Brian Moore was the second managing director of Dragon Data from September 83 until the end.

Brian Moore PCW 16-22 Feb 1984
Brian Moore PCW 16-22 Feb 1984

Brian Moore – The Man in the driver’s seat
40 years on : The archive interviews Brian Moore

One day you’re browsing through your emails and then there’s one from Brian Moore, this can’t be the Brian Moore of managing director of Dragon Data (DD), it couldn’t happen to me – but it did. A handful of emails and a couple of weeks later and I’m on my way into the shires to meet him. Once DD was a leader in the home computer market with strong aspirations in the business market. But like other computer companies of the time it eventually didn’t make it. With Dragon being one of the first UK major players to burn its self out and now there’s the opportunity to discover from inside Dragon how it all went down.

Optimistic View
Brian was keen to point out that he “was a young man” on his arrival to DD and thought “Yeah, let’s save it” but how did he get there? To explain this we need to understand the companies and investors involved. Prudential set up PruTech, a venture to invest in high-tech companies (“run by accountants”) and as PruTech had the major investment in Dragon, Ron Artus (boss of Prudential) asked Arnold Weinsock, who was the head of GEC and a top industrialist of the time, who could help with “Dragon Data going awry”?
As Brian had just completed his management training at GEC he was next in line for a management job and got a call one Friday to meet Ron on the following Monday. Over the weekend Brian’s reading the Sunday Times, only to see an article stating that Dragon had a new managing director and thought “That must be me”. A quick meeting with Ron on the Monday and on September 12th (1983) “I was in” and took over Dragon Data. Shortly after this Brian stated that “The order book is full and we dispatch everything we build” with Dragon selling all the 64’s it could produce for Christmas, whilst this was true it didn’t fully reflect the situation.
Underneath Dragon were struggling to produce all the Dragons needed for Christmas, with Brain stating there was “only so much silicon to go around” at the time and Motorola** was advising Dragon of even more supply issues to come in the future (late 1984). If this wasn’t bad enough, the lack of chips wasn’t the only issue facing Brian.

SAM Hurts Dragon
Despite Brian’s optimism to save the company it was clear that Dragon was up against the wall when he arrived, including “.. a drop in sales, reliability issues and the lack of software”. “Although it didn’t really go public, the Dragon wasn’t seen as reliable in the industry” and “was a real problem for Dragon” (including returns).
The primary cause of this issue was the SAM (6883) chip, resulting in the Dragon freezing, not a pleasant experience having waited minutes for your game to load. As a cover story, Dragon said “it was mains spikes” causing the issue, although one person put anti spike items all over their house and “of course” the problem with their Dragon continued. Brian recognised that DD production “was not high tech” (in comparison to Silicon Valley) and it had been born from a toy manufacture with “toy standards”.

Financial Strife
It became apparent to Brian the financial problem was far worse than it first appeared. In addition to the known financial issues, there was also significant “off balance sheet liability for chip purchases”. This was due to Dragon's commitments to purchase silicon from the chip manufacturers, as purchasers have to order months in advance from the chip suppliers, to get into the production queue. These chip orders hadn’t appeared in the finances (yet) as the actual purchases hadn’t occurred but they were still major commitments in Dragon’s financials.
“Chip manufacturers and sales (retailers) had the power”, the chip manufacturers had the luxury of being able to pick their customers and their chip allocations, as they could easily sell all of their production due to the high demand at the time. On the other side of the production the retailers had power over Dragon too. “Around 80% of Dragon sales were through Boots and (mostly) Dixons, all other sales were a row of beans”.
As Dragon wasn’t part of “the Sonys or Panasonics” of the world, the large retailers took a different approach with DD, i.e. we are selling your product for you and even recommended pricing to DD, based on their weekly sales. With this relationship, came constant back and fore, including “wanting to know what Dragon was doing, especially including such things as advertising” (which might affect the sales).
One thing in the favour of Dragon with Boots, was that they were a major investor in PruTech and obviously wanted DD to do well. An additional financial expenditure also included “100K’s spent with top advertising agencies, with Richard Wadman in London all the time (meeting them)”.

