Sir Clive Sinclair, Computing Pioneer, Dies At 81

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British inventor of the ZX Spectrum, which transformed home computing in the early 1980s for millions, dies at the age of 81

British inventor Sir Clive Sinclair has sadly passed away at the age of 91, after battling cancer for more than a decade.

Sir Clive of course is well known as being the inventor of the pocket calculator in the 1970s, as well as being the creator of a commercial flop, the electric C5 ‘car’ in 1985.

But he is best known for bringing personal computing to the masses, with his series of ZX series of computers.

clive sinclair c5

ZX Spectrum

He began to get even more recognition when he invented the ZX80 home computer in 1980.

This was followed by the ZX81 in 1981.

But things really took off for Sir Clive in 1982 with the arrival of the ZX Spectrum home computer, that instantly stood out thanks to its rubber keyboard, its use of peripheral (i.e a joystick interface, microdrive and even a printer), and cassette tape recorders to load programs and games.

Want to know more about the ZX Spectrum? Read our ‘Tales In Tech History’ article.

During its lifetime, ZX Spectrum sold in excess of 5 million units, and initially two models were released – one with 16kb of RAM and one with 48kb of RAM, priced at £125 and £175 respectively.

Original ZX Spectrum

The ZX Spectrum (or Speccy as it was fondly known), was advertised as “less than half the price of its nearest competitor – and more powerful”.

And Speccy was one of the first home computers to deliver colour graphics and was capable of 256 x 192 pixel resolution when it was plugged into a television.

It celebrated its 30th birthday in 2012.

Tape loading

The ZX Spectrum also used audio cassette tapes for loading and saving programs and data, which was both a blessing and a curse, as the loading process could be highly temperamental and users often had to carefully adjust the volume to get a program or game to load properly.

And speaking of games, the ZX Spectrum assembled a vast library of 23,000 software titles, including hugely popular games such as Elite, Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, The Hobbit, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, and this writer’s personal favourite, The Way Of Exploding Fist’ (which actually ported from the Commodore 64).

Other models of the ZX Spectrum followed soon afterwards including the ZX Spectrum+ (1984); the ZX Spectrum 128; and the ZX Spectrum +2 (produced by Amstrad, after it acquired the Spectrum range and the entire Sinclair brand in 1986 for just £5 million).

Indeed, versions of the ZX Spectrum continued to appear until the computer was officially discontinued in 1992.

Elon Musk Tribute

Although he played a large hand in bringing personal computing to the masses, Sir Clive was not actually a fan of PCs.

In 2010 for example Sir Clive admitted to the Guardian newspaper that not only does someone else write his emails but he hardly used a computer, which he described as hugely inefficient compared to earlier machines.

“I don’t use a computer at all. The company does,” he told the newspaper at the time.

When pushed on whether he uses email, Sinclair admitted that he was just too “lazy” to do it himself. “No. I’ve got people to do it for me,” Sinclair said. “Well I find them annoying. I’d much prefer someone would telephone me if they want to communicate. No, it’s not sheer laziness – I just don’t want to be distracted by the whole process. Nightmare.”

Elon Musk, the head of Tesla and SpaceX, paid tribute to Sir Clive.

“RIP, Sir Sinclair. I loved that computer,” he tweeted in reply to news of his death.

Sir Clive leaves three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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