A PR representing the BBC has been working hard to get my attention with regards to Auntie’s attempts to upload, and reload, the 1980s Domesday Project. The pitch in itself is not surprising because, well, that is what PRs are supposed to do. But I was pleasantly surprised to be targeted.
My pleasure comes from the fact that I have a special place in my heart for the original BBC Domesday project. As I wrote in a piece for IT trade paper Computing in 2003, the scheme was set up to mark the 900th anniversary of William the Conqueror’s original Domesday Book in 1086 and was intended to provide a snapshot of British life in the late 20th century.
The new Domesday provided a cute collection of information. But as I also wrote eight years ago, while the data in William the Conqueror’s original manuscript is still accessible 900 years on, the pace of change in technology meant that the BBC Domesday project had become inaccessible. Mid-1980s video disc technology had been superseded by portable compact disc systems. And the LDV hardware used to run the BBC project’s video-discs was in short supply.
Which was particularly upsetting for me. You see, I was in the original Domesday project (the BBC one, not the one from 1066). When I was kid, I lived in a place called Hampton Magna. It is a small village outside Warwick (in fact, it is close to the site of a deserted village called Budbrooke which was in the 1066 Domesday but which was wiped out by the plague). However, I digress. As I wrote in the Computing article of 2003:
“I never won much as a child, so I was genuinely proud when I was chosen to represent my school on the BBC Domesday project … I was asked to provide a description of my house in Hampton Magna.”
The Computing piece subsequently detailed the attempts of researchers at the University of Leeds to preserve the Domesday material. I remember that they were lovely chaps, even providing hard copies of my data for illustrations in the magazine. Anyway, I completed my editorial folly in Computing with the following conclusion:
“Thanks to the emulator, the BBC Domesday is available again. Now it’s time to sort out the copyright situation and make its treasure trove of data accessible to us all.”
And almost exactly eight years later, those issues seem to have been sorted. BBC Learning today unveiled its resurrection of the 1986 Domesday project and a dedicated web site called Domesday Reloaded. And yes, MARKS [sic] HOUSE IN HAMPTON MAGNA is there (as well as pictures from the school summer fete).
It is, as you can see, a work of low-level genius. But it was my first publication and I loved going to look at the description on the BBC Micro at Warwick Library as a kid. BBC Domesday – it is good to have you back, old friend.