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Last Updated: Monday, 23 April 2007, 08:00 GMT 09:00 UK
How the Spectrum began a revolution
Spectrum
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum helped kickstart a revolution
In April 1982 a small British company, led by Sir Clive Sinclair, launched the ZX Spectrum computer and sparked a revolution.

The small, black computer with iconic rubber keys ignited the home computer age in the UK and beyond, led to an explosion in computer manufacturing and developed software programming talent that is still in evidence today.

The computer was the brainchild of British technology entrepreneur Sir Clive Sinclair who also, with the Sinclair Cambridge, developed one of the first cheap and slim pocket calculators in 1972.

The Spectrum was the third home computer to be released by Sinclair - following the ZX80 and ZX81 - but was the first aimed squarely at the home.

The machine came in two models - 125 for a 16KB machine and 175 for a 48KB machine, making it one of the first affordable machines.

First experience

For many people in the UK the Spectrum was their first experience of using a computer and it quickly gained a loyal following.

Sir Clive Sinclair with his latest invention, the A-bike

At the time it was competing against the BBC Micro, which had been released the year earlier and was popular in schools, but was priced starting at 235.

Other machines from rival firms in the UK followed, among them the Jupiter Ace, Dragon 32 and Oric Atmos.

Rick Dickinson, who was responsible for the look and shape of the machine, said the company had no idea it would make such an impact.

"We started selling kit computers to hobbyists and thought we would sell 1,000 machines a month.

"We went on to sell 200,000 a month and ran into supply problems."

He said cost was the driving factor behind the design.

'No references'

"At the time Sinclair was producing pocket calculators, electronic watches, miniature TVs and until they were made, they did not exist in the market.

"Likewise, with the ZX80, ZX81 and Spectrum, there were no references.

"Everything was cost driven. The design was the face of the machine.

"All the Sinclair products have a very minimalist, very Bauhaus approach - there's no unnecessary detail, or superfluous featuring. They are very elegant."

Mr Dickinson modestly described his design as "nothing revolutionary".

"Form does tend to follow function. We wanted a thin, elegant form."

Many of today's video game luminaries cut their teeth on Sinclair computers, among them Dave Perry, who runs Shiny Entertainment, and Tim and Chris Stamper, who founded Rare.

BBC World Service series, 'The Young Idea", Gordon Snell (left) talked to Clive Sinclair, the young man behind the growing electronics firm of Sinclair Radionics of Cambridge, 1967.
In 1967 Sir Cive Sinclair pioneered the miniature TV

"Sir Clive Sinclair gave so many British people an incredible step up into the videogame industry, which in a few more years will be bigger than the music industry," said Mr Perry, who began writing games as a school child on the ZX81 and became a professional programmer thanks to the Spectrum.

"Clive is a national hero," said Mr Dickinson.

"He loved looking for technology ideas and often had an idea and had to wait for the technology to catch up.

'Pioneering techniques'

"As a consequence, we were constantly pushing the envelope, pioneering manufacturing techniques which had not been done before.

"All of the technologies in Sinclair products are now implemented all over the world - from the button on your toothbrush to the buttons on a mobile phone."

INSIDE THE SPECTRUM
Photo credit: Bill Bertram
8-bit Z80 processor
16KB or 48KB of RAM memory
16KB of ROM
Eight colours displayed
256*192 resolution

Many computer programmers today say they owe their careers to the Spectrum.

Nick Humphries, a programmer in the UK who runs a website devoted to the machine, said: "The Spectrum was the first computer we owned.

"It was quite intimidating at the time. We had to get a neighbour round to help get it working.

"But it had an astonishing impact. I did an incredible amount of experimentation with it during my time with it. It was a great tool."

Two more models were released by Sinclair Research between 1982 and 1986, before Amstrad bought the Spectrum range and brand.

More models with improved processor speeds, more memory and built-in disk drives were released but the machines were facing intense competition from cheaper PC clones, Japanese manufacturers, and the arrival of dedicated games consoles.

Discontinued

It was officially discontinued in 1992.

For many people the Spectrum now lives on through emulation; there are many computer programs for PC and Mac as well as mobile devices, that can play digital versions of old Spectrum games.

But there are also a number of websites dedicated to the machine.

Martijn van der Heide, who runs the website World of Spectrum, said the day a friend received his Spectrum is one he will never forget.

"We were all sitting there, looking intently as he opened the box, pulled out the various pieces of hardware, manuals and tapes.

"It was nothing short of astonishing, with a colourful loading screen, weird noises coming out of the speaker while loading, and the games on that tape. Simple ones, sure, but they made a great impact."

Mr Humphries said: "The enthusiasm lives on. It's partly nostalgia but also because at the time we were too young to master the machine and take it to the next level. Now we can."

The Spectrum's reign as the UK's most popular computer was brief but its legacy and the affection in which it is held remains to this day.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The Spectrum and its games in action



SEE ALSO
Happy 25th pocket TV!
11 Jan 02 |  UK News
A-bike, no less
12 Jul 06 |  Magazine
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