Sir Clive Sinclair’s contributions to computing and business are well known, and we’ve done our best to celebrate his life in our obituary of the electronics pioneer, who passed last week aged 81.
To mark his life we felt it appropriate to also consider his impact on Reg readers.
Like many others, your correspondent’s first computer was a ZX Spectrum. The machine led to my presence in these pages, because I eventually joined the Australian ZX Users’ Association (AZUA), which published its own magazine and invited contributions.
A die was cast.
I tracked down AZUA co-founder David Vernon who told us, by email: “We all loved Clive. We loved his foresight, his eccentricity and his desire to bring computing to the masses.”
Referring to the ZX80 and ZX81, Vernon added: “But we found him frustrating in equal measure. Why to save a few pounds did he give us such a crappy touch keyboard? Why not give us 4K of RAM and not 1K?”
“But even these irritations had a silver lining. They showed us that we didn’t have to put up with whatever a manufacturer gave us but we could improve on it. And this is perhaps Clive’s legacy to my generation — we could do stuff that we never imagined. Clive gave us confidence that we could do clever stuff too. And we did.”
“Honestly, it’s thanks to Clive that I now run my own publishing business. Without my early experience of writing and publishing computer programs and help pages I’d not be doing what I do today.”
Author of ’80s classic The Hobbit didn’t know game was a hit
Similar stories poured in from around the world as comments on our appreciation of the great man’s life.
“For me it was the ZX 48K,” wrote commenter Mozzie.
“It got upgraded with a Saga 1, had an astonishing Saisho cassette player that never to failed to load anything except LoTR. Chuckie Egg, Dizzy, Wriggler, Harrier Attack, Target Renegade and even HiSoft Pascal… thanks Clive for giving me the means to feed my family the last 16 years.”
“So, so many aspects of my life are directly or only slightly indirectly related to my love for coding and electronics and tech in general, and that all stems back to those heady days of the early 80s, sat in my bedroom in front of my Speccy,” wrote another forum member, ChrisC.
Linus Torvalds was a Sinclair user:
Among those influenced by Sir Clive was Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel, who worked on a Sinclair QL before he turned to his most famous work. From 00:30 in the video below, he reminisces about his time using the QL.
A commenter named Allwallgbr shared his experience working for Sir Clive for two years in the 1970s and described the time as “amazing hard working, fun packed years servicing audio products and demonstrating at Hi-Fi exhibitions.
“I enjoyed the work and the buzz of the company so much, no other employer came close in my entire working life.”
Readers also remembered Sir Clive as possessing a strange charisma.
“An absolute genius with just the right amount of barminess to be a proper British boffin,” opined a commenter with the handle John Brown (no body). “He even had the proper boffin’s bald patch and glasses.”
Others shared their experiences putting Sinclair kit to work.
“I wrote a text-graphic based D&D game, and fed in the entire D&D stats to help automate games,” wrote a Reg forums member named Danny 2.
Next, he tackled something harder. “I tried and failed to write a conversation simulator to pass the Turing test: more difficult than I expected.”
“I think I freaked my mum out when she heard noises at 6am. It was just my seven-year-old self who was desperate to find out whether SIN and COS would let me PLOT a circle on my birthday present ZX81,” wrote another commenter, who goes by the strangely apt handle 0x80004005. (We’re guessing it’s a Windows error code.)
Sinclair’s FORGOTTEN Australia-only micro revealed!
Sir Clive’s passing has hit some of you hard.
“I’m currently crying like a baby here. This has hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. This marks the end of the line for the largest chunk of my formative years, and possibly the greatest influence in my entering the career I have,” wrote commenter Stumpy.
“RIP to a massively flawed genius,” our reader added. “A man with ideas often far ahead of their time. I’ll be setting a glass of decent malt aside for you tonight.”
A few readers offered some Sinclair BASIC as tribute:
GOTO Valhalla, wrote Dr. G. Freeman
10 PRINT "RIP Clive you'll be missed"
20 GOTO 10
…came in from a netizen named Dazzler.
The legacy lives on:
One measure of Sir Clive’s contribution was that emulators
for his computers remain available to this day, even if some homages such as the Spectrum Vega+
Classic games developed for the ZX Spectrum remain available in many forms, not just as image files for emulators. Manic Miner is now an app, as is Lords Of Midnight. Some other Spectrum classics have even been ported to Microsoft’s XBOX.
One of the folks we reached out to for a Sinclair memory was Shane Muller, an Australian tech entrepreneur who in 2019 threw a very good party to celebrate his thirty years in the tech business. At that event he brandished the ZX81 that started it all.
Shane’s response to news of Sir Clive’s death was to write him a letter:
Vale, Sir Clive. ®