Origins

As written by Marios Cleovoulou, VNS Publications, then based in Valbonne, France. Taken from issue 1000 dated 6 Feb 1986.

“One thousand issues! I’ve watched it approaching, slowly, for a long time now, yet it only seems like yesterday when….

The history of the VNS hasn’t been published for just over two years now, when Richard told the story for the 500th issue. I think this is a good time to tell it again, and I hope that the 257 readers who read Richard’s rendition back then won’t mind the repetition!

The VOGON News Service started after a number of software engineers from Reading, England relocated to the Spit Brook Road facility in Nashua, NH, USA. Amongst them were Alan Blannin and myself. Alan asked Richard De Morgan, still in Reading, to send him the test match scores so that Alan could keep up to date on events in his favourite sport — cricket. Richard sent not only the requested results, but also included some small snippets of news.

Alan forwarded this information on to other “ex-pat Brits” in the U.S. and the VNS (although it wasn’t known as such then) was born! Issue number one was “published” on the 3rd of August, 1981. Soon after, Richard, being at the time on node VOGON::, jokingly titled his MAIL to Alan “The VOGON News Service” and the name stuck.

(A Vogon is an ugly extraterrestrial which enjoys torturing it’s victims by reading to them his exceptionally bad poetry. For further references on Vogons readers should consult “The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams). 

It soon became evident that the “ex-pats” missed both home news and the British media’s view of international events, for in VNS #44, less than three months later, Alan announced “Our current circulation is 16 (including staff)”. 

That issue was also significant in that it featured the first “Letter to the Editor”, penned by Steve Coughlan. Steve had recently joined the staff, creating the “VNS Money Desk” and submitting the VNS FINANCIAL SUPPLEMENT which reported the all-important Pound Sterling to U.S. Dollar exchange rates as well as DIGITAL stock and Dow Jones information. (Steve recently retired his post due to the joys of an expanding family). 

The VNS carried on, with it’s three-man staff, providing daily news to ex-pats, friends and interested parties in the days when the network was small. For issue #265 (5-Jan-1983) Alan added (with the help of some DCL from me) a header which included the edition number and the circulation count — at that time, 50. So we started counting….

Alan was still “hand-crafting” the VNS when, at the end of July 1983, he left DIGITAL. Having been a colleague of Alan’s for years and an “active observer” of the VNS since it’s conception, I “volunteered” for the job of publishing the VNS. Our circulation was then just over the 100 mark, Richard and Steve’s fingers showed no signs of wearing down, we had just taken on a new staff member — Tracy Talcott [VNS COMPUTER NEWS] providing news on the business we are all in, and more letters were coming in more and more regularly. 

It didn’t take more than a few minutes for me to realise that Alan was putting sweat into the VNS, and that it would continue to be an expanding job. So, I decided to automate the publication and distribution of VNS as much as possible. A move that Alan viewed “in much the same way as the monks of old must have viewed Gutenberg – a good idea but it will never catch on”, and Richard referred to as making “Fleet Street look like a Dickensian Counting House”. Some readers even threatened to join their local Luddite society! (But I know they are still on the distribution list….) 

So, we went on in an automated fashion. The VNS procedures are now written in DCL and TPU and run in the early hours of the morning while I’m still snoozing. Mike Taylor [VNS TECHNOLOGY WATCH] joined us at the end of 1983 and Rick Haggard [VNS NEWS SHORTS (recently retired)] came on board in March 1985. 

And the circulation grew and grew….

At the end of last year, the whole shooting match moved, along with me, to the DIGITAL facility in Valbonne on the Cote D’Azur on the south coast of France.

Our now 2300 plus readers are on some 580 nodes in 130 separate facilities spread across 18 different countries!!! The VNS also offers a VideoTeX service (LEROUF::”43=” if it isn’t on your local server’s menu) which keeps the last five issues online.

Sometimes, it just amazes me. I’m not sure any of us know quite what we are a part of. My resume now (proudly) refers to the VNS as “an automated network-based daily newspaper focusing on British and international news, US and world financial information, and computer industry and high technology reporting.”, however, I will leave you to come to your own conclusions….”

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