A Brief history of the SUC part I

A Brief history of the SUC

written by Maurice Hawes / SUC/UK
Source: SUC-magazine July 2001, Volume 21 Number 2, p. 4 – 6

Sharp Users Club – General Section – Brief History, Part I ( 1980 – 1986 )

As most of us already know, the Sharp Users Club was founded in September 1980, at Yeovil College in Somerset, England.

The Yeovil College in Somerset, England
The Yeovil College in Somerset, England

The college had just purchased 5 Sharp MZ-80K computers and the Sharp Users Club was actually started by students from Yeovil College, but soon grew to include local Sharp MZ-80K enthusiasts.

These early members soon realised that interest in the MZ-80K was nation-wide, and an advert in Personal Computer World prompted a rush of enquiries from all over the U.K. As a result membership climbed to 300 by the summer of 1981 and to 500 later that year. In fact, by the end of 1981 the fame of the SUC was international and the total of 500 members included many from countries overseas, including France, Belgium, West Germany and Japan.

The first A4-size ‘Gestetnered‘ issue of the SUC Magazine is not dated; but its ‘competitions‘ dose on 28th May 1981, so it must have been published around Easter 1981. Two more A4-size issues appeared in August and December 1981. All three 1981 issues are known retrospectively as ‘Volume 1‘ and they refer exclusively to the MZ-80K, and in particular to MZ-80K programs, and to methods of upgrading the 20K and 36K models to 48K.

In early 1982 the influence oft he larger and partly overseas membership became obvious in the appearance of the SUC Magazine. Volume 2 No. 1 ( April 1982 ) was printed in A5 folded format with stiff covers and much of it refers to MZ-80K software from outside the U.K. – including Basic SP-5060 from Belgium and ‘Z80 Machine‘ from Germany. This process continued throughout 1982 – Volume 2 No. 2 covered a ‘24K Basic‘ from Japan, and Volume 2 No. 3 covered an MZ-80K Basic Integer Interpreter and Compiler, also from Japan.

By now it appeared to be ‘full steam ahead‘. There were four bumper issues of the S.U.C. Magazine in 1983, and they covered inter alia much new software from French sources, including an improved disk Basic SP-7011, a Hi-Res Graphics Basic, Assembler ASM LBT 2000, and a ‘Desassembleur‘. These 1983 issues also included many articles on ‘Hardware‘ kits – Joysticks Board, I/O Box, 3-channel Sound, Hi-Res, RS-232, and various printer interfaces and 2 – 4 MHz mods for the MZ-80K and MZ-80A; and the start of a completely separate section for MZ-80B enthusiasts.

Also in 1983, the S.U.C. put on a show at all the most important U.K. Computer Fairs – Bingley Hall, Earls Court, and the PCW Show at The Barbican. The author attended Bingley Hall as a paying customer and was on the SUC stand at The Barbican – where he first learned that Yeovil Pen Mill is on a branch line from Paddington ( change at Westbury ), and Yeovil Junction is on the main line from Waterloo to Exeter but is 2m. outside the town and there are no buses after 6.p.m or on Sundays – Centre of the Universe indeed!

1984 started with no clouds on the horizon. Three more bumper issues of the Magazine, with significant coverage of the MZ-80B, MZ-80A and the new MZ-700. Perfect, we all thought, how lucky we are to be members of such a useful Club – a situation summarised, we thought correctly, by a publicity document that appeared early in 1984, as an apparent attempt to recruit even more members …..

The S.U.C. as seen by its Committee in early 1984

“Since 1980 the Club has become firmly established and its policy is to support all Sharp Computers introduced since the early days ofthe MZ-80K. These include the MZ-80 and MZ-700 series, which are virtually identical. The main aim of the Club is to make Sharp owners aware of the full potential of this versatile micro and to improve Sharp documentation by detailing many facilities omitted from the inadequate Sharp manuals. 1984 sees Club activities still growing, with meetings taking place all over the country. The Club gives technical support to members who experience hardware and software difficulties, and this has led to many interesting developments, all of which are described in a Quarterly Magazine and other publications.”

