English electronics company, founded in 1958. Nowadays, they specialise in the manufacture of domestic appliances such as kettles, toasters, flashlights, and more recently, mobile phones, but to most British people born in the early 1970s and before, the Binatone name is synonymous with one thing – Pong.
Pong, of course, was the game that introduced the alien concept of home videogaming on an unsuspecting world in the early 1970’s. In America, where the phenomenon began, the nascent home-Pong market was dominated by two companies, Atari and Magnavox, an American television manufacturer. Atari were the firm that launched Pong in the arcades, whereas Magnavox were arguably the first to transform the game into a home console format with the Magnavox Odyssey. Unfortunately for Magnavox, their advertisements for the Odyssey gave the impression that it would only work with Magnavox televisions, and Atari promptly wiped the floor with them when it released it’s own Pong console.
While those two companies fought it out for control of the USA, Binatone were quietly flooding Britain with thousands of black and orange Pong machines. Known by the lawsuit-dodging title of “TV Masters”, the Binatone machines played the usual handful of Pong variants – Tennis (i.e. Pong), Squash, (Pong with an extra wall), and Football (Pong with small “goals”). However, the later Binatone models also came with a flashy new accessory – a light gun. This enabled youths all over Britain to live out their wildest fantasies, providing their wildest fantasies involved shooting at a one-inch square white dot as it bounced around a pitch-black screen, and making realistic “pow-pow-pow” noises with your mouth. (Mine certainly did).
Sadly, Binatone were unable to keep pace with the constantly evolving home entertainment industry, and their market share was completely wiped out by the advent of cartridge-based consoles, followed by the home computing craze of the early 1980’s. Nonetheless, for thousands, possibly millions of British gamers, it was Binatone, not Atari, who brought videogaming into the living room. For that, we are eternally grateful.