What is “mode 7”?

Does this look at all familiar?

A BBC Micro in Mode 7

Mode 7 on a BBC Micro

As a child in the mid-1980s I loved my BBC Micro.  When at home, if I wasn’t shut away in my bedroom listening to records (Thin Lizzy mostly, if you were wondering) I was probably programming my BBC B; or more likely doing both.

The BBC B had very limited graphics and typeface possibilities shared out among 7 “modes”. The clearest, brightest, simplest and most effective for arranging text-based content with primitive graphics was Mode 7, the verdana or helvetica of its day.

The Mode 7 typeface is commonly recognised as the typeface used for Teletext:

A Ceefax page with the Mode 7 typeface

A Ceefax page with the Mode 7 typeface

OK, it’s far from acceptable by today’s standards, but compare it with other microcomputer typefaces at that time and perhaps you can see why teletext existed in that format from the early 1970s right up until the analogue signal switch off 40 years later. That’s an impressively long life for any piece of information technology.

It still lives on too:

  • you can run BBC B emulators on your Mac or PC (BeebEm is a great emulator). I recently spent a fun afternoon with my 8 year old son showing him a bit of BBC Basic programming and he loved it, it’s a great introduction;
  • some modern day retro-designs give more than an affectionate nod to the BBC Micro’s Mode 7 and Teletext. Take a deep breath, swallow your migraine medication and have a look at ivanferreiro.es;
  • you can download and use the Mode 7 typeface font “Bedstead“.

In its purest form, the BBC Micro’s Mode 7 and it’s clear, uncomplicated typeface brought a unique level of clarity, simplicity and readability to a young medium.

The medium may not be so young any more, but Mode 7 Media aim to promote those same values today, even with a wider choice than seven typefaces, eight colours and 24,000 pixels.