ZX Spectrum Inventor Sir Clive’s Retro Take on GamingLast Updated: May 1, 2020
He helped popularise coding and full-colour gaming with his appealing, durable but affordable approach to home computing. Now, Sir Clive Sinclair is back, retooling his iconic ZX Spectrum for the handheld era. Sir Clive doesn’t have the profile of his contemporary Lord Alan Sugar, but his impact on modern business and culture has been just as significant. Here are at least four reasons why he’s a model entrepreneur.
ENGLISH businessman and inventor Sir Clive Sinclair’s announcement of a handheld ZX Spectrum with inbuilt LCD screen and 1,000 of its iconic games preloaded, is a welcome reminder of one of Europe’s most noteworthy entrepreneurs.
Particularly for Generation Xers—gamers and newbie coders—the ZX Spectrum brand is a retro thrill, and the prospect of revisiting Manic Miner, Horace Goes Skiing, Chuckie Egg and Skool Daze and other favourites could make the console a success.
The Spectrum Vega+ will cost around £100 when it launches. Some experts believe it could have wider appeal if Sir Clive (75) bolsters its nostalgia factor with unique gaming titles. The Vega+ adds an inbuilt LCD screen to the Vega console launched in the autumn of 2015, and users can download additional games free of charge.
Unlike the Vega, the ‘Plus’ does not have to be plugged into a television, although it retains that option. It is being crowdfunded via Indiegogo, and its £150,000 target was smashed within days.
This could be the latest successful chapter in the Sinclair story. Whatever happens, here are four of the main reasons why he remains one of Britain’s most intriguing entrepreneurs.
1. Passion For Innovation
UNLIKE Amstrad’s Lord Sugar, a canny businessman motivated by simplifying tech and making it affordable, Sir Clive is an inventor.
At 12, he designed a one-man submarine, and by 21 set up his own business, where, in 1972, he produced the first slim-line electronic pocket calculator, the Sinclair Executive.
His ZX80 paved the way for the ZX81 and the Spectrum. While his C5 electric vehicle flopped, it sold 5,000 units in its day, and remains a cult item for collectors.
Later products retain a focus on personal transport, including the A-Bike, a folding bicycle weighing just 5.5kg that can fit in a rucksack.
2. ZX Spectrum – Affordable, with Tipping Point Appeal
ONE of the first and most accessible home computers, the ZX Spectrum sold 5m units and is credited with kick-starting the British tech industry, along with the machines developed by Lord (then just ‘Alan’) Sugar’s company Amstrad.
Gaming on the ZX Spectrum was physically tactile. The computer had to be plugged into a television set, and games loaded onto its RAM (16k or 48k) via tape recorder. Loading, with a signature screeching soundtrack of data tones, could take up to three minutes.
The ZX Spectrum’s vulcanised rubber keyboard was durable and fun, giving it a cheery “cheap as chips” appeal over rival machines.
On the 30th anniversary of its release, St George’s Day 2012, it was honoured by a Google Doodle, emulating a ZX Spectrum-style load-up of a graphic depicting St George fighting a dragon.
3. He Never Gives Up
THE C5, a small, one-person battery-powered electric vehicle was an epic commercial failure—only 5,000 of the 14,000 C5s made were sold.
By 1986, within three years of being knighted, Sinclair’s research business was in receivership, he’d divorced his wife, and sold his computer business to Lord Sugar.
But here’s Sir Clive’s take on things:
“You can meet with triumph and disaster. I don’t get too high when it’s supposed to be looking good and I’m not knocked down when it’s not looking so good. I always get on with whatever the situation is and I never feel ‘my God that’s the end of the world’. I just get on with the next stage.”
4. He Does Things His Way
THERE are many sides to Sir Clive. He divorced after more than 20 years of marriage, and then embarked on a series of affairs with younger women (before remarrying in 2010). He apologizes for none of it. He is a member and former 17-year chairman of British Mensa who is also a poker player (and star of the early seasons of Late Night Poker on British TV).
Despite his achievements in the world of technology, Sir Clive does not use the Internet, as he finds it distracts from invention, and prefers telephone to email. In 2010 he revealed that he does not use computers at all.