Andy Wright

Andy Wright


Dr Andy Wright ran BetaSoft, a one-man software house through which he sold BetaBASIC: an improved version of BASIC for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. When MGT were designing the Sam, they approached Doctor Wright and contracted him to provide the ROM and DOS.

BetaSoft also published many other Coupé titles.


An interview with Andy Wright featured in SAM Revival issue 14.

Interview by David Ledbury in November 1991 taken from ZAT Issue 11

This issue, we are lucky enough to be able to bring you an interview with the creator of SAM BASIC, BETA BASIC, BETA DOS, MasterDOS and more recently MasterBASIC!

Can you give us some information about your background?

I was born on 3.7.54 in Hereford. (My wife asked why you wanted to know my date of birth “so they can send me presents" I said.)

My family moved to the Bahamas when I was four and I was brought up on a dairy farm there. This has left me with a "mid-Atlantic drawl". I came back to Britain to finish my education, and got a B.Sc. at Edinburgh (nice city) before coming to Birmingham to do a Ph. D. on the circulation of the heart. After that I did four years of research in the Physiology Dept. of Birmingham University.

How long have you been interested in computing, and what was the first program you wrote?

In 1980 we got a TRS-80 in the lab and / wrote some long Basic programs one I later discovered is what is called a "Spreadsheet”.  This impressed my boss no end and saved us lots of time in calculating results.

At about the same time I borrowed a ZX-80 and got interested in machine code. I remember typing in a program that made a pattern on the screen WITHOUT the screen going blank as the program ran and thinking it was very exciting! The next year I built a ZX-81 from a kit and wrote three machine- code games which were pretty good for a 1K machine - a target -shoot, a Space Invaders, and an Asteroids type. The company Microgen sold them, but pretty soon after that the ZX Spectrum appeared, and ZX-81 sales dropped.

I got an early Spectrum and produced Beta Basic 1.0, an extended Basic, in late 1983. It sold quite well, and by May 1984 I had resigned my research job to program full-time. You might wonder why I abandoned a career I had spent so much time on.

Although I was (and still am) very interested in science, I found that I was spending most of my time performing similar experiments and preparing the results, rather than thinking. Programming, on the other manipulating appendage, was mainly problem solving, and I was hooked! I used to disassemble parts of the Spectrum ROM over breakfast. (I finished about the same time that Logan & O’Hara did.)

I also remember saying, when offered a coffee by a flat -mate during a programming session, "Better not -I might have to pee and it would break my concentration."

Which particular machine code assembler package, do you prefer, and why?

I produced another two versions of Beta Basic, then did a lot of games conversions, from Spectrum to CPC, PC and PCW. I was finally convinced that Assemblers were worth the trouble by a program called Pyradev on the CPC.

I have seldom used one on the Spectrum because I like lots of characters per line to document my source code. I used Pyradev to write Beta Basic 4.0. the SAM Coupé ROM and MasterDOS. I like it because it has an 80-character display, a great full-screen editor, fast assembly, sensible defaults, the ability to cross-reference uses of all labels in the program, easy swapping of blocks to other files, etc. etc.

Even so, it began to creak a bit under the load of 500K of source code for the Coupé ROM, and ! moved to the much less friendly PDS development system on a hard-disk PC for ROM 2.0.

Unfortunately, Pyradev isn’t available on the Spectrum. Something even better would be possible on the Coupé, but I am still waiting. I use the CPC for writing assembly language and the Coupé for just about everything else - it has so much potential.

Do you enjoy any particular type of game, and what kind do you like?

Which games do I like ? I have reflexes like a snail, so I prefer games that are graphically interesting and allow you to look around a bit before getting destroyed. I converted Fairlight for the CPC and was impressed by the graphics and the programming, which was very cunning. Converting the sprite overlap code to use colour was as hard as anything I have ever done.

Later on, I met Bo Jangeborg (who wrote Fairlight and Flash!) and was pleased to hear that it made his head hurt too! ! haven’t met many other hard-core assembly language programmers.

What method do you use to plan a program, and how long does it take you upon average?

Planning a program? Most of my projects have broken into parts fairly naturally - "What command shall I write today?" - but I might write the main steps on the back of an envelope before I start.

I do try to document my programs as I write. This means I have to "explain them to myself" which helps keep my thoughts on track. I tend to feel I am writing slowly - the Coupé ROM took over a year - and often it can take days to write and debug a few hundred bytes if it is something like a floating-point division routine! However, I have heard it is supposed to take a man-year to implement a reasonable subset of Basic, so perhaps I did O.K.

What particular programs or systems, would you like to see available for the Spectrum or SAM in the near future?

I find it hard to think of anything I want to see on the Spectrum that hasn't already been done.

On the SAM, a really good assembler and word-processor would be nice. I toy with the idea of doing them myself, but the trouble is that to start from scratch takes a long time, and converting something else might create copyright problems.

I am daunted by the number of fiddly bits in a word processor (like headers and footers) that are too easy to be interesting but too numerous to be done quickly.

Are there any ideas for future projects which you would really want to do, but as yet you hadn’t had time to tackle?

I would be interested in working on neural networks or virtual reality - but can’t figure out how to make it pay!

Do you ever read any computer magazines and if so which ones?

I read FORMAT, the SDC newsletter and SAM Supplement, Byte and ZAT (when offered a free copy!). I used to read lots more, but they changed! Even Computer Shopper has stopped covering SAM/Spectrum/QL - I hope temporarily.

Apart from the field of computing, what other interests do you have?

I am a great SF fan. My favourite book is probably "The Mote in God’s Eye" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

My least favourite is one picked up second-hand because it was SF. Superficially it appeared, to be a bad detective story, but I kept reading, waiting for the aliens to appear. Only about 20 pages from the end did I realise that due to a printer’s error the contents bore no relationship to the cover, and it WAS a bad detective story!

I used to build computer hardware, but I don’t get much time these days. My last project was the first-ever Coupé printer interface - I needed something to check my DUMP routine - which then didn't fit into the ROM! I enjoy cooking e.g. Chicken Satay followed by Crepes Suzette.

What are your favourite television programs?

On TV I like Horizon and Inspector Morse. I watch Tomorrow’s World hopefully but am always disappointed. Nobody ever discovers anti-gravity, unfortunately. I modelled myself on Mr. Spock in the old Star Trek, but the new series doesn’t seem as good.

Which other packages do you like?

Favourite packages? Well, MasterBASIC on the Coupé is quite good - but I haven't completely finished it yet. [He hadn't at time of interviewing! DL]

If you were not programming, what would you be doing instead?

I might have been an engineer - but I am useless at Maths.

Would you ever like to write a game? If so, which type?

I do not think I am cut out to be a games designer but something with advanced 3D graphics or clever computer game-play might be fun to do.

What are your own opinions on the Coupé, and the Amstrad machines?

The Coupé is a great machine - it is just a pity it wasn't developed earlier. It is odd that a company with Sinclair's resources never did much in the way of a Spectrum replacement.

The Spectrum Plus 2a has no spark of imagination in its design, apart from what was there in 1983.

The CPC is slow and has limited graphics. PCs are boring and not very user-friendly.

What do you think of the role of fanzines, like ZAT, in the promotion of the Sam Coupé?

I am always astonished at the Quantity and Quality of the user support for the Coupé, in the shape of fanzines and programs.

They are very important, keep up the good work.

ZAT would like to thank Doctor Wright, for giving up some of his valuable time, to complete this interview for us.


Ph.D. @ University of Birmingham From 1975 to 1979
B. Sc., Physiology @ The University of Edinburgh From 1971 to 1975

Where are they now?

Currently working at Codemasters