Sir Clive Sinclair, 1940-2021

It’s an incredibly sad day for the British computing industry.

We’re always going to be very grateful to Sir Clive for being one of the founding fathers of the UK home computing boom that helped so many of us at Raspberry Pi get hooked on programming as kids.

He was someone from whom the business behind Raspberry Pi has drawn great inspiration. He’ll be very sadly missed.

sir clive sinclair

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Was sad to hear about Sir Clive Sinclair passing away – without access to the products he bought to market I doubt I’d have a career in IT. With my limited academic qualifications I owe him a big thank you for all he helped me to achieve, RIP.

Reply to Stephen Cooper

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Without exaggeration, Sinclair changed my life. My life was going in the wrong direction. Then there was the moment I first saw the k prompt, I can still remember that feeling of needing to know more, sparked at that moment and has carried me ever since.
I don’t know what would have happened if I had not had that career direction defined at that moment but I don’t think it would have been good.
Thanks Clive, your stuff was worth the wait, and worth its weight in diamonds.

Reply to Anders

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Sad news today.
It brings back memories to me of the ZX81 and its wobbly Ram pack :) and Spectrum computers and many happy hours spent playing with them as a kid.
I hope his contribution to our digital age is remembered.
R.I.P. Sir Clive and thanks for everything you gave us.

Reply to Keith

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Not just computers. I made his little Micromatic radio in the early 70’s. Also used his Sinclair Cambridge calculator a lot. Sadly never got into ZX80 nor ZX81, as I was programming big toys (mainframes) by then.

Reply to Steve Williams

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I was still at school when I bought the Micro-6 :-) It was one of the devices that enthused me to have a Royal Navy career in radio. Later I had the ZX81 (I couldn’t afford the ZX80 at the time) and my wife had a Spectrum, so when I went for my first civilian jobs in the early 80s, I was able to step into a post using a VAX without too much training.

He was a true pioneer!

Reply to Terry Coles

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RIP Sir Clive – my whole journey in computing started on a ZX81. I later traded up to a BBC Master 128, another of the spiritual predecessors of today’s amazing RPi. But who knows where we’d be without Clive’s affordable, accessible machines kickstarting the home computing and intro coding revolution?

Reply to Al Stevens

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So sad. One of the enablers of home-computers!

Reply to Lars

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Like many old brit coders, I owe this man a huge debt, the ZX81 was my introduction to computers, and led to a life long career as a game programmer. His influence is immense, the successes were clear, but even the misses made people think.

Thanks Uncle Clive, RIP.

Reply to Brian Beuken

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It was a bright cold spring day in 1984, and a boring R.E. lesson was finally brought to an end by the lunchtime bell. I turned to the boy sitting next to me; “So, what are you doing for lunch?”.
“I’m going to the computer club” he replied. There was a pause, while I tried to process what he had just said. “A computer club? What computer club?”
“It’s the school computer club. We get together in Mr. Danatt’s lab at lunchtime once every week.”
“So… can I come?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll be there in about 10 or 15 minutes.”
I have never eaten two sandwiches and a packet of crisps as fast as I did on that day. There was no corridor to Mr Danatt’s lab, and we weren’t allowed to walk through Mrs. Pearson’s lab to get there, so that left the rickety metal stairs of the external fire escape. Gingerly climbing up the flights of steps, buffeted about by a chilly spring wind, I finally reached the top and banged on the door.
I was let in to a lab where Mr. Danatt and a few boys stood around a 14-inch television, which was connected to a small black slab of plastic with a grey rubber keyboard. It felt like the future had just arrived.
Just 10 years earlier, the notion that a group of schoolboys would have access to an entire computer and the freedom to write their own programs would have been the plot of an improbable science-fiction story. And yet there we were. Uncle Clive gave us that little machine, and said “There you go boys. See what you can do with that.”
Thanks Clive. We’re gonna miss you.

Reply to John Henderson

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John Henderson,
My first encounter with the ZX was a teacher bringing his personal one to school and letting me loose on it at lunchtime. As basic and primitive as it was, I thought it was sci-fi come true. Hard for young people to understand now, but tech was crude back then, and these little boxes were like magic.

Reply to Anders

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It was great when you had a teacher who was a little bit cool and up-to-date with the latest technology.
Yes, it is hard for young people to understand, because they’ve never known a time without digital technology — or as we called it, “the 1970s”. ;-)

Reply to John Henderson

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What a great story, and one that is probably familiar to so many who were around at that time. 1984 was about the time I got my first computer, a Spectrum+ 48k, and it sparked my life-long love of coding. Computing & technology is now so accessible it’s hard to get across to younger people just how incredible these computers were (and still are) and the excitement we felt at typing in 10 PRINT “HELLO WORLD”; 20 GOTO 10 and seeing it work

Reply to Ben Hills

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Thank you for the kind words, Ben. Yes, I remember that excitement well. This was a machine that *did exactly what you told it to* in the blink of an eye. For a twelve-year-old, that was mind-blowing.

