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The DenOfGeek article [Brew2013] has screen captures from the movie Superman III, in particular the early scenes in the movie where character Gus Gorman is at computer programming school.

A screen capture from Superman III

The terminal used appears to be a real terminal, attached to something that is running a BASIC interpreter. (The program listed is BASIC; albeit that the program-within-a-program that it outputs, supposedly the character's PLOT BILATERAL CO-ORDINATES program, is really not; as it lacks LETs and FORs and would be a SYNTAX ERROR IN 10. But this question isn't about the programming language, which is easy and covered in the likes of [Birken2008].) It could be a home computer of the time, alternatively.

It's tricky to identify what terminal/home computer, though.

Some observations:

  • There might be a logo on the plate to the right of the CRT, but it is illegible in the screen captures.
  • There is no numeric keypad at all. (It looks like something that could have a numeric keypad option, though.)
  • The Return key occupies a single row, rather than being a reversed "L" shape.
  • There are arrow keys, which are on the top two rows, above Return.
  • The arrow keys include diagonal arrows.
  • The keys come in (at least) blue, black, white, and green.
  • There are three knobs between the keyboard and CRT; again with illegible labels. (My guess would be brightness and vertical/horizontal adjust.)
  • There are also, on the left hand side, what appear to be two pushbuttons.

The keyboard rules out a DECmate or a Zenith Z-89. There is a resemblance to things like the Wang OIS and the Wang 5536, but the keyboard and knobs are wrong. It is not curvy enough to be an ADDS Regent or ADDS Consul, and again the knobs are wrong.

And given that in the long shots several of the students in the Archibald School of Data Processing have these, it seems more likely to be something off-the-shelf rather than something that the props department dummied up.

What terminal/home computer is it?

References

  • The knobs on the right are labeled "BRI", "VOL", and "OFF/ON". The second key on the left side above the keyboard is labeled "6". The first key is blank. – snips-n-snails Jul 6 at 21:36
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    Another interesting point is that the display shows the word PROGRAMME, spelled the British way. Most interiors were filmed in the UK — but that spelling is wrong in this case! (We use ‘program’ for software, and ‘programme’ for non-computer-related uses such as TV broadcasts, lists of events, and theatre booklets.) I've just checked several British manuals from around 1983, and they all use ‘program’. Maybe the wording was set by non-technical UK writers or film crew who weren't too familiar with computer terminology? – gidds Jul 7 at 17:36
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    We used to use 'programme' (1950: Report on the Preparation of Programmes for the EDSAC - Wilkes, Wheeler, and Gill) just as we used to have better words for the parts of computers: mill, store, order code, etc., but by the 1970s we'd all become Americanized. – another-dave Jul 7 at 23:21
  • I wouldn't be surprised if it were a hybrid system made for the film. The terminal may not have even been connected to Pryor's keyboard. – AShelly Jul 8 at 21:30
  • I have identified the terminal as an ICL 7561/1. See below. – Maury Markowitz Jul 9 at 14:43
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[So far not an Answer, just a pointer from some Google supported memory - nice question research BTW]

There are other scenes showing the terminals, for example later on, when he get's his first pay check (and the idea to round up pennies) like seen in this Youtube clip. Here they are setup in a data center (*1). Notable point here are the disk drives in the back (another overview seen here). They are most certainly OEMed CDC 844-2 storage units of ~1972, safe to be scrapped into movie use by 1980.

Bad part, CDC was the essential OEM manufacturer for mainframe peripherals at the time. So unless someone recognizes the exact colouring, labeling and button caps (they differ in colour from the original CDC setup), chances are slim to get an identification.

Additional find: An answer pointing to ICL's 1900 made me looking again, and while I couldn't find any 1900 reference, I came across a site mentioning an ICL 2900 sowing a picture with ICLed CDC 844-2 drives. Comparing the big ICL plaque on the left side with a similar sized but blurry ones in the clip supports the theory a lot. Except, they are blue, not orange as suggested.

