But what has Sir Clive Sinclair given us? – a mini obituary of an intellectual giant

Sir Clive Sinclair, the creator of the landmark Z.X. Spectrum computer and the less commercially successful C5 electric car, has died aged 81 after a long illness. Many of the game industry’s most famous figures began their careers on the machines he developed. Oh, and he invented the pocket calculator.


Sir Clive Sinclair, the inventor and entrepreneur who played a major role in bringing home computers to the masses, has died aged 81. Sinclair invented the pocket calculator but was best known for his constant promotion of personal computers and offering them to the British public at relatively affordable prices.

Many of today’s titans of the games industry started their careers on his Z.X. models. The Z.X. Spectrum 48K or its rival, the Commodore 64, was the computer of choice for a generation of gamers.

Elon Musk, the head of Tesla and SpaceX, commented on an article on Twitter that called Sir Clive the father of the Z.X. Spectrum: “R.I.P., Sir Sinclair. I loved that computer.”

His daughter Belinda Sinclair, 57, told the Guardian: “He’s quite a wonderful man. He was very bright, of course, and always interested in everything. My daughter and her husband are engineers, so she talked to them about engineering”.



The young Sinclair left school at 17 and worked for four years as a technical journalist to raise money to start his own business, Sinclair Radionics. In the early 1970s, he designed a series of small and light calculators to fit in a pocket when most existing models were the size of an old-fashioned shop cash register. “He wanted to make small and cheap things that people could access,” she says.

His first home computer, the ZX80, named after the year it was released, revolutionised the market, which of course, is a far cry from today’s models. It was £79.95 in kit form and £99.95 when assembled, about a fifth of the price of competing home computers at the time. 50 000 units were sold, while its successor, the ZX81, which replaced it, cost £69.95 and sold 250 000 copies. Many gaming veterans started their careers on these machines, typing programs on the touch keyboard and becoming addicted to games such as 3D Monster Maze and Mazogs. The ZX80 and ZX81 have made him very rich: in 2010, Sinclair told the Guardian, “We’ve made £14 million in profits in two or three years”.

Business mogul Lord Sugar paid tribute to his “good friend and competitor” on Twitter, writing, “What a guy, he started consumer electronics in the U.K. with his amplifier kits, then calculators, mini T.V. clocks and of course the Sinclair ZX. Let’s not forget his quirky electric car. R.I.P. Friend.”

In 1982 he released the Z.X. Spectrum 48K. Its rubber keys, quirky, smashed together visuals, and tinny sound didn’t stop it from becoming a significant factor in developing the British games industry. Popular games – now in colour – such as Jet Set Willy, Horace Goes Skiing, Chuckie Egg, Saboteur, Knight Lore and Lords of Midnight inspired a generation.



Sinclair’s name became a household name as his products were snapped up from store shelves. He was knighted in 1983. However, one of his less successful inventions – the Sinclair C5 – also became synonymous, costing him financially. The C5, a battery-powered electric tricycle, was launched in January 1985. Sinclair predicted sales of 100,000 units in its first year, but that failed, and Sinclair Vehicles went bankrupt in October of that year. Critics raised concerns about the safety of driving a vehicle below the sight of other motorists and its exposure to the elements. The following year Sinclair also sold his computer business, Amstrad.

The Sinclair TV80, a pocket T.V., was another device, like the C5, that failed to catch on, although people now regularly watch programmes on their mobile phones. And although they don’t look like the Sinclair C5, which later achieved cult status, electric vehicles have only really come into fashion today. Belinda Sinclair said. She came up with an idea and said, “There’s no point in asking if anyone wants it because they can’t imagine it.”

But he did not use his inventions personally. As far as his daughter knew, he never had a pocket calculator but always carried a slide rule instead. She has repeatedly stated in interviews that she does not use computers or e-mail.

Besides inventing, he was also interested in poetry, marathon running and poker. He appeared in the first three seasons of the television series Late Night Poker and won the first season finale of the Celebrity Poker Club spinoff, beating Keith Allen.

Belinda survived him, his sons Crispin and Bartholomew, aged 55 and 52, five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and countless fans.



Source: The Guardian

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