Reply to John Henderson

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I never had a ZX80/81, nor a Spectrum – my first Sinclair was a QL.
I was a mainframe computer consultant when IBM PCs
started to appear on clients’ desks. They didn’t know how to use them and, to my shame, nor did I. I tried to persuade my boss to buy one for the office, for learning purposes, but he refused because of the expense (about £4000 at the time).
I personally couldn’t afford that money, but I bought a QL instead, which had about 90% of the functionality of a PC for a tenth of the cost. I then proceeded to learn about spreadsheets and word processors so I could hold up my head in front of clients!

Reply to jardino

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Yes, a sad day. His forward thinking launched industries and many careers. Mine in tech started courtesy of his computers an a very patient staff at WH Smiths.
I just wonder where Sinclair would have gone if the UK had had a robust tech investment culture like Silicon Valley at the time.
RIP Sir Clive

Reply to Robert Alderton

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Like so many, I got an 81 for Christmas. I spent many an RE or Careers lesson jotting down hex in the back of a workbook ready to type into a REM and USR it when I got home (once the TV was free). Clive certainly helped me on my way, sad he’s gone.

Reply to Richard Jones

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We still had ZX spectrums in the comp lab at primary school back in the 90s. I missed their heyday but the tech will always have a place in my heart. Thanks for everything Sir Clive, you’ll be missed.

Reply to Edwin

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R.I.P Sir Clive. Your crystal may have stopped oscillating but your clock cycles with tick on forever.

Reply to Richard collins

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My first steps in computing world were with the Timex Sinclair 1000, american version of the ZX81. I was 15 years, and lived where the world ends, Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina. My whole life started then to spin around computers. I always admired and loved Sir Clive Sinclair, and I guess I might also would call him Uncle Clive. I wouldn’t be what and where I am at my 51 years old, if it weren’t for Sir Clive. Godspeed, my loved friend.

Reply to Daniel Marjos

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Very sad to hear the passing of Sir Clive.
As a boy I was fortunate enough to meet him a few times. My father Don Ford had a an electronics and defence subcontractor business.
He made a number of the early Sinclair products – before the ZX came along.
The first production versions of the Sinclair Executive calculator and the Sinclair Cambridge rolled off the Downland Electronics production line back in the early 70’s. There was even a giant (well I thought so at the time) plywood version of the Executive (working!) that was about 5ft 6in high and was used widely to promote it.
I have pictures of me standing next to it.. and indeed one picture of me with a real executive calculator was used in a couple of adverts…
Something to do with demonstrating how easy it was to use – but neatly forgetting the awful battery life!
I remember Clive was quite serious, and a bit over enthusiastic when explaining his stuff, but he did take the time to talk to me ehen he visited, occasionally staying at oir house. Clive kindly sent me a few things to tinker with (a micro radio kit, a programmable Cambridge calculator, a black watch, and later an amplifier kit). All stuff he said he had “lying around”.
I guess that rubbed off on me, as I have had a great career in electronic engineering..
Thanks Dad, and thanks Clive.
RIP.

Reply to David Ford

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As a 13 year old I was buying practical wireless magazine as an enthusiastic electronics and amateur radio buff. And then one edition had an advert for the zx81 in a centre spread and my world changed. All my paper round, birthday and Christmas money went into buying a zx81 and it changed my life. Although I qualified as a chemical engineer everything I have done in my career has been focused around computing, even getting up early on Raspberry Pi day to order the next generations zx81. Thankyou sir Clive, you were an inspiration to a generation of nerds that science and technology could be cool… and profitable. Rest in peace sir.

Reply to Andrew mackley

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he will be most loved, thanks for your contribution to the world

Reply to draftking

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I fear Jonathan Margolis at The Daily Telegraph needs to do a little bit more research when writing his column..
“There were dozens of British computer brands by 1984; there are none today.” Even more ironic considering the recently introduced Pi 400 is pretty much a modern day equivalent of the Spectrum/BBC Micro/Commodore 64.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/09/17/sir-clive-sinclair-never-quite-became-british-steve-jobs/

