The golden age of computer mags (Part 1)

5/10/2012 3:22:43 PM

We have a look back at a few of the great computing magazines that filled our lives with joy, way back in the 80s

The 80s: what a decade. In computing terms this was the golden era, a veritable dawning of the age of Aquarius. In this decade we saw the rise and fall of the ZX Spectrum, the very first MS DOS through to the launch of windows, Apple’s glorious Apple III and, of course, the nemesis of the Speccy, the mighty Commodore 64.

It was, without a shadow of a doubt, a ground-breaking technological era in which to grow up. To many of us, however, it wasn’t so much the invasion of computers into our living rooms that we recall with much fondness; it was the computing magazines and journals that existed at the time. Those magazines that brought us the latest reviews for $10 games, or which delved into seemingly sci-fi realms involving such ludicrous devices as CDs and memory that went beyond 640k. We read those magazines from cover to cover, we digested their every word, we laughed with them and cried with them. But what made them so good? Was it just a simple case of being in the right place at the right time? What happened to the magazines we loved so much? And where are they now? Over the next few pages, we’ll have a brief look at a selection of such magazines, see how they changed and where they disappeared to. So join me now as we start this nostalgic trip, way back to the year 1984, and the birth of one of the most popular computing magazines ever.


Launched on 13th January 1984 (originally in 1983 as mail order but launched in 1984 as a true magazine) by Franco Frey and Roger Kean, and expertly illustrated by the legendary Oliver Frey, Crash went on to become the oracle of all things Spectrum. Although its main focus was Spectrum gaming, there did appear the occasional titbit of hardware coverage, especially if it encroached on the gaming possibilities of the Spectrum.

Description: The first ever issue of Crash, 75p! Cor blimey!

The first ever issue of Crash, 75p! Cor blimey!

The writings of Crash

The editorial content was a heady mix of abstract humour, fictional storytelling and tales from the Crash Towers, which were situated in deepest, darkest Ludlow. Despite the rants and raves of the writers, it worked, and you became so attached to their machinations that you swore blind you knew them like friends.

Of the many regular features that kept the readers purchasing their copies every month, the most notable were: the readers’ letters page, or Forum, edited by Lloyd Mangram, a pseudonym for various members of staff who contributed; the Tips Page, written by Hannah Smith, the famous ‘girlie tipster’ who was constantly at war with C&VG’s female tipster; the notable fiction column, which displayed a series of stories over several months’ worth of magazines; the adventure column, hosted by Derek Brewster initially; the excellent covers, with Oli’s amazing artwork that sometimes caused its fair share of controversy by depicting men and, mostly, women in various stages of undress, or in the process of disemboweling each other; and, of course, the many reviews, some great, some good and some not so good.

Games that shone out from the rest (in other words, any game that scored above 90%) received the coveted Crash Smash award. It wasn’t long before the games industry took heed of the writings of Crash, an the influence it held over the buying public, so it began to apply pressure to the thumbscrews, only offering games for review if they scored in the high percentages.

Description: A Crash Smash meant the inevitable parting of pocket money.

A Crash Smash meant the inevitable parting of pocket money.

The crash legacy

By 1986, Crash was reportedly selling over 100,000 copies of the beloved magazine, such was its heyday, and according to Roger Kean, the real strength of Crash was, in fact, the help the magazine received from the local school kids, who turned out to be the reviewers of the games; after all, they were the target market.

It was this attitude to the magazine, written by those who understood the new trend in home computing, that made Crash stand out from the other magazines available at the time. Unfortunately, the love affair that was Crash came to an end in April 1992, issue number 98, when Crash was eventually merged with Sinclair User for a couple of months before disappearing altogether.

Where are they now?

So what happened to the characters we all knew and loved? To be honest, there are far too many to keep track of, but I do know that Oliver Frey is still drawing and has his own site at The adventure columnist, Ian Osborne (Crash issues 94 to 98), now works for Mac Format, and was once a writer for Micro Mart. Roger Kean ran an independent publishing company until 2009 and Nick Roberts, the former Deputy Editor now works at Imagine Publishing. Incidentally, I still have all 98 copies of the magazine (in digital form these days) plus all the cover tapes and artwork. Was I a fan? Yeah, you could say that.


Description: The first ever issue of Zzap!64, still with the newsagent’s ‘23’ in pen

The first ever issue of Zzap!64, still with the newsagent’s ‘23’ in pen

Crash’s sister magazine Zzap!64 launched in May 1985, and it covered the rival of the ZX Spectrum, the Commodore 64.

The style and editorial content was very much in the same vein as the earlier releases of Crash. As a tried and tested formula, it worked very well, but when the magazine moved from the fair town of Yeovil to Ludlow, in order to cut costs, it lost the editor, Chris Anderson, and deputy editor Bob Wade.

Oliver Frey worked on the cover art, as well as caricatures of the writing staff in the pages of the reviews sections. Roger Kean was eventually pulled from the pages of Crash to captain the Zzap!64 ship, a move that helped Zzap!64 solidify the hearts and minds of the C64 gaming population. Crash had such an incredible impact on the Spectrum games industry that it was natural for the team to try to do the same for the C64.

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