So yes, I'd say ICL for the drives might be a great lead ... but leaving the OEM issue.

Since the terminals as well are of lower function and at least as old (early 70s), it might be safe to assume they did come with the drives. In fact, all of the equipment looks rather fitting, so the prop team may have scored a full data center.

So the question might be narrowed down which mainframe manufacturer of the early 70s did use the shown design.

For the terminal itself, the key colouring is quite revealing as it follows standards set by keypunches (like IBM 028, Univac 1710 or alike) (*2). So it must have been designated for a mainframe environment (see the disk drive) as well it must be early on, as this kind of structuring already started to vanish in the early 1970s.

It also reassembles a bit a CDC 711/713 terminal in the way the additional switches below the screen are positioned. Then again, the case shape does not match.


*1 - In fact one has to admire how hard the prop guys tried to make it right and how much the filming screwed that. Just think the incredible noise of 20+ drives, chain printers and alike. As expected many will wear earmuffs. Except, to make the scene work out, no (real) noise was present :(

*2 - In fact, looking at the keys on the left and all the markings on the top row, were today numbers would be present,, it really reassembles a keypunch, not a later terminal. So what we see might be some quite early on non-IBM attempt to a data entry terminal.

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  • I think you might be on the right track with Univac. – Chromatix Jul 6 at 12:10
  • @Chromatix Would surprise me, as Univac had a distinct yellowish-beige colour scheme. Their Uniscope also always had a light colours keyboard field. Also, unlike the terminals shown, the Uniscope series was a remarkable design with its 'thin' keyboard shape and straight lines.Similar different the Unimatic. – Raffzahn Jul 6 at 12:19
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    Doesn't say much about the terminal, but the screen contents in that first YouTube link seem to point towards OS/360 HASP or some close relative on an IBM system. – hobbs Jul 6 at 18:53
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    Agreed that the keys suggest these are punched card terminals. In fact, there may be card readers behind the white labels on the other terminals in the movie. The logo on the white label says "Webscoe" which is the fictional company where Gus Gorman is an employee, so I'm afraid that's a dead end. – snips-n-snails Jul 6 at 21:25
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    Plus side: the green and blue keys appear to be similar to those found on ICL terminals. Minus side: totally wrong case shape. – Maury Markowitz Jul 7 at 20:48
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It's not a complete computer, but a VDU terminal to a mainframe (or possibly a minicomputer). The same type is seen in a completely different scene when he's at work, not at programming school. Interestingly, there he's seen using a "light pen" to select from a text-based menu. In the background can be seen a number of tape drives with the reels one above the other, which was not IBM practice.

In the programming-school scenes, the display appears to have a resolution of about 32x16 characters. I suspect this was patched in from a home microcomputer, possibly one of Atari's given their involvement elsewhere in the film's production. In the stealing-half-cents scene, the terminal is seen to be substantially more capable.

In the kryptonite-formula scene, we see a font very reminiscent of the SAA5050 series teletext chips, including the use of double-height text, and he uses the light-pen again - but there's also a brief glimpse of a graphics display. It's almost as if the production team used a BBC Micro (which was just available by then) to generate that display, and just patched it into the terminal as with the programming-school scene. It is again obviously the same type of terminal from the housing, but installed in yet a third location.

Unfortunately I don't yet have a lead on the terminal itself. Searching for terminals with a light pen interface would probably be fruitful.

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  • I wouldn't focus on the light-pen. Beside the fact that many had one (it was an easy way to add 'superior' functionality), it might have been added jsut to the effect. Also a light pen goes less with a keyboard setup that ancient. – Raffzahn Jul 6 at 13:16
  • I doubt a BBC Micro. But a VT55 or a VT105 would have been capable of both double-height and so-called waveform graphics. It's not either of those in the long shots, of course. – JdeBP Jul 6 at 14:29
  • Yes, that does look remarkably like a teletext generator (the flashing as well as the double-height, and some of the character shapes). Some BBC Micros were certainly used in film/TV production (generating graphics for Doctor Who and The Adventure Game, for example). Was the SAA5050 used in any other machines likely to have been used in such a movie? – gidds Jul 7 at 17:43
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    @gidds It was a reasonably popular chip, and was available in versions that supplied US-ASCII (SAA5055) and various national character sets as well as the official Teletext set (SAA5050). The BBC Micro used the latter mainly because it had a secondary use within the BBC for broadcast production. I suspect the SAA5055 made its way into a number of VDU terminals, but I don't know precisely which ones. However, the text seen in the programming-school scene is definitely not from an SAA5050. – Chromatix Jul 7 at 18:20
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I would guess that all of the computer props are from an ICL 1900 family mainframe.

