Valves on Colossus

How Britain has led the way

Britain has made major contributions to developments in computer technology and through these to the growth in the use of computers worldwide. This resource features some of the key systems that are part of our digital heritage. One of the characteristics of the stories behind Britain's computing heritage is the way particular systems influenced their successors.

Examples of Britain's achievements include the pioneering work at Bletchley Park by Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers. Flowers played a key role in the creation of the Colossus computer and Turing played a central part in devising sophisticated the code-breaking techniques and in the design of a computational device known as the 'Bombe'. Both systems were designed and built to break German codes in World War 2. Wartime work seeded major developments in the post-war era and much of the vitality for this work derived from groundbreaking activity at Bletchley Park. Cambridge's EDSAC, the Manchester 'Baby', Pilot ACE, the ACE computer, and Ferranti Pegasus, are other seminal machines whose history reveals a broad story of innovation and achievement in the post-war period.

The 'BBC Micro' was introduced by the BBC in 1981 in a farsighted attempt to increase computer literacy amongst the public and especially in schools. At its peak some 80% of schools used them. Acorn Computers, the British company that secured the contract to supply the BBC Micro, were to go on to develop and build a new fast and power- efficient processor called the ARM processor for their computers that were to follow the BBC Computer. The latest generation of ARM processors are now used in over 95% of smartphones, as well as in mobile computers and televisions.

The BBC Domesday Project in 1986, which used a laser disc, pioneered access to multimedia content, something that we take for granted today.