At the age of 81, Sir Clive Sinclair, an inventor and entrepreneur who was instrumental in bringing home computers to the masses, died.
After a long illness, he died at home in London on Thursday morning, according to his daughter, Belinda. Sinclair is best known for popularizing the home computer, which he brought to British high-street stores at relatively low prices.
Many of today’s video game titans got their start on one of his ZX models. The ZX Spectrum 48K or its rival, the Commodore 64, were the computers of choice for a certain generation of gamers.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, responded on Twitter to an article that referred to Sir Clive as the “Father of the ZX Spectrum”: “RIP, Sir Sinclair. I loved that computer.
“He was a rather amazing person. Of course, he was so clever and he was always interested in everything. My daughter and her husband are engineers so he’d be chatting engineering with them,” Belinda Sinclair said in an interview.
He dropped out of school at the age of 17 and worked as a technical journalist for four years to raise funds for Sinclair Radionics.
He invented a series of calculators in the early 1970s that were small and light enough to fit in the pocket, at a time when most existing models were the size of an old-fashioned cash register. His daughter explained, “He wanted to make things small and cheap so people could access them.”
Although it was a long way from today’s models, his first home computer, the ZX80, named after the year it was released, revolutionized the market. It was about one-fifth the price of other home computers at the time, at £79.95 in kit form and £99.95 assembled. It sold 50,000 units, while its replacement, the ZX81, cost £69.95 and sold 250,000 units.
Many veterans of the games industry got their start typing programs into its touch-based keyboard and became addicted to games like 3D Monster Maze and Mazogs. Sinclair said in an interview in 2010 that the ZX80 and ZX81 made him very wealthy: “Within two or three years, we made £14m profit in a year.”
On Twitter, Lord Sugar paid tribute to his “good friend and competitor,” writing: “What a guy he kicked started consumer electronics in the UK with his amplifier kits, then calculators, watches, mini TV, and of course the Sinclair ZX. Not to mention his quirky electric car.” Friend, R.I.P.”
The ZX Spectrum 48K was released in 1982, and despite its rubber keys, strange clashing visuals, and tinny sound, it was pivotal in the development of the British games industry. Jet Set Willy, Horace Goes Skiing, Chuckie Egg, Saboteur, Knight Lore, and Lords of Midnight were all popular games that inspired a generation.
As his products flew off the shelves, Sinclair became a household name and was knighted in 1983. However, he would become associated with one of his less successful inventions, the Sinclair C5, which cost him money. The C5, a battery-powered electric trike, was introduced in January 1985, with Sinclair expecting 100,000 units to be sold in the first year.
But it didn’t work out, and by October of that year, Sinclair Vehicles was in receivership. The safety of driving a vehicle below the line of sight of other motorists, as well as exposure to the elements, have been raised in reviews. Sinclair sold his computer company to Amstrad the following year.
The Sinclair TV80, a pocket TV, was another device that, like the C5, failed to catch on, despite the fact that people now watch TV on their phones. Electric vehicles are, of course, all the rage today, even if they don’t look like the Sinclair C5, which went on to become a cult classic.
“It was the ideas, the challenge, that he found exciting,” Belinda Sinclair said. He’d have an idea and say, ‘It’s pointless to ask if someone wants it because they can’t imagine it.’
However, he did not use his own inventions for personal gain. As far as she knew, he never used a pocket calculator and instead carried a slide-rule with him at all times, according to his daughter. He also told interviewers that he didn’t use a computer or email.
Aside from inventing, he enjoyed poetry, marathon running, and poker. He won the first season final of the Celebrity Poker Club spinoff, defeating Keith Allen. He appeared in the first three seasons of the Late Night Poker television series.
Belinda, his 55-year-old son Crispin, and his 52-year-old son Bartholomew, as well as five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, survive him.