Reply to Richard Jones

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Sir Clive Sinclair’s little ZX80 and ZX81 launched many of us in to the wonderful world of IT. His little computers may not have been the most powerful, or the most advanced in terms of capabilities, but they spawned countless businesses to support all the add-ons that were created. Even lots of software companies. Who can forget Artic computing and their very good Voice Chess. Holobyte and so on. I’m now a linux engineer – all because a friend bought himself a ZX80 and allowed me to have a go. I was hooked. RIP Sir Clive we owe you so…so much. The Pi is now serving the current generation with a small board that’s so powerful it makes my eyes water thinking about it. (I had a PC running dos and thought my 10MB hard card was the bees knees in storage). And history is repeating itself – how many companies have come into existence because of the Pi, how many books, videos , it’s endless and how many careers are being created. And who’d guess that the pi would be on board the ISS or even launched by British satellite manufacturer SSTL in to orbit – as is connected to a camera taking superb pictures of the Earth from Orbit.
All because of the vision of one man!

Reply to Martyn Chandley

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Thank you Sir Clive Sinclair.
I bought my father a used ZX80 and started an avalanche of SBC addiction. It was impossible to imagine 40 years ago that we would have handheld computers more powerful than any mainframe without his inspiration.

Reply to Neil Stewart

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Like many here, the ZX81 was my first computer. I was only a few years old, but remember typing in listings. I was probably a bit too young to properly learn programming, but it definitely gave me a start and a lifelong love of computers and programming. I learnt most of what I know about Linux from a Pi, so I think the Pi is doing for the current generation what Clive managed in the 1980s. RIP Clive, your legacy lives on.

Reply to Chris

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I started with his MK14 kit, soldering it together in the mid 70’s, learning to program in hex and haven’t looked back since, rip

Reply to Tony klapisch

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I grew up with a zx81, ZX spectrum 16k and my brother had a 48k..also my younger brother had a C5 great fun to drive!…it’s sad to hear Clive has passed..an amazing legacy he’s left behind… thankyou Mr Sinclair for giving us kids from the 80’s such great memories, you will be missed..rip.

Reply to rich

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E’ stato un mito. Anche dall’Italia gli dobbiamo tanto per quello che ha fatto.

Reply to marco

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At age 10 I was fascinated by my friend’s ZX81. That year my primary school teacher recommended to my parents that I get a computer. They bought me a ZX Spectrum 48K that Christmas and I studied the user manual learning to write simple programs. Within a year I was dabbling in Z80 assembly using (I think) the Zeus assembler. Soon after that I got a Commodore 64 and dreamt of writing my own games. After many attempts I finally got a game published commercially when I was 16. Forty years later I am a secondary school teacher of maths and computer science. Without Sir Clive I doubt I would be doing what I do now. Just recently I adapted the Pangolins program from the back of the Spectrum user manual to teach the topic of Binary Trees to my A Level class. RIP Sir Clive.

Reply to Neil Kendall

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One of my colleagues used to keep a Sinclair Scientific calculator in his desk for lending to people. Worked in Reverse Polish notation so a shock for the casual borrower!

Reply to Peter Vincent

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Sinclair inspired many of us. I at school started soldering ZX80 kits for people (as they were £20 cheaper than complete units). Removing a Z80 you’ve soldered in upside down – a mistake you only make once!
Like so many other Cambridge technology businesses it’s a real shame his innovation did not lead to sustained commercial success.

Reply to Andrew Jones

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Sinclair was the real spiritual ancestor of Raspberry Pi. It was the enabler, that brought the micro within reach. Raspberry Pi pays homage to the BBC Micro using model A and B, but the Beeb was really for wealthy people.

Reply to Anders

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I don’t think he was a great inventor or businessman. Taking orders for a product (the ZX80) and using the money to pay for developing it sounds dodgy business practice at best. The products were below acceptable quality, and unreliable. The ZX81 spent 75% of its time producing the video, and the display could take up 69% of the 1K RAM. Less system RAM, you only had 384 bytes to play with. A 16K RAM pack was essential but the slightest wobble would cause it to crash. The tape interface had no error detection software, nor amplifiers in the input filter. When Basil Fawlty hired cheap builders, his wife said “He’s cheap because he’s no damn good!”. Sinclair simply had no inner voice saying “you can’t sell this stuff!”. He persisted in chasing the lowest costs despite people wanting reliable computers to trust their work with. He financed his C5 because the banks had the common sense not to. People migrated from Sinclair to Acorn, Apple and IBM, not vice versa. That is not the sign of genius inventions.

