Mention the name Sinclair to a technologist of a certain age and expect a lively response; always nostalgic and tinged with either enthusiasm or frustration. Sir Clive Sinclair, who died on the 16th September 2021 at the age of 81, must have been one of the UK’s most prolific innovators, but some might say (disproved by others like Dyson and ARM) that he embodied the cliché that Brits are great at ideas but not so good at turning them into sales. Nevertheless, Sir Clive has had an influence on the industry disproportionate to the success of the Sinclair product portfolio.
|Probably only electronics hobbyists in the 1960’s and students of electronics in the 1970’s (like the author) remember Sinclair for his miniature radio kits and audio amplifiers; and that with varying degrees of pleasure. His digital black watch and miniature TV were ahead of their time but did not work very well.
|Unfortunately, teething troubles had a way of scuppering the prospects of a huge portfolio of very advanced products despite the undoubted innovation and clever miniaturisation, such as the X1 in-ear button radio, to use which you needed very small fingers.
Chris Curry, who was later to be part of the Acorn computer phenomenon, worked first for Clive Sinclair. In 1966 Chris applied for a job as an engineer, having bought one of Sinclair’s early products, an X-10 PWM amplifier, which he says didn’t work very well. He says it was “very hectic”. Clive Sinclair was an “irascible person, who was always charging up and down shouting and throwing his slide rule around”. There was always a new product to be developed but, he says, Sinclair had a tendency to go for the lowest possible cost of assembly often at a sacrifice to quality.
While many ideas were ahead of their time or misjudged the market, the ZX range was bang on time, met a growing demand and made an indelible mark on the home computer market. Some say it launched the industry in the UK. You did not have to be a geek in the 1980’s to want one. It sold 5 million copies and introduced many of the (younger) industry leaders featured in the Archives of IT to computers. Jo Twist (games industry leader) recalled, “my friend had a Spectrum and I used to go round to her house and we would play games” while Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton played with his cousin’s ZX Spectrum. Richard Christou was Senior VP of global computer giant Fujitsu and his “personal acquaintance with computers began with the Sinclair ZX81 where he learned the basics of BASIC.”
Sir Clive was knighted in 1983 for services to industry and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of Bath. He is member of Mensa and was Chairman for seventeen years.
Sinclair Research and the ZX
Clive’s view of the future