Our younger readers may not know who Sir Clive Sinclair is but it’s not an exaggeration to say he is the father of the British video games industry. He was writing books and inventing kits for radios while in his teens and in February 1980 he launched the UK’s first affordable home computer, the ZX80. It cost £79.95 in kit form or £99.95 ready-built and was a huge hit. A second computer, the ZX81 followed.
However, it was the invention of the ZX Spectrum that caught the public’s attention. The computer cost £175 for the 48K version – yes that’s 48K , not MB or GB – and was one of the first home PCs to output a display in colour. It also came with a built in version of the BASIC programming language, giving youngsters the ability to code at home. The Speccy, as it was known, fought what we would consider the first ever ‘console war’ against the mighty Commodore 64 which had superior sound and did not suffer from ‘colour clash’. Ask your dad about that one.
With an army of bedroom coders the video game market exploded. Back in the 1980s it was very common for just one person to code an entire game, including graphics and sound, and many of the classic titles from that era are the work of one individual. The likes of Codemasters were born, while mega publisher Ocean churned out hit games for home computers, licensing the big films of the time and squeezing them in to the Spectrum. Ocean eventually merged with French publisher Infogrames who in turn were bought out by Bandai Namco.
At the time arcade cabinet games were far more advanced but that didn’t stop coders having a go at porting their colourful graphics and stereo sound in to the Speccy. Hits such as Operation Wolf, Star Wars, Street Fighter, Rainbow Islands and my personal favourite, R-Type, were all squeezed in to 48k.
The ZX Spectrum went through a number of revisions, including a boost to a massive 128K and finally, the addition of a disc drive in the ZX Spectrum +3. However, times were moving fast and the advent of the 16-bit computers such as the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST meant the ZX Spectrum was fading and eventually the brand was sold to an upcoming business entrepreneur named Alan Sugar.
Sir Clive’s daughter, Belinda, confirmed the news he had passed away on Thursday having fought cancer for almost a decade. Check out the BBC interview with the legend below.