Sunday 26 September 2021

A VIC-20 kid remembers the ZX Spectrum

Following my personal tribute to Sir Clive Sinclair, I thought it would be fun to invite Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, to comment on his legacy from the perspective of a Commodore VIC-20 kid. Incidentally, Star Trek's William Shatner promoted the VIC-20 as the 'wonder computer' of the 1980s.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Sir Clive Sinclair was many things, a gentleman, an inventor, a knight of the superhighway. More than that, he was a herald of the future, offering a glimpse of shiny new tech.

Yes, we laughed at his Sinclair C5 when it was released in 1985. This one-man electric vehicle looked goofy and flimsy as if it would topple over in a stiff slipstream breeze. It was expensive and unsafe. But it was a herald of the electric vehicles and hybrids we have today.

Sinclair was no two-bit Tesla. He was a prodigal innovator in his own right, developing calculators, pocket radios and digital watches, always mindful of selling, if not successfully marketing, his gizmos. His premade personal computer, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, was designed as a low-cost alternative to the Commodore PET and was released in 1982. The PET cost approximately £700; the ZX Spectrum retailed for an introductory price of £125 (£175 if you wanted 48K of RAM!). It was the first chance for many to have a computer in their home, long before such science fiction became science matter-of-fact.

I was a Commodore VIC-20 kid and I loved my little machine but the ZX Spectrum had the best look, the best ads, and unique games: Chequered Flag, Magic Meanies, Dark Star, Dukes of Hazzard, Zombie Zombie, Stonkers, Styx, Vampire Village… some of them were text-only but they all had intriguing names and illustrated covers.

The ZX Spectrum wasn’t just for playing around. Colour support (in 16 varieties!) helped coders to create their own programs. Within two years of its release, thousands of games had been created for the system, which cornered almost half the UK market for home computers. Sinclair conquered the video game world – temporarily, at least.

There would be other computers, vehicles and gadgets. But the ZX Spectrum was the machine I would nip over to a friend’s house for, the one that had me goggling over print ads and dreaming of King Arthur’s Quest. Sinclair will always be fondly remembered for his entrepreneurship, his innovations and the risks he took to achieve his dreams.

What are your Sinclair ZX Spectrum memories? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. You had me at "Sinclair was no two-bit Tesla"! LOL What a great Sunday 80s throwback read. My father worked for IBM so I was already exposed to computers, with my first being an Intertec Superbrain...with VERY limited gaining of giant floppy disks! I can still feel the rubber keys from my ZX Spectrum, and the weird sensation of the moulded keys on my deciBells dB Spectrum+ But once the Commodore 64 came to over!

    1. That's great and I really appreciate the kind feedback!

  2. I still have the casing for the zx. It was like nothing else when it first came out...You could make the games go slightly faster when you turned sound off lol. I first taught myself programming on it...BASIC...then assembly language/machine code ...It was more than just a games machine.

    Manic miner...halls of the things....Dynamite Dan...Gyroscope...The great escape...Splat!....Ant attack...Highway Encounter...I could go on forever....Oh...Chuckie Egg...I was too good at it....I pushed the score to its limits & right over to zero as I could never be killed...I just had to quit in the end lol.
    Spectrum moment
    Never touched a commodore...Went onto the Amiga 500...
    I then bough the CD32...the expanded it with the sx1 to turn it into an Amiga again!

    Then it was onto my first Olivetti 486...4 megs ram lol.
    then the first PS1...That was another Spectrum moment....The Spectrum brought computer games into your home...the ps1 brought arcades into your home..Ridge Racer...will never forget it's version of Doom...nor the first Tomb Raider..

    Then it was building my first pc...& still building them. No consoles for me anymore...back to my first pc being the spectrum! Don't forget its predecessor the zx81.

    Old post I know & hope I've not bored you to sleep..but ahh...memories..& where did life go so quick?...Oh...Attick Attack!!!


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