The New Orleans Connection
The Tano Corp contract was negotiated before Brian's time, so couldn’t remember the financial deal or any manufacturing agreements made with Tano but there were “no repercussions (financially) to DD”. Tano “were disappointed with build quality, reliability and support from the UK (DD)” and “I remember, every two weeks ‘a man’ would phone and complain about everything” i.e. all of their issues.

Prototypes to the Rescue?
Probably not but they were still important to Dragon, as they were not in a position to go into production (before Dragon failed) but they were “hyped up, to show that Dragon still had a future”. The Alpha (aka. Professional) was probably “around 6 months away from release” due it’s on-going “ heat/power dissipation issues” but “the castings and case work had all been done”. The heat issues were due to large amount of electronics inside the case, especially the dual floppy drives but Brian thought it essential that they be brought inside the machine rather than “hanging outside”.
The Beta (aka Dragon 128), started out as a home machine but evolved into a business machine over time and was really the “baby” of the technical team, this was also some time off from production, maybe up to 12 months.
“It was difficult to invest in these projects” because of the ongoing costs of “keeping the D32/64 production running” for the money to keep flowing and so everyone was just busy trying to keep Dragon going, by ensuring the 32/64 production carried on. Brian, felt it “might have been easier, (starting over) with the money (being spent on Dragon) and an empty site”, along with the concern that “Dragon didn’t have enough technical resources for it (the prototypes) to succeed”.
Alongside the two prototype computers a touch tablet was also in development, which became the TouchMaster. “Every few weeks new technology was breaking” and Dragon saw touch technology as “potentially the next big thing”, the TouchMaster product was “spun off” to a separate company to protect it from Dragon’s failure.
So what happened to the much press talked about MSX machine? “Competition was encroaching from Amstrad and C64” (in later days), so we were “looking at other options”. There was “no real move into the MSX”, “I think they (Dragon) had a couple of internal meetings but it never went anywhere”. “We did meet some Japanese (MSX people) and whilst they had (good) hardware, they were naive about the software needed (to make MSX a real success)”.

Who had the Power?
“Prutech/Prudential were the movers in Dragon Data”, with such a huge investment (in Dragon) and basically “Pru’ was running the show and GEC supported”, the GEC support was “to show the press that (Dragon) was doing something” (to save Dragon). “GEC McMichael was the holding company for Dragon but there was no active involvement in the daily running” (of Dragon from McMichael). Brian reported to Derek Allum, he was “the man”, Derek was a Prudential employee running the PruTech fund. The Welsh Development Agency (the other major DD investors) “had no major manipulation that I (Brian) saw”.

“Glamour, interest, drama and failure”
It was a shock “finding out I was the Managing Director of Dragon Data in the Sunday Times” and then “my pay was doubled (from GEC) to meet the pay at Dragon, GEC were well known for it (not paying well).” It was also “great to turn up at DD as the MD (from GEC slough) and then being at trade shows (USA & UK), meeting famous people (Bill Gates, Jack Tramiel), even featuring in the New York Times etc.”.
On the other side of this “I (Brian) was working 24/7, with 10 issues (to deal with) a day and no sleep. I would put my work away in the drawer at Dragon everyday, (but) it was still there in the morning.”. DD was a “drama moving fast everyday” and “having to lay off 100 (plus) staff within days of starting, was difficult, after this I couldn’t walk the streets of Swansea.”. In the end “it was dramatic for PruTech to put a company (Dragon) into receivership.” and there were “lots of dreams lost”.

Last Days
In the last days of Dragon the receivers were called in and everything was “all a matter of fact” to “behave in a correct manner”, in order to meet the legal obligations (of DD and the receivership process). Brian did work with the receivers for a short period but they obviously only keep you on “if you are of value to them”.
Retrospectively looking at his time at Dragon, Brian saw that Dragon wasn’t going to make it, “so would have (quickly) suggested to Prudential that Dragon would need a major investment in technology and people, maybe 30M? (to make a real go of the company) or just call in the receivers there and then”.
In the early days of Dragon (before Brian’s time), ”Dragon Data should have saturated the market with lower prices, bringing out new products every 6 months and have invested (more) in software for the machines. This is how Sinclair got the head start (i.e. ZX80 → 81 → Spectrum)”

“It’s all luck, who you know and being in the right place”
Once sorted with DD and their receivers, Brian was moved by Prudential to Panorama Offices Systems in Milton Keynes as managing director. Panorama was another tech company in difficulty, producing an all in one word processing system. Brian was there for 2 years and then went his own way for another 2 years, being “a company Doctor” as he’d “learnt a lot (from DD and Panorama)”.
When going for a job interview years later, the interviewer (a city investor) said “Not even Jesus could have saved that (DD)”. Brian stayed in business management, with a successful career and is now (2023) working with Panasonic Batteries (USA, for Tesla) but is moving back from this role towards retirement.

