(c)BBC. Fair Use for the purpose of education. Don’t hack, children!


“The second [hack] was spectacular because it was carried out on live national television. It occurred on October 2nd 1983 during a follow-up to the BBC’s successful Computer Literacy series. It’s worth reporting here, because it neatly illustrates the essence of hacking as a sport… skill with systems, careful research, maximum impact with minimum real harm, and humour.

“The tv presenter, John Coll, was trying to show off the Telecom Gold electronic mail service. Coll had hitherto never liked long passwords and, in the context of the tight timing and pressures of live tv, a two letter password seemed a good idea at the time. On Telecom Gold, it is only the password that is truly confidential; system and account numbers, as well as phone numbers to log on to the system, are easily obtainable. The BBC’s account number, extensively publicised, was OWL001, the owl being the ‘logo’ for the tv series as well as the BBC computer.

“The hacker, who appeared on a subsequent programme as a ‘former hacker’ and who talked about his activities in general, but did not openly acknowledge his responsibility for the BBC act, managed to seize control of Coll’s mailbox and superimpose a message of his own:

Computer Security Error. Illegal access. I hope your television PROGRAMME runs as smoothly as my PROGRAM worked out your passwords! Nothing is secure!

Hackers’ Song
“Put another password in,
Bomb it out and try again
Try to get past logging in,
We’re hacking, hacking, hacking
Try his first wife’s maiden name,
This is more than just a game,
It’s real fun, but just the same,
It’s hacking, hacking, hacking”
The Nutcracker (Hackers UK)


“After the hack a number of stories about how it had been carried out, and by whom, circulated; it was suggested that the hackers had crashed through to the operating system of the Prime computers upon which the Dialcom electronic mail software resided–it was also suggested that the BBC had arranged the whole thing as a stunt, or alternatively, that some BBC employees had fixed it up without telling their colleagues. Getting to the truth of a legend in such cases is almost always impossible. No one involved has a stake in the truth. British Telecom, with a strong commitment to get Gold accepted in the business community, was anxious to suggest that only the dirtiest of dirty tricks could remove the inherent confidentiality of their electronic mail service. Naturally, the British Broadcasting Corporation rejected any possibility that it would connive in an irresponsible cheap stunt. But the hacker had no great stake in the truth either–he had sources and contacts to protect, and his image in the hacker community to bolster. Never expect any hacking anecdote to be completely truthful.”

Quoted from the Hacker’s Handbook, by Hugo Cornwall