Commercial Break: Sir Clive's misguided leap of faith

If you were watching BBC4 last night, you probably saw a glorious docu-drama about the rise and rise of Sir Clive Sinclair, one of the pioneering figures in UK tech stuff (it ended just before his inglorious fall). As well as the mighty ZX Spectrum, it should never be forgotten that he came up with early versions of the digital watch and the pocket calculator - a ginger genius.

At one point you might have seen Sir Clive sprinting across a field while filming an ad for the grown-up QL computer that was unleashed in 1984 – here’s the actual ad itself, sadly minus sound but very much containing the sight of the great man doing a Carl Lewis and leaping through the air over the top of rival machines.

You might wince at the £698 price tag that appears on the screen – yes, more than you’d pay for a decent desktop PC in 2009. But don’t worry, the price was down to under £200 a year or so later… and still nobody bought it.

It’s enough to make a man move out of the computer market and start building lethal-looking battery-powered cars instead…


  • Gunn
    Imagine if Spectrum was still around today....
  • The M.
    That Docu Drama really made him look (Sinclair) look a bit of an arsehole - it was very good though and brought loads of memories flooding back (more than 48k worth). Loved the use of all the old adverts etc in it.
  • jah
    Though it was an awesome show, one of the best things I have seen for ages - but you're right about it making Clive out to be a bit of tit!
  • zeddy
    Yes he was a right hard bastard in the pub with that rolled up newspaper.
  • Kevin
    I thought it was really well made, although they could have put some effort into hiding the modern things in Cambridge, especially outside the Baron of Beef. Like the modern bollards, the curry house signs etc
  • Aaron
    I worked at Sinclair Research Ltd (as a graduate software engineer / computer scientist) from 1983 to 1986, during what you might call the "QL, Spectrum+, MetaLab, C5" period which came just after the "ZX80, ZX81, Spectrum" period mostly depicted in the film; Clive was one of three people who interviewed me for the job. SRL was a very small company (just 54 employees in 1983, including 9 hardware / software engineers in the computer lab, including me) as well as a very social workplace with lots of parties and get-togethers, sometimes several times per week, often with Clive in attendance. In other words, everybody knew everybody else and in particular I knew Clive personally. Which brings me to the point I wish to make: Clive is absolutely NOTHING like the loud-mouthed egocentric bully depicted in the film, to such an extent that I was actually offended watching it - and it wasn't even about me! In reality (which TV is not!), the first thing that struck me when I first met Clive was how impeccably polite he was, plus if anything he seemed to me to be a little shy (a trait which I later noticed on a number of occasions). Clive's intellect (the next thing you will notice should you ever meet him yourself) is of course overwhelming - (former) Chairman of British Mensa, a lover of mathematics, classical music, poetry, etc, etc. In fact I used to have tremendous difficulty finding anything to say in conversation that, judging by his expression, Clive hadn't already thought of himself (but then again my IQ's only 150 or so, so I am a bit of a thicko in comparison!) Finally, Clive is the best teller-of-jokes that I've ever met, he does all the accents and faces and everything; it's making me smile just to think about his "a man walks into the pub with a crocodile" joke. So, how do you convey the true nature of an infinitely complex real-life human being in a made-for-TV "docudrama"? Micro Men failed miserably but, given how near-impossible it must be to succeed, were they even trying...?

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