Spotlight on Christopher Curry

November 2018

View of CambridgeChristopher Curry was co-founder of Acorn Computers, which was probably most famous for creating the BBC Micro. Curry also managed to develop GIS, a system for cashless money, and created an ID card with medical history, called Bluefish.

Christopher Curry was born in Cambridge in 1946 where he has lived and worked throughout his life. He has always been fascinated by computing and automation and used to build amplifiers and radios out of old valves found in televisions at the local dump.

Early career

After doing a Dip Tech course, Chris began his IT career at Pye, where he became an expert solderer. After only a few months he left to join the Royal Radar Establishment in Malvern where he was working on superconductivity, making superconducting junctions. He moved on to Sinclair Radionics in 1966.

At Sinclair he developed the matchbox radio, Micromatic. Sinclair came up with an idea, and Chris would then take the idea right through from drawing board to end-product. For example, they developed the first pocket calculator, the Executive.

Later Chris used one of the calculator chips to make an early programmable microcomputer. He was approached by a sales engineer from National Semiconductors, who offered to design what later became the MK14, which had no storage and only 256 bytes of memory.

Curry also set up a consultancy on the side called Cambridge Processor Unit, which handled special builds for people. Their first successful custom build was the twin processor Hart for a gaming machine. One processor switched the lights on and off, and another did the calculations and controlled where the wheel stopped - the results were fixed!

By the late 1970s, Sinclair could see that a microcomputer had consumer appeal and started development, but it got taken away from them as an unnecessary expense by the National Enterprise Board (NEB), who, by then, had shares in Sinclair. The project went instead to Newbury Electronics and became the NewBrain, which became the basis for the BBC microcomputer.

Acorn

At Cambridge Processor Unit, Christopher felt they needed to have a brand suitable for the consumer market, hence Acorn was formed as a company. They used the basic designs of the modular card system in a single board computer called the Atom. When the BBC were planning a computer programme, Chris offered them a 16-bit processor with properly structured BASIC. The BBC offered them the contract. The purpose of the BBC microcomputer was to teach programming.

After Curry and Sinclair fell out over the BBC Micro, because of the Micros in Schools scheme, Chris built a cut-down BBC computer (the Electron). Chris also bought the Acorn Communicator, a network computer based on the BBC’s hardware and with the best modem chip available, and put it in a business called GIS, whilst remaining a non-executive director of Acorn.

While in GIS, Chris created a system for cashless money. The Transactor was a smart card on to which you loaded money. They teamed with an organisation called Mondex who enlisted MasterCard to get global coverage.

Achievements

Chris remains very proud of the Sinclair Executive calculator, as it was his project from beginning to end. He is also proud of the MK14 as it was the first of its kind. He realised that if you can give an existing market something that takes it into a slightly new area, you create another market.

Advice

Christopher Curry believes it is important to build a business based around a fundamental need, not just something you are interested in yourself.

Further Information

Archives of IT is a registered charity (no. 1164198), which aims to capture the past and inspire the future.

Twitter at: @ArchivesIT
Visit: http://www.archivesit.org.uk

 

Image: GettyImages-517235492