Origins of an artefact: Elliott 903

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The Elliott 903, launched in 1965, was a relatively inexpensive and versatile computer popular in schools and industries that could afford the £10,000+ basic model. Today there is one in the Large Systems Room and is very popular with today's students. Its origins date back to the schooldays of one of TNMOC's volunteers.

TNMOC’s Elliott 903 was originally the property of GEC Computers where it is believed it was used as a demonstration machine. It was donated by them to Aldenham School where TNMOC volunteer Olly used it for his examinations in 1979 running Algol 60 programs for his O-levels.

After the arrival of a newly funded BBC Computer room, the Elliott fell into disuse and, with the Art teacher wanting his Pottery room back, it was destined for a rubbish tip - until Olly offered to give it a good home.

The computer, measuring 3 metres by almost 1 metre, was transported to Olly’s (quite large) bedroom where it worked for about a year. But by that time 1980's computing had arrived and Olly had moved on to an Atari 400. Always reluctant to say goodbye to the Elliott completely, Olly dismantled the machine and sent it off to the attic and later various other places where it remained for several years.

Olly always thought it would make a good retirement project to get it working again and was delighted when TNMOC accepted it in 2011. It was shipped in a convoy of four cars and Olly and Terry led the restoration team.

Today the machine can be temperamental if it’s cold, but in good conditions the 16k memory machine is amongst the most reliable vintage computers in the Museum – it’s only when the memory expansion modules are brought into play that it can cause problems!

But Olly's job isn't quite done: there is still a large plotter in storage that he wants to restore to work with the Elliott one day.

Today, the Elliott 903 has an important cameo role in the Learning Programme for schools and colleges. As one of the early machines that used ASCII, it is used to demonstrate the code and to show that ASCII can be quite easily read off tape. Some lucky students get to print their names in ASCII too. It also helps to introduce the concept of error-checking with parity.

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