Issue #8 - Clive Sinclair

Welcome to the 8th issue of Heroes of Computer Science! Sorry for hiatus, there was summer vacation and conference talks to prepare to, but we’re finally back for more computer innovators. 🧠 This week we’ll learn about someone that left us recently but made a huge impact on several people currently in tech.

Clive Sinclair

Clive Sinclair was an English entrepreneur and inventor, best known for his pioneering role in the computing industry.

Sinclair spent decades working with electronics, but his biggest contribution came from when he started looking into building personal computers. He believed he could get the price of a system to under £100. In February 1980 the ZX80 priced £79.95/$110 (DIY kit) and £99.95/$140 (already built). It was an instant success and it was closely followed by the ZX81, with an even lower price.

In April 1982, another of his creations was launched, the ZX Spectrum. It was the first computer in the ZX line to support colour output. It remained more affordable than other computers on the market, like the Commodore VIC-20 or Apple II, which raised Sinclair’s profile given the recession and high unemployment in the UK at the time. This system became a popular gift for teenagers and young adults that year, leading a number of these young people learning to program on the ZX Spectrum, making video games inspired by British humour and selling them through word of mouth and mail order. These "bedroom coders", powered by the ZX Spectrum, were the precursors of the UK’s video game industry.

Throughout the rest of this life, Sinclair had ups and downs with his different companies and inventions. He develop electric vehicles and focused on personal transport, besides personal computers.

Among several honours Sinclair received, he was appointed Knight Bachelor (most ancient sort of British knight) in 1983 for his contributions to the personal computer industry in the UK.

Further reading

If you want a glimpse into the 80s PC landscape and what it took to make the ZX line a reality, check out Creating the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega. Or maybe you’ll be amused to read that, after all these years working in the computing industry, Sir Clive Sinclair doesn’t use a computer at all! If you’re in the mood for something more visual, Micro Men is a 2009 TV movie that focuses on the rivalry between Sinclair (played by Alexander Armstrong), and Chris Curry (played by Martin Freeman), the man behind the BBC Micro.

BBC drama television programme set in the late 1970s and the early-mid 1980s, about the rise of the British home computer market.