Reply to Keith

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You have some valid comments when you talked about the initial quality of products. However when you say
“Taking orders for a product (the ZX80) and using the money to pay for developing it sounds dodgy business practice at best” Sounds like he was way ahead of the curve. That is basically the new model for people starting out today crowdfunding their projects..
You have to remember he didn’t have the support that startups can reach out for today. So being creative with financing was all you could do. So maybe we should consider him the Grandpa of crowdfunding too :-)

Reply to Robert Alderton

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Oh well, someone dies and somebody feels the need to run down his work. In fact Sinclair WAS the enabler, the ZX81 brought the programmable microcomputer within reach. Forget the unaffordable Acorns, children could get their hands on SInclair. And he sold a lot more than Acorn, and the success of the ZX81 begat the Spectrum, still priced way below competitors. I couldn’t even stretch to the 16K RAMpack, so a BBC or even an Atom was out of my pocket money league at the time. Without Sinclair I was out of the game. This is the true legacy, not whinging about specs.

Reply to Anders

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I owe Sir Clive a debt. He is 100% the reason I had a career in IT. I was 17 and struggling with my A-Levels. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I inherited a ZX81 from my brother as an unwanted Christmas present. It quite literally changed my life. I got so absorbed with it that I started learning Z80 machine code to squeeze everything out of 1k! It led on to an A-level and later an Honours Degree in computing. My first job was as an Assembler Programmer. Sir Clive had the vision to bring computing to the masses. He was ahead of his time and a great entrepreneur. RIP

Reply to Simon

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I’m from the States. Got my ZX81 as a kit and got the Rampack with it. Learned to program with it and moved up to the US ver if the Spectrum, a Timex 2068. We all got the Spectrum ROM though, to allow us to run all the cool Spectrum games and other software. I built a parallel interface to use with a full sized printer and did all my word processing up till close to 2000 using Tasword. Sir Clive sure changed my life for the good. Helped me at work too. I became a programmer of industrial weighing systems. Learning on the ZX81 helped that a lot. Clive Sinclair will be so missed by our computer group. It was founded by those using the ZX81 and still exists today! I still have my original ZX81 and it still works as does the ZX printer and the US equivalents. I built a bunch of add-ons through the year. Even a video digitizer. Also a disk drive interface. Lots of learning, lots of fun. All made possible by the genius of Sir Clive! RIP dear Sir!

Reply to James DuPuy

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Yes, his audio amplifier modules in the 1970s were hit and miss, the battery life on the Sinclair Black Watch was awful, the key and battery contacts on the Sinclair Programmable a joke (I still have a HP35s to scratch the RPN itch though).
However the long-lasting legacy from Sir Clive was the understanding that computing and electronic technology could be affordable and not exclusive. I don’t think IBM PCs and their like would have been priced the way they were if he hadn’t shown that it was possible to price them below the corporate budget level for instance.
Also, think of all the support businesses that were spawned from the Sinclair range… Kempston joysticks and keyboards, HiSoft software, White Lightning forth and local to me Evesham Micros just to mention a few. The thrill you get from being able to do something different was incalculable – for me it was the first C and assembler programmes with HiSoft C and Devpac. By the time I sold my ZX Spectrum it had twin 1.4Mb floppies, Centronics printer interface and a full size keyboard.
From a practical point he made some things just fun such as listening to the cricket or to Radio 1 on a Micromatic during a particularly boring school lesson.

Reply to Steve Jones

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How can uoy have anything but love and respect for someone who led the way to getting computer technology into the hands of regular people, and at affordable prices. The world needs more like him.

Reply to Jack

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my parents gave me the spectrum in the first year of middle school and I spent the next 3 years studying assembler and basic

Reply to Leo

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I hope he will meet my late brother (car accident 1979 at 27th years) Aristidis Kokovijadis who worked at DEC, and Sir Clive Sinclair was his idol. They will have a lot of talks.

Reply to Kokovijadis Dimitrios

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Sinclair ZX81 was my first computer which I bought in kit form when I was 15 in late 1981, and I later bought a 56KB RAM pack, synth card (AY-3-8910), and built a speech synth card (SPO256-AL2). Unfortunately I have the first version of the ZX81 ROM with the square root bug. I think Sir Clive made my life better, because I could not afford a more expensive computer at that time and my work still involves programming and teaching programming. My ZX81 still works. I moved from BASIC to Forth. My next computer was an Amstrad PC1512 in early 1988 and then I learned C and C++.

Reply to Mikael Bonnier

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A friend had ZX81 and I remember we stayed up all night totally absorbed in playing a text adventure which totally amazed me. “You have entered a room and to your left..” It was very exciting as you had no idea what would be lurking behind doors or in corridors”. That evening proved formative. At university I found myself at the controls of a machine learning to write AI programs in POP11. I found I could write some NLP in Sinclair Basic on the ZX81 and thought it was amazing. I did a lot of Stats programs on the ZX81 too. I still have my Sinclair and it still works after all these years like an old friend. Deep respect and gratitude to Sir Clive and his vision.

Reply to Jeff Vass

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