Clive Sinclair, who brought us the ZX Spectrum, has died – Rock Paper Shotgun

Clive Sinclair, the founder of the company which brought us the ZX Spectrum computer, has died. The first encounter with PC gaming for many of a certain age in the UK wasn’t through any beige box MS-DOS or Windows, it was on that futuristic wee black keyboard with rubbery keys and a colourful stripe, which loaded software from cassette tapes. I’m too young to have seen its glory days but I think the first PC game I played was a Speccy shoot ’em up, a magical experience I didn’t believe would actually work when I first saw my pal plug a tape deck into a keyboard.

The BBC report that Clive Sinclair died on Thursday of cancer, aged 81. He started out selling radio kits, later getting into stylish pocket calculators, mini TVs, and wrist wratches with Sinclair Radionics before moving into computers. Sinclair Research’s growning glory was the ZX Spectrum in 1982, one of the systems which defined the early years of gaming in the UK.

“Whirr. Click. Squawk. A tape plays, a screen flickers into life, a memory is born,” Old Man Alec Meer (RPS in peace) said in recalling The Hobbit on Speccy. “A first memory of a computer game, of an introduction to what computer games were.”

This was before gaming became more of a monoculture, which is why Americans don’t understand when old English men feign ignorance of Mario to instead gush about an egg. Computers like the Speccy and its rivals also sparked a huge culture of ‘bedroom coders’, a phenonenom echoed by the mainstream resurgence of ‘indie games’ in the noughties.

Alec also wrote about playing the first Alien game on Speccy, if you want more memories.

I still think that Speccy colour palette bypasses rational parts of the brain to jack directly into the imagination. And playing a game off a tape is, of course, wizardry. Looking through the vast archives of Spectrum software, I think maybe the shmup I played on my pal’s Speccy was Accelerator? Or maybe not; I think I remember a kinda waffle-shaped power-up? People are still releasing Spectrum software, mind. Look, you can have that Matrix digital rain.


A photograph of a Sinclair C5.

Clive Sinclair is maybe best remembered in pop culture with japes about the Sinclair C5, a one-person recumbent electric cycle which launched in 1985 then flopped so hard it ended production within the year. The technology to make such an idea viable did not yet really exist, nor did the infrastructure and culture to make it unhorrifying. Utopian design. He dabbled in electric bicycles as well, again too early. E-bikes have taken off now that we have the tech to make them more practical, though. I’ve also recently seen several C5s converted to pedal power, though I can’t say the riding position looks comfortable. The BBC have gabbed about his inventions more, if you’re curious.

Alright, you can resume your bickering about whether the ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 was better.

Header photo by Bill Bertram used under CC BY-SA 2.5 license, with the framing tweaked.

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