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Did these fearless factory women pave the way for Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto?

The Rise and Fall of Timex Dundee may be remembered for the bitter disputes between workers and their US employers, but the skill and dexterity of the women on the factory floor arguably led to Dundee becoming a centre of the world games industry.

Angry scenes at Timex, 1993

You might not read names such as Margaret Thompson, Wendy Cobb or Margaret Hogg in the video gaming history books but these no-nonsense Dundonian women deserve a footnote at the very least.

As seen in The Rise and Fall of Timex Dundee, it was these women, and hundreds like them, whose adaptability brought Sinclair computers to the city. Ultimately their skill contributed to the boom of affordable personal computers in the city and the establishment of a subsequent games industry in Silicon Glen that created gamer favourites like Grand Theft Auto, and bringing Minecraft to the masses with console editions of the huge hit.

Ex-Timex employees: Margaret Thomson, Wendy Cobb and Margaret Hogg

“I don’t know how to work a computer but I can build you one maybe”, says Margaret Hogg who worked on the assembly line at Timex Dundee from 1971-1986.

Interviewed for a new BBC Scotland documentary, The Rise and Fall of Timex Dundee, Margaret and her colleagues tell the story of the factory’s heydays and ultimately the bitter battle that ended in a mass sacking of workers whose skills had been a driving factor in saving the company for years before.

Timex at one point employed an 80% female workforce

The documentary casts its eye further back and considers that it was the dexterity of Dundee women – brought up in the Jute industry – who attracted US giant watchmaker Timex to the city after the second world war.

At its height the company employed about 6,000 people in Dundee with around 80% of the workforce women, who mainly worked on the assembly line putting together mechanical wristwatches.

The company's failure to spot the significance of the digital watch, however, created a downturn for Timex and a deal with Sinclair was brokered — made possible by the highly skilled female work force. Their adaptability saved the factory.

‘I don’t know how to work a computer but I can build you one’

Timex workers discuss the switch from building watches to building computer parts.

Last year Abertay University researcher Mona Bozdog concluded that "the production of the ZX Spectrum at Timex played a vitally important role in the birth of Dundee’s video games sector."

4J Studios, the developers of Minecraft are based in Dundee

4J Studios, the developers of Minecraft are based in Dundee and their chairman, Chris Van der Kuyl, has lived his whole life there.

He told the website Dundee.com, "Spectrums were being made at the city's Timex factory when I was young, and they were cheap and readily available. Everyone I knew owned one, and I think a young games programming scene developed out of that."

But by the early 1990s the workforce would be tested again, this time over pay and conditions. On Christmas Eve in 1992 the Timex management announced lay-offs.

What followed was the last full-blooded industrial dispute in Scotland's history.

Watch The Rise & Fall of Timex Dundee on the BBC Scotland channel and BBC iPlayer from 15th October.

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