Prestel Exhibit

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Dear The National Museum of Science and Industry,

It is my understanding that you have a demonstration of the old BT Prestel service available as an exhibit at the Science Museum, London.

I am requesting copies of any documentation held that relates to the equipment (i.e. visible and behind-the-scenes, hardware and software) used to operate this exhibit.

I would also like a copy of the pages held by this system for displaying to the user, and including the routing information - a straight electronic copy of the relevant database would probably be the easiest and most complete way of achieving this, as I can decipher most record formats. If at all possible, a copy of the viewdata server software concerned would be appreciated also, however I realise this probably falls outside the definition of "information".

By way of explanation, I am attempting to locate and preserve copies of all period viewdata services, for education and historical purposes. You can see progress so far at http://www.viewdata.org.uk/. The Prestel demonstration you have would be an interesting feature to add, especially as the photographs I have seen imply that it is untouched since installation. I would especially like to get formal permission to add the pages to the website to allow interested parties who cannot get to the museum to experience it.

Thanks in advance,

Yours faithfully,

Rob O'Donnell

Freedom of Information \(SCM\),

Thank you for your enquiry.

We will reply as soon as possible. There may a delay in your receiving a
response, depending on the volume of enquiries we have received. However,
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National Museum of Science and Industry

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Freedom of Information \(SCM\),

Dear Rob O'Donnell,

Thank you for your email dated 20th February 2010 with regards to an old
BT Prestel display possibly held within the Science Museum's collection.
The Museum's Telecommunications Gallery does currently have on display a
working demonstration exhibit of this object.

Should you wish to view it please visit the Museum during normal opening
hours 10am to 6pm, last entry 5.30pm, Monday to Sunday (expect 24th to
26th December).

This display is a working exhibit. I have reviewed the associated
paperwork and discussed this matter with a member of the curatorial team
who worked on the original installation of this exhibit in 1983, and it
would appear as if the object currently on display has not been placed
on the Science Museum inventory.

The display is a 'stand-alone' example of the Prestel system and is not
'live'. The Museum negotiated and commissioned this display direct with
BT (or British Telecoms as it was known). As such Museum archival
records deal primarily with the commissioning process and are of a
correspondence not technical nature. Additionally as there were nearly
50 working displays in the original Telecommunications Gallery the
correspondence is, unfortunately, rather sparse.

I have been able to locate references to the Prestel in Science Museum
Departmental files 2008/48 and 2008/019, should you wish to view these
files, or receive the limited correspondence I have been able to locate,
then please feel free to contact me again and we can make the necessary
arrangements.

As the Prestel display currently on exhibit in the Science Museum was
designed and installed by BT then may I suggest you contact BT Archives
and Heritage in High Holborn? Their archives may hold additional
resources to continue your research.

I have also contacted the Science Museum's Gallery Maintenance Team to
determine whether it will be possible to 'download' the visual content
of the Prestel and forward it to you, either as an attachment or on some
form or storage device (CD-ROM or memory stick).

As maintenance on this object is of an electric nature (replacement of
monitors and so on) and not content based I am unsure however much
technical material my colleagues in Gallery Maintenance Team will hold.
Should they be able to supply me with additional information I will of
course forward it to you.

You may also be interested to know that the Museum had another
stand-alone Prestel exhibit in 1979. This display was not interactive
(as the current display is) but a narrated display.

The screen display was timed to change with the narrator's voice. For
example the narrator would say 'lets see if we can find the football
results' and the screen would change to show football results thus
giving the illusion of an 'interactive'. Again unfortunately this object
was not placed on inventory and has since been removed for the Museum.

The Museum's inventory collection does contain the following inventoried
object:

Deccafax Viewdata Terminal Model VP1, with Cherry Editing Keyboard and
Telephone Handset, c. 1980, as used for receiving the Prestel Service,
with a user manual and an extensive file of documentation relating to
the use of Prestel in the Government Service (Inventory number
1994-1169)

This object is currently held by the Science Museum's Large Object Store
Wroughton; should you wish to view it please contact Wroughton direct,
quoting the above inventory number, on the following
[email address].

Please note time slots for visits are limited and need to be booked well
in advance. Objects can be viewed however no expert opinion maybe given
by Wroughton staff. Some objects may not be suitable for viewing for due
to hazardous material concerns or storage limitations.

I trust this information is of some use to you and as mentioned above
should my colleagues in Gallery Maintenance be able to offer further
assistance I will of course forward you the information.

Yours Sincerely,

Corporate Information and Enquiries Officer
Science Museum

The members of the NMSI family include:
Science Museum, National Media Museum, National Railway Museum,
Locomotion

Science Museum
Exhibition Road,
South Kensington
London, SW7 2DD

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appropriate manner then please feel free to request an internal museum
review of your case on the following:

Freedom of Information Complaint,
Records Manager,
Science Museum
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London SW7 2DD

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Dear Freedom of Information (SCM),

Thank you for the comprehensive response. As you surmised, my interest is on the technical side. The correspondence about commissioning the exhibit would only be of passing interest, and so I will not trouble you further for that.