“In addition to the service provided by the Magazine, the Club has assembled a unique collection of programs, unobtainable elsewhere, into a Library which is the envy of most other Computer users and includes many language and utility programs. All this material is available on pre-recorded tapes for under £2 per tape. Members are invited to contribute their own programs to this Library. In this way we save Members the expense of commercial programs which are badly written and too trivial to be of any real value. It is sadly true that many persons are trying to take advantage of newcomers to computing by selling programs which are a total waste of money. The Club attempts to keep Members informed with software reviews, yet at the same time protect firms which have made genuine contributions to the Sharp Computer. We believe that the Club encourages good computing, and helps the novice by friendly personal attention. We operate a mainly postal service in this respect. This leads to a valuable source of articles for the magazines, from beginners and expert programmers alike. During 1981 we produced 3 short Newsletters ( out of print ). In 1982 the Club could afford to change to Magazine style, with a minimum of 50 pages. In 1983 there were 4 Magazines, each with more than 60 pages. The Magazine has been expanded to 80 pages for 1984.”

“The Club is quite independent of Sharp ( UK ), who consistently demonstrate their sole interest in selling hardware without maintaining any support for existing or discontinued product lines. It is fortunate that amongst Sharp users there exists an enthusiastic core of programmers; ( and ) that even though Sharp ( UK ) has no interest in an active User Club, more and more Sharp Computer owners are discovering the Club and its services. We receive no financial backing. Thus the cost of running the Club must be covered by subscriptions and in order to improve the standard of the Magazine we need as many members as possible.”

“Current Club projects include a new I/O Box, a new printer interface, a new cassette interface, a sound board, a cheap disk interface, joysticks, serial RS232 interface, modern, hi-res colour graphics and a speech board. All this is sponsored by the enthusiasm of Club Members and small donations from Members.!

“If you would like a sample magazine, send £1 to the Secretary: SHARP USERS‘ CLUB, 60 COMBE PARK, YEOVIL,
SOMERSET, BA21 3BB, UK”

The 1984 Collapse, and Picking up the Pieces in 1985 – 86

The optimistic tone of the publicity leaflet produced in 1984 and reprinted on the previous page did nothing to prepare members for the collapse of the original Yeovil-based Organisation towards the end of that same year. This happened in spite of the fact that by then, the SUC bad a mailing list of over 800 names and a large Library of programs for which there was a massive popular demand.

The first real signs of trouble came in the late Autumn of 1984, when the last of the 4 Magazines promised for 1984 failed to appear as expected, members who had paid in advance for ‘SOFTWARE MANUALS I and II‘ saw no signs of them on the horizon, and members who wrote for Library tapes were finding their letters unanswered.

There was in fact nothing sinister in these events – what the vast majority of SUC Members did not know was that most of the leading figures in the SUC Organisation in the Spring of 1984 had left Yeovil College in July 1984, and in their new surroundings they found it impossible to run the Club as they had done from Yeovil College. For this reason, Vol. 4 No. 4 and the two SOFTWARE MANUALS had become long overdue, and requests for Library tapes were not being answered.

Fortunately for posterity, Andrew Ferguson acted quickly enough to save the situation. By July 1985, he had formed a completely new Committee, salvaged the Library, and sent out a 4-page leaflet to all those on the old Yeovil 800-member mailing list to inform them of the changes and to invite their re-subscriptions for 1985.

The rest of 1985 saw a double-headed attack on the backlog of problems. First, Vol. 4 No. 4 was published by the old Yeovil Committee in September 1985. Then, Vol. 5 No. 1 was published by the new Committee in October 1985 and sent to all those who bad responded to the July leaflet with their 1985 subscriptions.

The situation was consolidated and tidied up during 1986; the old Committee published the two Software Manuals in January and April; the new Committee published two more ‘1985‘ Magazines ( March and June 1986 ) plus a reduced-subscription ‘1986‘ series of only 2 Magazines ( November and December 1986 ); and the backlog of dissatisfied Library customers was completely cleared up.

Thus, by January 1987 the SUC was back on a very firm footing, with around 350 members, a well-organised Library, and plans for a regular 3 Magazines each year. The detailed history of the SUC from 1987 onwards is another story which, if members cry for more, will be told in Part II of this saga, in a future issue…..

POSTSCRIPT re S.U.C. ‘HARDWARE KITS‘

As it turned out, the 1984 Publicity Leaflet was over-optimistic in only one respect. When the new Committee eventually got around to checking the list of ‘Current Hardware Projects‘, they found that most of them existed only as prototypes. Furthermore, by 1987, many of the ideas were obsolete, as cheap second-hand or surplus Sharp I/F boxes with disk and printer cards had appeared on the U.K. market. Therefore, although the new 1985 Committee did eventually develop their own ‘Hardware Projects‘, these did not include any of the items listed in the 1984 Publicity Leaflet.