We have a look back at a few
of the great computing magazines that filled our lives with joy, way back in
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.
The first ever issue of
Crash, 75p! Cor blimey!
The writings of Crash
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.
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 oliverfreyart.com. 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
The first ever issue of
Zzap!64, still with the newsagent’s ‘23’ in pen
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.