Sir Clive Sinclair, the namesake of a British electronics manufacturer who helped drive the growth of microcomputing in Europe, has died at the age of 81.
His company, Sinclair Radionics, is arguably the best known in the world for the 1982 ZX Spectrum, one of the first examples of a computer capable of producing multi-color graphics in real time. The device dominated the UK and other European territories in the early 1980s. This computer was a major processing step compared to black and white Sinclair computers like the ZX80 and ZX81, and it made its debut in a configuration priced as low as £ 125. American readers are probably more familiar with this platform thanks to the popular and ambitious ZX Spectrum games from small developer Ultimate: Play The Game. This company eventually rebranded itself as Rareware and turned into a ’90s powerhouse on Nintendo consoles.
Yet before his name was interminably tied to the history of the game, Sinclair’s rise to running his own electronics manufacturing company largely resembles the stories of American electronics pioneers who began. like garage enthusiasts. A BBC documentary, Clive Sinclair: The pace makers, recounts the rise of the inventor, which began with the sale of individual radio kits by mail order in the 1960s.
As the documentary is limited to one region, many readers will have to settle for this BBC’s text version of its highlights, which follows Sinclair’s rise as a maker of British pocket calculators and portable TVs before redirecting his efforts towards personal computers. Meanwhile, an effort to get the UK government to back Sinclair as an officially supported PC maker, especially as the government has optimistically begun to promote access to computers in homes and schools, has is collapsed. Instead, rival computer maker Curry has become a “BBC Micro” partner. Sinclair and Spectrum fought back with the ZX Spectrum’s best horsepower per pound option, which sold over 5 million units. Unfortunately, the rest of her career did not reach the same highs, and it was largely marked by botched efforts to launch electric modes of transportation, including the famous failure of the C5 pod-shaped “car”.
For a charming Clive-on-Clive conversation, check out this 1990 interview with longtime British TV host Clive Anderson (Who is it anyway?), with the two watching and talking about various Spectrum inventions over the years including, incredibly, Sinclair’s failed C5.