The tape drives are almost certainly from an ICL 1900. The disk drives are probably from an ICL 1900, but to be honest disk drives all look the same to me. I cannot find a match for the terminal but the orange on the terminal in the original image is ICL orange.

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  • Tapes as well as disks are OEM products, used by many manufacturers. – Raffzahn Jul 7 at 13:35
  • Really? That doesn't look like the 1900 VDUs I recall, but I could be confusing something else. Btw, 2900s were orange. 1900s as far as I recall were some shade of blue-grey. – another-dave Jul 7 at 16:50
  • Some other examples of ICL equipment on screen, including that orange shade, are here: starringthecomputer.com/computers.html#ICL – LAK Jul 7 at 19:28
  • Having googled a little, the ICL VDU I recall is the 7181, which came in beige in the 1900 era, but apparently in 2900 orange as well. Regardless, it does not seem to resemble the OP's picture. – another-dave Jul 7 at 23:33
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I'm almost certain the terminal in the image is from an ICL 750x, likely a 7501 or 7503.

As you can see in this low-quality image, the casing layout of the terminal appears identical - not only in general layout, but also in the position and coloration of the blank panel on the right as well as the white/black/white strip along the bottom of the display that labels the controls on the right (you can see the text, not the controls themselves which are covered by the pad).

On the keyboard itself, one can see the white keys on the upper right, and it appears that this model is also lacking a numeric keypad - although it's hard to say with the paper pad covering that area.

Note that the 750x line went through many changes and later models look very different. This link shows the later models, which had a separate keyboard and different shaping of the case around the display.

Much more convincing is the printer on the right-hand side of the image linked above. It is identical to the one seen in the movie clip that was posted earlier. Go to that clip and move to the 15 second mark and you'll see it's the same one. Someone mentioned that many of the bits appeared to be OEMed from CDC, and while I'm not terribly familiar with their printers, examples I found the long extension on the front in none of the CDC models I could find, while it is rather prominently visible in the image above.

In the original image posted in the question, the top section of the blank panel cannot be seen. This area holds the model number, which you can just make out in the first link. In the youtube clip, this section has been covered over with what appears to be a piece of paper. Finally, the color of the panel in the first image is clearly "ICL orange", as pointed out earlier, but one can also see it in the later-model version of the terminal which uses it for the back of the case.

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  • Tiny nitpicking, ICL's 7500 series aren't terminals in today's sense, but computers. Of the blurry picture the box to the left is a 7500. They act as a terminal system remote to a mainframe handling batch jobs entry/output. See here for some explanation. The 7561 linked later was a VDU, something we call today a terminal and was connected to the 7500 terminal system. I'ts important to be careful with terms that changed meaning over time. – Raffzahn Jul 9 at 14:31
  • I believe the term you are looking for is "terminal server". The VDU itself is a 7561/1, the second image I linked to is the /2. – Maury Markowitz Jul 9 at 14:43
  • No, it's simply terminal system - a terminal server is a specific version of a terminal system handing VDU. A 7500 could be used as a terminal serer, but it could as well handle other kinds of input (like punch cards) as well as local data entry for batch processing (user editing data on VDU local at the 7500, to be transmitted as a batch). It housed a full figured computer system. Don't get me wrong, I think the 7561/x is the best lead so far. Just be careful what to call it. – Raffzahn Jul 9 at 15:16

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