Myths and Info Bites
Q : Can you remember the Building layout? Dragon assembly area? etc.
A : “No but the director staff (Brian, Richard Wadman etc.) were on the top floor at the front, above the Dragon (Data Ltd) sign.”

Q : You mentioned Dragons being bought up and being used a dev tool, who was doing this?
A : “Mostly universities (education), using it for the 6809” (saving on buying development machines).

Q : Someone who went for a job interview at Dragon, told me that the board room carpet was so deep you get lost in it. Any truth to this?
A : “No idea” …. “Dragon was a lean and mean company”

Q : There were mentions in the press of China sales, including an ambassador visit, did anything come of this?
A : There was “no commercial activity with China but there was always people (visiting) the whole time, including an Apple representative, who came over to offer for Dragon to do UK sales.”

Q : Why were the curtains always drawn on the offices in all the photos and videos?
A : “Nothing mysterious or nefarious, probably just keeping the sun out.”

Q : Were you involved in the Eurohard deal negotiations?
A : “A little at the beginning …. the receiver did most of the work (with Eurohard)”.

Q : Do you know what the deal with Eurhoard was? What was it worth?
A : “(They) Didn’t pay much, but it was in the papers (checks new clippings), Financial Times reported 1M”

Q : Is it true Radio Shack / Tandy showed interest in DD?
A : “No direct serious discussions with Tandy but something may have happened with the receivers.”

Q : There was a rumour that Dragon didn’t pay the agency(s) for the software artwork, any truth in this?
A : “I Can’t say for sure for the art agency but Amplesoft probably didn’t get paid and suffered, lot’s of companies didn’t get paid (and suffered)”

Q : Was there a company Range Rover? As Eurohard claim they took one to Spain with no documents.
A : “Yes, mine (a brown one). Don’t remember what happened to it but unlikely that Eurohard took it, as it was probably on a separate contract to DD (i.e. with Pru)”

** There was a little doubt if it was actually Motorola or another chip supplier warning of supply issues, either way it would have seriously affected DD's ability to make Dragons.

The Authors Perspective
Intro : A big thanks to Brian for reaching out to me and taking the time out to go over all this, especially answering hours of questions (even the puerile ones).

Optimistic View : At this time I was hoping to get a 64 for Christmas but there were none in any of the shops, large or small and it required a phone call to Dragon Data to see who had just taken stock to find one. So after the tip off from Dragon I headed off to Cardiff to put my name on 1 of the 2, I could find.

SAM Hurts Dragon : Whilst I know some Dragons had freezing issues, I thought this was mostly limited to early ones and that they did get more reliable as the machine warmed up. Also, whilst the manufacturing standards may not have been class leading, it was probably in line with most of the UK home computer manufacturers at the time.

Last Days : I understand that in the beginning Dragon Data/Mettoy were dabbling in the home computing market and making production/purchasing decisions based on making 1000 units at a time, which didn’t allow the scales of economy to kick in, this coincides with Brian thoughts. Brian’s comment also show that by the time he got there it was pretty much doomed and practically impossible to save, no matter what anyone did.

“It’s All Luck… “ : Being at the helm of one of the biggest companies in Wales when it goes down could have ruined a career but Pru’ had faith in Brian and this was borne out by Brian being able to move forward with a successful career.

Additional references : Dragon User December 1983 : New man in the driver’s seat

Dragon User December 1983 cover
Dragon User Cover December 1983.jpg

Dragon World December 1983
Dragon World December 1983

Brian Moore (2023) with replica Beta board
Brian Moore (2023) with Dragon Plus Electronics replica Beta board