OverviewThe Hewson Express (Sinclair User, October 1985)
The unstoppable Hewson Consultants has been steaming ahead for half a decade. Chris Bourne talks to the man on the footplate.
FIVE YEARS is a long, long time in this business. Five years ago, the ZX-80 was hailed as a breakthrough at under £100. Five years ago, people were building Nascom computers from kits, and computer magazines, such as there were, printed listings of Othello for the UK101 or Acorn Atom. The prince of machines was the Commodore PET. There were no Amstrads. No Orics. No VIC 20s, BBCs, MSXs, C64s, Spectrums or QLs. And there were no games. Computers were not supposed to be about playing games, bought off the shelf. They were about writing your own, because it was an interesting way of learning how to program. It was all very earnest, the obsessive hobby of a tiny minority. And one of the few, the very few, software companies to have started back then, and still going today is Hewson Consultants, now celebrating its fifth birthday.
Andrew Hewson is well known to readers of Sinclair User through his Helpline column, which has been informing, and occasionally baffling, folks with revelations about machine code ever since the magazine began. But he's also the founder, and managing director, of Hewson Consultants, set up on a shoestring in 1980, and now an expanding business infiltrating the charts with programs such as Dragontorc and Southern Belle.
Andrew's a chemical physicist by education - he did a degree at Sussex University. In 1972 he started working at the British Museum assessing the age of objects by radiocarbon dating.
"In 1973 the Museum got a computer," says Andrew. "It was a big step forward. Businesses used computers for things like insurance, and doing gas bills and so on. But in the last ten years or so it's made an enormous difference to science." The museum was one of the first organisations outside the big universities to acquire a computer for research work, rather than as a filing or accounting system.
Since nobody at the Museum could program it, an expert was brought in to run it, and Andrew learned how to program from him. "I learned good habits," says Andrew. "You have to take it slowly when you program. It was a 16-bit Hewlett Packard with a 64K memory. The memory was a set of ferrite rings which lived in a drawer. We had a couple of tape drives, a disc drive and a printer, and the operating system had to work frantically to keep it all going."
After seven years at the Brit, Andrew joined NERC, one of those much-derided quangoes. He moved to Oxfordshire and is still there.
"I'd been up to Manchester with my boss, and on the way home we stopped off at the Wimpy in Stratford-upon-Avon for a cuppa. He started talking about the ZX-80 and how wonderful it was." Andrew was not impressed. "I said, "you must be joking!" and started listing all the reasons why the machine was awful. He said, "look at the price". And the penny dropped."
Andrew leans back, puts his hands behind his head, and explains how, if you wanted a system with any equipment - printers, discs or whatever - you needed about £2,000. "So I bought a ZX-80 and played around with it. You only get one life."
Right from the start it was business. Andrew was interested in making money, not acquiring a hobby. "I had a wife and two kids and a mortgage." He taps his head. "If I'm as clever as I think I am - no, that's not right. If you think "I can do this", then there's an easy way to prove it."
What also made Andrew keen to set up his own business was an increasing dislike of the sort of organisation he was working for. "I learned that in fixed institutions, the job was never going to be more than it already was. Those places don't care if you spend ten years on some obscure project if it produces 'knowledge'. I got fed up with it."
Andrew's one of those people who are concerned to analyse carefully what they do. "What isn't apparent to the public is the effect of government cutbacks and what it generates in the civil service. Look at the teachers - they're desperately anxious about the future of their profession. It was the same in government science departments. "It's always difficult to look back on your own motives" he adds, cautiously.
So, Andrew hummed and hawed a bit and then got down to uncovering the innards of the ZX-80. "It was a breath of fresh air, the first computer I'd ever worked with where you could get at all of it. Usually you are given the ground rules - operating system, language and so on." What he means is the way you can inspect the ROM of Sinclair machines easily, and write directly in machine code.
Andrew's first move was logical. All his moves are logical. Having discovered the ROM he wrote a book, Hints and Tips for the ZX-80. "People were interested in books. That book was why I'm now doing the Sinclair User column. It's about things like clearing a part of the display, or how variables are stored."
Hewson Consultants was thus formed on a mere £500 of capital.a, ST) - Hewson, 1988
In 1991 Hewson Consultants was wound up and replaced by 21st Century Entertainment Ltd, which is still trading! So far they have produced:
- Deliverance (Amiga, ST) - 1991
- Pinball Dreams (Amiga, 1991; PC, 1993)
- Pinball Fantasies (Amiga, 1992; PC, 1994)
- Pinball Illusions (Amiga, 1993; PC, 1995)
-- taken from http://www.nvg.ntnu.no/sinclair/hewson.htm
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TriviaCompany location (1984):
56b Milton Trading Estate
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