British Computer Fairs was tech-focused event company based in the United Kingdom.
It operated for over 20 years and over this time organised literally thousands of computer fairs around London and the South East. Paul Driver was the founder of this dynamic, events company, and he has now decided to focus on running his web design business.
BCF was the UK's longest running computer fair organiser and whilst it wasn't the first computer fair in the UK, it was only just pre-dated by All Formats Computer Fairs and Northern Computer Markets. In the end, it went on to operate much longer than both of its forerunners and only closed it's doors in the middle of 2016.
Driver said, "After nearly 25 years in the computer business, I have decided that it is time for me to move on to something new. During my time at BCF I gained a huge amount of knowledge about web design, online marketing, and search engine optimisation. Using this experience to build a web development business seems a natural thing for me to do"
In the early days, most BCF advertising focused on the huge choice and massive savings that could be found at a computer fair when compared with mail-order prices or those found on the high street. The Croydon fair, which was held at a large school on Shirley Road was always the best-attended event, and at its peak, attracted as many as 150 traders at any one time and this was the reason that buyers would attend in their thousands.
Many of the computer fair traders had their own shops or mail order businesses, whilst some worked for themselves as system builders, repair shops or software experts. Trading at the fairs was very lucrative for these businesses and by booking tables at the fairs, they would often speak to more potential customers in a day than they otherwise might see all year.
For computer fair visitors, their guarantee of big savings arrived from the keen competition between traders. So whether visitors were in the market for a high-performance laptop, a fast gaming PC or low-cost second-user machine, they were always sure to find a bargain. Indeed, many customers would arrive with hundreds in their pockets, absolutely determined to spend it.
Paul Driver went on to say, "From the very beginning, BCF placed a great deal of emphasis on consumer confidence, and big efforts were made to educate visitors that their rights were exactly the same as if they were buying from a shop".
BCF was one of the first event businesses in the world to operate a website and went on to build the world's first online shopping mall,specialising only in computer goods. ComputerMarket.com pre-dated Ebay in the UK and was a searchable, multi-seller marketplace, which many companies of the dot-com-boom went on to emulate. It is worth remembering that at this time, the phrase 'comparison website' had not yet been coined.
In the end, some say, that the internet proved to be the undoing of computer fairs and to a large degree, this is true. However, other factors were also in play, not least of which was the arrival of smartphones and tablets.
With a supercomputer in the pocket, who needs all those wires?
About the video
BCF's Tolworth Computer Fair was featured in a BBC series called Computers Don't Byte. The TV series was hosted by Carol Vorderman and aimed to guide consumers in buying computers and taught both adults and children not only about computers but also the Internet.
Directed at non-techies, it was shown on BBC2 from 1997 to 1998. It was based on a book of the same title which covered topics like "What is A Computer," "Inside A Computer," "How A Computer Works," "Electronic Mail," "Kid-Safe Web Sites," and "Newsgroups."
The original clip was recorded on VHS cassette and then converted on an ordinary PC to Real Video format. When this first featured on the BCF website it became one of the world's first online streaming videos, seven years before the birth of YouTube.
This reason the video is so grainy, is that back then, the few people that had internet access were using dialup modems and so the video was encoded at 240-pixel resolution so that it would stream properly over a normal phone line. A brief section, showing a Netscape 3 web browser helps to date the clip