The narrated display exhibit sounds as if it would have been very interesting - I'm assuming that this no longer exists? I worry now, from your comments that the extant exhibit is not on inventory that this may go the same way. May I request that whatever wheels are required to be set in motion to ensure it's preservation, are so started?

With regard to this, whatever information the Gallery Maintenance team can come up with would be very useful, and I look forward to receiving this. As regards a copy of the content, I am assuming that the display runs on some form of microcomputer that was current at the time it was commissioned. As this is my area of interest, then depending on the actual hardware in question, of course, I am happy to offer any advice required to assist in making a copy.

Many thanks for your time and attention on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Rob O'Donnell

Freedom of Information \(SCM\),

Dear Rob O'Donnell,

Thank you for your email dated 25th February 2010 with regards to the
Science Museum's Prestel exhibit. Unfortunately your assumption with
regards to the original 1979 narrated display is correct. However your
concerns relating to the current Prestel exhibit are valid and I have
also passed this matter on the Museum's Telecommunications Curator and
the Collections Registration Team (who deal with 'new' acquisitions of
objects).

I feel, as you rightly point out, that this object should be recorded in
a more efficient manor. From my point of view I have kept your enquiry
'open' and will be liaising with my colleagues in Gallery Maintenance to
ensure if the Museum does maintain technical material for this display
it is forwarded to you.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank you for your
interest and watchfulness in the Science Museum, without which we could
not meet our already extremely high standards of excellence.

Rory Cook
Corporate Information and Enquiries Officer
Science Museum

The members of the NMSI family include:
Science Museum, National Media Museum, National Railway Museum,
Locomotion

Science Museum
Exhibition Road,
South Kensington
London, SW7 2DD

t. 0207 942 4138
e. [email address]

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Dear Mr Cook,

Thanks for the email.

I'm glad that you are forwarding our concerns to the relevant persons. As you may or may not be aware, Prestel was sold of by BT in the early 1990s, and closed down fairly shortly afterwards. As such, the exhibit is one of very few surviving examples of actual service content, even if it is a tailored demonstration, and is perhaps unique in that it was provided by BT themselves.

FWIW, The BT Archives do not hold any significant information, and specifically do not hold a copy of the service database. I haven't yet enquired directly about your exhibit, but the more general searches I have already made with them with regard to Prestel did not indicate they had anything.

Thank you again for your time on this,

Yours sincerely,

Rob O'Donnell

Freedom of Information \(SCM\),

Dear Rob O'Donnell,

Further to our pervious correspondence on the Prestel Exhibit in the
Science Museum's Telecommunication Gallery I am just contacting you with
an update. Unfortunately both the gallery technician and the curator of
the telecommunications collection have been unable to locate any further
manuals or associated technical papers linked to this exhibit.

They have, however, been able to locate a 5.25 inch floppy disc which
contains information relating telecommunication gallery demonstration
data; however they feel it is doubtful there is Prestel information
stored on it.

Due to the technology supporting the 5.25 inch floppy disc becoming
obsolete my colleagues are finding it difficult to retrieve the data
stored. At present they are working on this problem in order for the
information to archived by the Museum.

I am sorry the Museum was unable to offer further assistance at this
junction; however I do wish you all the best with your research.

Rory Cook
Corporate Information and Enquiries Officer
Science Museum

The members of the NMSI family include:
Science Museum, National Media Museum, National Railway Museum,
Locomotion

Science Museum
Exhibition Road,
South Kensington
London, SW7 2DD

t. 0207 942 4138
e. [email address]

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Dear Mr Cook,

Thank you for the update. If it would help, I have access to equipment with 5.25" drives that I could loan to assist with access to the disk you have located. Would your colleagues know what machine created it, as this would obviously help?

I am still interested in the information pages contained within the exhibit itself- if the hardware concerned can be identified, or if not, simply some photographs taken of it to enable identification, then I should be able to assist with copying those too, or at least find somebody who can.

Yours sincerely,

Rob O'Donnell

Dear Mr Cook,

I was wondering if there had been any progress on this - if the disc located had been read or if the information pages displayed by the exhibit machine were able to be extracted.

My offer to assist directly or find suitable persons or hardware more locally who can do so still stands.

Yours sincerely,

Rob O'Donnell

Freedom of Information (SCM),

1 Attachment

Dear Rob O'Donnell,

Thank you for your email dated 30th April 2010 with regards to
additional information relating to the Prestel Exhibition on display
within the Science Museum. I have been handed some additional technical
information from my colleagues in the Gallery Maintenance Team which I
have scanned and attached to this email.

Should you require further additional technical information may I
suggest you contact the Museum's Curator responsible for the
telecommunications collections, John Liffen, on the following:
[email address].

I trust this information is of some use to you and I wish you all the
best with your research.

Rory Cook
Corporate Information and Enquiries Officer
Science Museum

The members of the NMSI family include:
Science Museum, National Media Museum, National Railway Museum,
Locomotion

Science Museum
Exhibition Road,
South Kensington
London, SW7 2DD

t. 0207 942 4138
e. [email address]

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Richard Taylor left an annotation ()

The email address given to contact for further details is:

John.Liffen at nmsi.ac.uk.

--

Richard - WhatDoTheyKnow.com volunteer

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