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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 12:21 GMT
Happy 25th pocket TV!
A Pocket TV
Angela Rippon: Big collars, small screen
Television on the move seemed like science fiction before 1977, when Sir Clive Sinclair put Angela Rippon, Jimmy Savile and The Fonz in your pocket.

Trying to move a TV on your own in 1976 would like as not have left you nursing a hernia.

Pocket TV and an awfully big pocket
"I should have worn my safari suit"
It was perhaps because the average 70s set tended to be about as portable as a washing machine that Sir Clive Sinclair's pocket TV stirred such excitement when it was released 25 years ago.

"I was 11 years old and desperate to get my hands on one," says lifelong pocket TV fan Rupert Goodwins, "but I just couldn't afford it."

Click here to add your memories of Pocket TV

As well as carrying a hefty price tag, less charitable historians of consumer durables will remember that the very first "pocket" was more literally not suited to every pocket.

The brick-like device would ruin the line of your suit more surely than would pocketing Bill Gates' wallet.

TV a go-go

"Years later I got a job with Sir Clive and found a pocket TV in the back of a cupboard," says Mr Goodwins, "It was fantastic! It even had a clip-on sunshade."

Though small in size, the effort that went into developing the pocket TV was considerable, Sir Clive told BBC News Online.

"There were several technical problems, which were quite difficult to overcome," he said. "A lot of work went into it and sadly it didn't do as well as I had hoped."

Sir Clive Sinclair
Sir Clive Sinclair: Mini TV didn't put brass in his pocket
Sir Clive dreamed up the pocket TV in the 1960s - when tiny transistor radios were all the rage - and it was finally born in the same decade as the hugely successful Sony Walkman.

"With the boom in business for pocket radios, we thought there would be a huge market for the TV. It was not as big as we thought."

Sir Clive says the device did find a following among taxi drivers keen not to miss The Sweeney while they waited for fares.

Despite capturing the public imagination, the pocket TV had too many drawbacks to emulate the sales of the Walkman, says John Trenouth, a senior curator at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television.

Tiny problem

"It sounded like a great idea and just the sort of thing that would sell. People got very excited since the concept was quite revolutionary. But when you actually watched it, it was pretty awful."

One of the TV's selling points was that it would work anywhere, even abroad, but Mr Trenouth says getting a picture in the comfort of your own armchair was tricky.

Phil Cornwell and Andrew Powell in the short film Black Cab
"Move to one side, mate - you're ruining my reception"
"Tuning was very difficult. You'd get the picture just right, sit back and the image would collapse and disappear. It also had a voracious appetite for batteries."

Added to these frustrations was the fact that the very first screen was barely two inches across. "It was literally too small to watch. It was just a gimmick," says Mr Trenouth.

However, the 1970s was a more innocent decade, judging by one glowing magazine review of the pocket TV.

"With a little effort it proved possible to read Ceefax [but] Star Wars might lose some of its impact."

The insides of a pocket TV
Behold, the gubbins

Your comments so far:

I remember the tiny tv with great fondness, I was attending sixth form in my home town of Ipswich, Suffolk, and spent my first council higher education grant on the tv. It was a hit in the common room and I remember sitting on the back seat of a number 2 bus with my girlfriend watching 'Barry Manilow at Blenheim Palace' on the tiny screen, every time the bus turned we had to move positions to keep a clear picture.
Dave Mison, US

I got my Sinclair TV out the other day during a power cut, and it still works! My daughter wondered why everything was grey as she had never seen black and white television. Yes it's small, but still useable. I remember once watching the whole of "Alien" on it - not exactly the widescreen experience, but Sigourney Weaver still looked good!
Julian Prentis, UK

I was in an isolation ward when a friend gave me one as a very worthwhile present. While it had its problems, it was much better than watching the wall at the foot of my bed. I also found that getting it at the right focal length behind my 6 inch by 3 inch reading magnifying glass improved the view no end. Personal I think it was a great invention and helped lead the way in British innovation.
Nigel Garvey, East Timor (ex UK)

I remember in my teens cycle-touring in Devon with a schoolfriend who brought along his Sinclair TV. When we pitched camp one night, a chap watched us from his caravan and, when we were all set up, wandered over to comment, "I can't believe you lads unloaded all this gear from those small panniers. I said to my wife, 'They'll be unpacking a TV next.'" (Loud guffaws and much smacking of thighs from him.) You can imagine our next comment and action. His jaw on the floor.
Lionel Scales, Wales

I watched the BBC News Online report on the Sinclair TV in a 2" window on my computer, with grainy and jumpy connection, and then thought that the world hasn't progressed that much in the last 25 years! And I can't even fit my computer in my pocket!
Stuart Thomson, Germany

My first experience of using the TV was at the Centre Court of Wimbledon. I was seated there, and tuned the TV to a match on Court No 1. Every time there was a roar of the crowd from Court No 1, those seated behind me craned their necks over my shoulder to see what was occurring there. I felt I had two seats for the price of one! The TV was superb at the time, but has long since been overtaken by better technology.
David Sefton, UK

A school friend of mine won one in a competition and we spent many happy hours surreptitiously watching Wimbledon in the empty school theatre at University College School in the late 70s when we should have been revising for O-levels!
David Elek, Germany

I remember being a bit peeved that there was no mention up front of the cost of the batteries. Ten quid!
Alistair Adams, UK

My father was a prison officer and had to combine his professional commitments with his desire to keep up with the gee gees. Many a time I used to see him "supervising" the Borstal Boys with one eye whilst checking his "investments" with the other. He still has the TV and, despite the application of glue and Sellotape to hold the thing together, it still works.
Roy Chapman, UK

I still have a working Sinclair TV, (sadly minus the sun screen!), and yes the batteries don't last that long, and yes the reception can be somewhat snowy, but in the 70s this was some innovation! In the village where I live, power outages can be quite common, so the Sinclair makes a watchable backup - just!
Francis Pullen, Cambridge, UK

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1977 news archive of the launch
"It works, and it goes into your pocket"
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