RIP: Dragon 32 (1982-2013) my first 8-bit colour microcomputer

My Dragon 32 – bought from Boots, Central Milton Keynes by my father for my Christmas 1982 present – passed away this weekend during routine maintenance. It was 31.

Its early life was a very active one. It help me hone my knowledge of Basic programming, and it soon became my platform for learning the assembly language and machine code of the Motorola 6809E processor, on which it was based. Some of my earliest published work were program listings written on my Dragon and submitted to Britain’s home computer magazines of the early 1980s.

Dragon 32, at peace now

Dragon 32, at peace now



I was young too back then, but fickle. Away to university just a few years later, I left my friend at home. I knew it remained loyal to just one user, but I could not be, not with access to a departmental DEC minicomputer. Later, with a fresh grant cheque in my hot, eager hand and a final-year research project to write up, I moved on again, to an Amstrad PCW 8256 bought in the Dixons shop in Leeds’ Briggate. The Dragon, tucked away at the back of an old wardrobe more than 200 miles away, could only wait patiently for change of heart. And connection to a power supply.

That never happened. When I became a man, I put away childish things. As I made my way in the adult world, computers became a utility, not an entertainment. It was the tool I used every day at work, first as a sub-editor, later as a journalist. It was only until the arrival at my flat in 1995 of a Power Mac 8500, won in a Marathon network gaming competition hosted by Apple UK’s PR agency, that I rediscovered computer gaming.

So did my Dragon. It finally gained a new audience and a new role: keeping my very young half-sisters amused back home.

Soon, though, they too moved on, to more glamorous computer kit more prestigious for playground boasting: at first a SNES and, later, more advanced consoles.

Made by Race Electronics for Dragon Data

Made by Race Electronics for Dragon Data

By then I had settled down, and with room to spare I took back what was mine. The Dragon once again came to live with me and to be used, occasionally: pulled from the cupboard to load up some old tapes for a little 1980s gaming nostalgia. Later, it briefly entertained my young son, for a short time distracting him from his Wii by showing him what his dad got up to when he was a kid.

And now it comes full circle: my now ten-year-old son wants to learn to program may latest acquisition: a Raspberry Pi. His motivation: to write games like the ones he’s tried on my Dragon 32.

Dragon 32, BASICally

Dragon 32, BASICally

That machine will now no longer see a second generation of computer-hacking Smiths bloom into nerdhood. Yet its time had come. Built in an era of analogue CRT TV technology, the Dragon was never happy with today’s digital, flat-panel world. Its ageing RF modulator could pump out a modest signal for my colour tellies of yesteryear, but had a job getting a decent picture onto my LCD TV, even after Britain stopped broadcasting analogue television signals, leaving its favoured band, 36, empty.

And it will remain empty forever now. No longer will it be home to a slightly snowy screens of Phantom Slayer, Planet Invasion, Ugh!, Space War, Donkey King, Mined Out et al. No more will ‘(C) 1982 Dragon Data Ltd 16K Basic interpreter 1.0 (C) 1982 by Microsoft’ appear in black letters on a field of green.

Dragon 32 Serial Number 028505, you will be missed.

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