PCW's founder Angelo Zgorelec came to England
at the end of the sixties with an interest in technology. Michael
Hewitt met him.
"I hope you can understand my English with its heavy, Slavic
accent," said Angelo Zgorelec as we made our introductions
in the office of his Earl's Court home. The accent comes from
his having been born in a small town called Koprivnica, 60 miles
north of Zagreb, in what was then Yugoslavia, just over 57 years
ago. Since then he's been variously a student journalist, fruit-picker,
washer-up, hospital porter, newsagent, publisher, and the head
of a small property company. And in between times he summoned
up sufficient energy to found some techie magazine called Personal
Computer World, which, by all accounts, is still going strong.
Angelo first discovered an interest in journalism
when he was just 15 years old. He began by supplying sports stories
to the national press. Then, in the mid-sixties when he went to
Zagreb University to read history, he joined the student newspaper
and soon became one of its editors. But not for long. One evening,
a functionary visited him to ask why Angelo wasn't in the Communist
Party. In the Yugoslavia of the sixties, trying to be a journalist
without carrying a Party card was a faux pas as massive as trying
to be a chief constable without joining the Masons. So the aforementioned
functionary gave him a choice: join - or else. "I didn't
like being told to believe in something in which I didn't,"
said Angelo. "So I refused and was dismissed from the newspaper.
I'd been getting increasingly fed up with all the restrictions
on life in Yugoslavia, anyway, so this was the last straw for
me. Then I suddenly found out that the university was offering
students the chance to go abroad, fruit-picking in England - I
jumped at it."
With just £4 in his pocket, Angelo arrived in the
UK and set to picking plums. He soon graduated to washing dishes
and then hospital portering. He also kept up the journalism, writing
reports on "swinging London" as a freelance for the
Croatian press. Then came his big break, businesswise, when he
managed to convince a distribution company called The Seymour
Press to allow him to sell The International Herald Tribune and
assorted other US publications via street pitches and other small-scale
retail outlets. With the money made here, and in other ducking-and-diving
routines, he was soon able to afford to buy a small newsagent's
At this point, a thought came to him: instead of
simply selling someone else's publications, why not set up one
of his own? After all, he now had enough money. But on what subject?
He had always had an interest in technology of all sorts (solar
power and satellite communications, for instance) so Angelo knew
it was going to be technology related.
"Then one day I saw a front-page article in
the Wall Street Journal describing how computers were about to
revolutionise the world. I found it fascinating. So much so that
I cut it out and kept it in my pocket. Round about the same time,
the first computer shop in London, The Computer Workshop, opened
on Ifield Road. They had a computer in their window. I forget
exactly what it was, but every evening I used to go there just
to stand outside and look at it. I thought it was absolutely amazing."
Between drools, it didn't take Angelo long to decide
that his proposed magazine was going to be about computers. But
would there be a market for it? Although Practical Electronics
regularly devoted six pages to what passed for computers in those
days, there was no computer magazine per se in the UK, unless
you counted the US import, Byte. This was probably because computers
were still largely a minority, hobbyists' area, like model aircraft.
Most people put their own together from off-the-shelf components.
If you were prepared to shell out upwards of £2,000 for, say,
an Intel 8080 processor, 16Kb of memory, a keyboard, and a cassette
tape recorder for storage, you could end up with something that
was pretty good for playing a game of hangman. It therefore required
something of a leap of faith to believe that one day these things
would become standard items of consumer electronics equipment.
But Angelo's faith leapt, nonetheless.
"I found out that Byte magazine was holding
a computer show in New York and so I decided to fly over there
and take a look - at the time, Laker Airways was starting to sell
flights for £65. I reckoned that if computing looked likely to
take off in America, then it could take off here, too. So I went
to New York and turned up at the exhibition. There was a two-hour
queue to get in. I essentially said to myself: 'I don't need to
see anything else. If people are prepared to queue for two hours,
this is going to be huge'."
Back in the UK, Seymour Press offered to distribute
the magazine, although they tried to convince him to stick to
some subject with more of a future, such as CB radio. But Angelo
was adamant. He then asked one of his friends, a beat poet and
"permanent student", Meyer Solomon, if he'd like to
edit it. Meyer didn't have anything else on, so he agreed. And
the next question was: what were they going to call the publication?
"It was always going to be ... something ...
'World', but it was the first word that took a lot of thought.
Eventually, there were two choices; Micro Computer World or Personal
Computer World. In the end, I settled on the latter." But
at the time, the idea of a "personal" computer was almost
as woolly as that of a "personal" concrete mixer.
Angelo assembled the first edition of Personal Computer
World in the Troubadour Cafe in London's Old Brompton Road which,
coincidentally, was where Bob Dylan made his UK debut. Its appearance
was timed to coincide with the launch of Britain's own Microcomputer,
the Nascom 1, a colour picture of which appeared on the cover
at the time. This must have helped. When PCW hit the streets in
February 1978, it was an immediate sell-out. All of the 30,000
print run was snapped up, and the magazine soon recouped its £12,000
start-up costs. "It's much better than anyone expected it
would be," said journalist, Guy Kewney, upon being presented
with a copy - "Which is one of the nicest compliments I've
ever received," said Angelo.
PCW went monthly from the second edition and hasn't
really looked back. Angelo himself was publisher for 16 issues,
and then went into partnership with Felix Dennis. Eventually,
the title was sold to VNU Publications for £2.5 million. Angelo's
share helped him pay for his house and much else, besides. So,
does he still keep his hand in? "Although I use computers
all the time, I'm not really up to speed on the development side
of things any more. I'm astounded at the progress that's been
made over the past 20 years, of course. I love the internet, for
example, and the fact that every day I can discover something
new. But in the future, I'll watch from the sidelines. Besides,
at my age, it's time to slow down a little."
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