Sir Clive Sinclair, the namesake of a British electronics manufacturer who helped pioneer Europe’s microcomputing boom, is dead at the age of 81.
His company, Sinclair Radionics, is arguably best known around the world for 1982’s ZX Spectrum, an early example of a computer capable of multi-color, real-time graphics. The device dominated the UK and other European territories in the early 1980s. This computer was a major processing step up from black-and-white Sinclair computers like ZX80 and ZX81, and it debuted in a configuration priced as low as £125. American readers probably best know this platform thanks to popular and ambitious ZX Spectrum games from the little developer Ultimate: Play The Game. That company eventually rebranded itself as Rareware and turned into a ’90s powerhouse on Nintendo consoles.
Yet before his name became interminably linked to gaming history, Sinclair’s rise to running his own electronics manufacturing company largely resembles the stories of American electronics pioneers who began as garage hobbyists. A BBC documentary, Clive Sinclair: The Pace Setters, chronicles the inventor’s rise, which began with him selling one-at-a-time radio kits via mail order in the 1960s.
As the documentary is region-locked, many readers will have to settle on this BBC text version of its highlights, which follows Sinclair’s rise as a maker of British pocket calculators and portable TVs before redirecting his efforts to personal computers. During this time, an effort to get the British government to back Sinclair as a formally supported PC maker, especially as the government began bullishly promoting computer access in homes and schools, fell apart. Instead, rival computer manufacturer Curry became a “BBC Micro” partner. Sinclair and Spectrum fired back with the better power-per-pound option of the ZX Spectrum, which went on to sell over 5 million units. Sadly, the rest of his career didn’t reach the same heights, and it was largely marked by botched efforts to launch electric modes of transport, including the famous failure that was the pod-like C5 “car.”
For a charming Clive-on-Clive conversation, check out this 1990 interview with longtime British TV host Clive Anderson (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), complete with the two men looking at and talking about various Spectrum inventions over the years—including, incredibly, Sinclair’s failed C5.