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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Faces of the week
Faces of the Week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are Sir Clive Sinclair, with Bishop Gene Robinson, Jennifer Lopez, Don Estelle, and Tom Kelly

SIR CLIVE SINCLAIR

Eighteen years after his C5 electric tricycle failed to revolutionise the transport habits of city dwellers, Sir Clive Sinclair is at it again. He has announced that he is working on a new form of personal transporter. Why are we sceptical?

It doesn't take a genius to work out that Sir Clive Sinclair has an image problem, despite the fact that the man himself is, officially, a genius. He has an IQ of 159 and used to chair the egg-heads' club, Mensa.

For Sir Clive, now 63, encapsulates the fortunes of British industry over recent decades; high marks for innovation, low marks for marketing.

He is the brilliant lateral thinker whose inventions, at one time, dominated the UK home-computer market. He is the inventor who took on the might of the Japanese and American electronics industry and failed gloriously.

The ill-fated C5
The ill-fated C5
On the other hand, his C5 made him a laughing-stock, and his ill-fated romances with glamorous women half his age has only reinforced this reputation.

His acumen for invention began in his teens. Before taking his A levels, he designed his first micro-radio. At 17, he became a technical journalist on Practical Wireless and, within a year, had become its editor.

By the early 1970s, he had invented the world's smallest amplifier, the Executive pocket calculator and the digital Black Watch. He secured his personal fortune with the first low-priced home computers, the Sinclair ZX80, ZX81 and the Spectrum.

In 1983, he became Young Businessman of the Year and received his knighthood.

But young British companies like Sinclair and Acorn lacked the entrepreneurial skills of the Americans and Japanese. What's more, the IBM computer system became the dominant format and embracing it ran counter to the British innovation culture.

PR disaster

Only Amstrad took it on. Only Amstrad survived.

The C5 was not only a product failure, but a public relations disaster. The electric tricycle was deemed unsafe by the Automobile Association because it was too low; lorries couldn't see it.

Sinclair Spectrum
Key to Sir Clive's fortune - the mega selling Spectrum computer
One wondered what sort of mind could develop, over several years, something so obviously naff.

So his next inventions, namely a battery-powered bicycle engine called a Zeta and the more advanced Zike, met existing market resistance.

Production of the Zike ceased after six months.

It was a risky adventure that, once again, just failed to come off.

Risks were not confined to his working life, it seems. His wife discovered he was playing away and divorced him on the grounds of adultery in 1985.

His name subsequently became linked with a host of attractive women less than half his age. In 1989, Mensa member, Bernadette Tynan, 21, accepted his marriage proposal but later changed her mind.

Tabloid fodder

He was soon dating a string of young women, and raised eyebrows when he moved a 21 year-old lapdancer, Angie Bowness, into his luxury penthouse apartment. When they parted, she sold her story to the tabloids.

Another battery-aided bike, the Zeta
Another battery-aided bike, the Zeta
So too did 27-year-old Vicky Lee, whose tale in the News of the World prompted the memorable headline, "Sir Clive liked boffin me C5 times a night".

Sir Clive is keeping his cards very close to his chest over his new invention. The suggestions are that it might be some kind of enhanced pedestrian transport.

"I think Sir Clive Sinclair is certainly capable of pulling one more rabbit out of the hat," says broadcaster and gadget buff, Adam Hart-Davis.

"But bike technology, if that is what the new invention is, is not easy to break into. He could be barking up the wrong pavement." Or some might say, just barking.


Bishop Gene Robinson
BISHOP GENE ROBINSON

Gene Robinson became the first elected openly gay bishop in the worldwide Anglican Church this week. Good news for him; not so for the Church as a whole, perhaps. The issue has split the Anglican community and 20 dissenting bishops walked out. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, admitted "there will be difficult days ahead". Gene Robinson offered this prayer. "Before too very long, other denominations will follow and welcome openly gay and lesbian people."

Jennifer Lopez
JENNIFER LOPEZ

Jennifer Lopez has had better weeks. First, her latest film, Gigli, in which she stars opposite fiancé Ben Affleck, got slated. "Surely no movie could be that bad," was one comment. Then she discovered Affleck had been enjoying a fling in bed with a stripper and three lapdancers he'd picked up in a Vancouver nightclub. The comment by his previous fiancée, Gwyneth Paltrow, that Affleck's "ideal woman would be a stripper with a Budweiser in each hand", seems to have lost any whiff of sour grapes

Don Estelle
DON ESTELLE

This week saw the death of actor Don Estelle, famous as the 4ft 9in character "Lofty" in the BBC TV series It Ain't Half Hot Mum. Estelle's proudest success was his spin-off song Whispering Grass which reached No 1 in the British charts in 1975. "I'm a singer who suddenly discovered I can be funny," he once said, but added "at least people are kind enough to say I'm funny".

Tom Kelly
TOM KELLY

Another Kelly was at the centre of a furore in British politics this week. After the suicide of weapons expert, David Kelly, over the Iraq dossier affair, a Downing Street spokesman, Tom Kelly, caused a storm by describing his namesake to journalists as a "Walter Mitty-type fantasist". This seeming attempt to denigrate the name of the deceased brought an apology. It may also bring him the sack.

Profiles by Bob Chaundy, BBC News profiles unit.


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