particularly heavy on text adventures), small business computer and home PC still has its uses, and I usually tap away on it when I return to the old country for visits:


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I moved away to University in 1988 (nearly 20 years ago now), and the shop moved to larger premises several times, changing its way along the way to Evesham.com and finally Evesham Technology. Over time it ditched the games side of thing and specialised in it's own brand of PCs, gaining a high reputation for quality. 

I mainly forgot about video games (apart from PC ones), discovered Usenet and Newsgroups, and started messing about on the emerging Internet until 1997 when Nintendo released the N64 and my second period of video game playing began.

+ + + + +  

I started getting emails from Evesham contacts which sounded like things were going wrong there a while back. Less than 18 months ago, the home computing initiative that the company had put much of its resource into was stopped (by a Mr G. Brown, now of 10 Downing Street). Since then, the company has been struggling, and last week it seems to have gone into a pre-planned administration, followed immediately by a buy-out.

Though reports are a little confusing, what is clear is that most of the staff are redundant. In a small town of Eveshams size, that's pretty bad. On top of this, the company now appears to be controlled by people previously behind Time Computers, a brand not exactly known for high standards of quality. Time are past masters at the art of going under, then reappearing immediately shorn of debt.

So it doesn't bode well for Evesham or Evesham Technology. Ironically, the tiny shop it was launched in is now the home of a good solicitor I use, so every once in a while I'm back in there, trying to imagine how the place used to be. It's probably a sign of aging, but everything always seems to come full circle.

(nb non of the pictures in this article are by me. Unfortunately I never took pictures of my own consoles - wish I had)

8 comments:

  1. Lynn Marentette8 August 2007 at 07:09

    It is sad about your video game dealer "going under". I just wanted to comment that I liked all of your photos of retro game systems and related tech stuff.

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  2. What's really sad is 1) either you took photos of the systems at the time and then kept the photos or 2) you still have them all, and took them to the Isles.Either way......But then, I still have my first Teddy Bear from 1951.

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  3. I wish I had taken pictures of my very own consoles. For clarity, they aren't my pictures - other people's. Will make this clear in the text.

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  4. Old Evesham Mics9 August 2007 at 01:23

    WowI used to shop at the old Crown Court Shop. I started work at the Bridge Street shop after leaving School. The old days where the best.Some old timers .... and I am proud to say my old matesColin Wright ( Shop Manager )Sam ( Worked in the shop)Phil Barnet (worked in shop)Paul Waite ( Worked in shop)

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  5. I remember the Crown Courtyard days. Wasn't the company called 'The Micro Centre' in those days, changing to Evesham Micros around the time they moved to Bridge Street?

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  6. Well, as I'm not a geek (16 on the AG scale), none of this means anything to me (sorry for your loss and all that)... but something for the weekend = umbrella repairs??? wow

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  7. I remember the ZX81, as my younger brother bought one and taught himself machine code programming. I wanted to play games. He wrote them using the 16K pack which always overheated.Thanks to the ZX81, he now works with Panasonic, doing R&D at their HQ in Osaka.Not bad for a boy from Stornoway.

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  8. Requisites?! How very Monty Python!

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