Jason and the Argos Gnomes (Part Sixteen): The Commodore 64 computer

The world’s best selling single computer format

The Argos Catalogue started selling home computers in 1983. In its Autumn/Winter 1983 edition, the VIC20 and the Mattel Aquarius featured, next to the video games consoles. There was a higher page count for the Atari VCS 2600, Colecovision and the Mattel Intellivision, plus their cartridges.

Then came the Great Video Games Crash of 1983 which saw a number of Pac Man and ET cartridge buried in a desert. Whereas Atari imploded, the British home computer scene flourished. There was Sir Clive Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum (the UK’s biggest selling home computer); the BBC Micro, Models A and B becoming a feature of many 1980s classrooms; last but not least, the Dragon 32. In the Spring/Summer 1984, Argos sold what would become the world’s biggest selling home computer ever, for the first time.

The Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 was a natural replacement for the VIC20. Its graphics and sound was originally going to be used for an arcade board. Launched in Summer 1982, the C64’s launch price was $599, boasting more bang for its buck than its expensive rivals (as expressed in print adverts in Byte magazine at the time alongside two other machines).

In 1984, the Commodore 64 was on an upward curve. Numerous software houses supported the machine, though its first truly dedicated magazine wouldn’t arrive till April 1985 (the late Newsfield’s mighty Zzap! 64). Back in 1984, it would feature in multi-format magazines like Your Commodore (along with the PET, VIC20 and the soon to arrive C16 and Plus 4 formats) and the all systems Computer and Video Games.

Argos advertised the machine as an all-round educational and recreational tool and extolled the joys of Yannes’ legendary SID chip in its blurb. In the catalogue, it is seen atop a Commodore 1530 C2N Datasette and a selection of software, on tape and cartridge formats. The game on the TV display by the trusty ‘bread bin’ keyboard is Sea Wolf (available at the time for £9.99).

The Commodore 64 would appear in numerous Argos Catalogues up until the early 1990s. During its twilight years, this would include a pack with a 1541-II 5.25 floppy disc drive bundled with the (unreleased) follow-up to Rainbow Islands (Parasol Stars), and the excellent James Pond II: Robocod.

In 1984, founder Jack Tramiel left Commodore Business Machines for Atari, where he would gazump his former company by releasing its first 16 bit computer. Under Irving Gold’s stewardship, the Commodore 64 saw a succession of price cuts and a market repositioning towards computer gaming. Developers took the machine to heart with its SID chip; at the other end it was a dependable workhorse for home offices, thanks largely to Berkeley Softworks’ GEOS package.

  • Argos Catalogue edition: Spring/Summer 1984;
  • Page and item numbers: page 219, item 4;
  • 1984 Prices: £199.00;
  • 2014 Prices: £586.65.

S.V., 16 December 2014.

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