Spectrum to C5: How Clive Sinclair began the UK’s tech revolution from a house in Islington

Sir Clive Sinclair demonstrating his C5 electric vehicle, the battery-come-pedal powered trike, at Alexandra Palace in 1985

Sir Clive Sinclair demonstrating his C5 electric vehicle, the battery-come-pedal powered trike, at Alexandra Palace in 1985 - Credit: PA

Multimillionaire inventor Sir Clive Sinclair was Britain’s leader of the microchip revolution - and started the venture from his Islington home with a £25 investment.

The maverick entrepreneur and inventor, who died at his London home on Thursday morning (September 23) aged 81, masterminded an incredible shrinking world of tiny computers, televisions and even cars.

The guru of new technology, who popularised the home computer and pocket calculator, also envisaged a world where robots would carry out our every command.

He was born on July 30 1940 into a middle-class London background. His father was an engineer and designer of machine tools.

Sir Clive who attended the fee charging Highgate School in North Road, quit formal education aged 17 to become a technical journalist with Practical Wireless, where he wrote specialist manuals. 


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But after four years, aged 22, he formed his first company, Sinclair Radionics.

He set up the company at a house in Islington in 1962, with just £25 borrowed from a friend.

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The firm made small radio kits and sold them by mail order, the most well known being a matchbox-sized product which was the smallest transistor radio in the world.

In 1967, Sir Clive moved his company to Cambridge, where a “club” of self-made young entrepreneurs with revolutionary business thinking was starting to form.

He pioneered the pocket calculator, which earned him the title of “electronics wizard”, but had tough competition from Japan and the US in the fast-moving consumer markets.

An expansion into digital watches led to trouble, but in 1976 the Labour government’s National Enterprise Board (NEB) poured in capital to help him complete development of his first miniature television set.

Clive Sinclair, founder and chairman of Sinclair Research, at the launch of the Sinclair 2-inch pocket TV

Clive Sinclair, founder and chairman of Sinclair Research, at the launch of the Sinclair 2-inch pocket television. Said to be the first TV with a single chip for circuitry, it took six years and £4million to develop. - Credit: PA

It was launched as the world’s smallest television set, having only a two-inch screen, but Sir Clive ran into trouble again with an almost £2 million loss.

By 1979, the NEB saw the future of Sinclair Radionics in the steady business of selling scientific instruments in known markets, but Sir Clive wanted the rollercoaster world of consumer electronics and left with a reported £10,000 golden handshake.

He set up his current company, Sinclair Research, at the start of the computer boom and in 1980 launched the Sinclair ZX 80 personal computer, which astonished the world.

Sir Clive Sinclair with the prototype of a new multi-standard flat screen television, the 'Microvision' 

Sir Clive Sinclair founder of Sinclair Research, in 1981, with the prototype of a new multi-standard flat screen television, the 'Microvision' - Credit: PA

Barely a generation before, computers cost thousands of pounds and occupied special rooms. The ZX 80 measured 9in x 7in x 2in and cost just £99.95.

Sir Clive then launched the even more powerful ZX 81 in March 1981. It sold half a million units with the price tag cut to under £50 before the American and Japanese competition could catch up.

Sir Clive Sinclair shows his belief that his new computer, the Z88, is the tops

Sir Clive Sinclair shows his belief that his new computer, the Z88, is the tops. The computer was portable and went on sale at £287.50.

In April 1982 he launched the ZX Spectrum, the start of a wider and more powerful range of Sinclair computers to come, and the next year Sinclair had become the first company in the world to sell more than a million computers – making it a household name around the Western world.

Sir Clive Sinclair, founder and chairman of Sinclair Research, watches 8-year-old Joe Challands

Sir Clive Sinclair, founder and chairman of Sinclair Research, watches 8-year-old Joe Challands enjoying being the first owner of a Sinclair 2-inch pocket television. - Credit: PA

Sir Clive also realised a radical change in television design with a new version of the Sinclair pocket television, using a unique flat screen.

He had numerous other projects on the boil, the biggest gamble being a small, highly manoeuvrable electric car.

Sir Clive Sinclair demonstrating his C5 electric vehicle, the battery-come-pedal powered trike, at Alexandra Palace in 1985

Sir Clive Sinclair demonstrating his C5 electric vehicle, the battery-come-pedal powered trike, at Alexandra Palace in 1985 - Credit: PA

The C5 was a low-set, one-person, battery-powered tricycle. It was a critical and commercial flop, but went on to become a cult item for collectors.

In 1983 Sir Clive bought a 200-year-old manor house near Cambridge and offered top salaries to scientific geniuses to establish his own “think tank”.

He owned 95 per cent of his company when 10pc of its shares were placed in the city in 1983. 

File photo dated 12/07/06 of Sir Clive Sinclair showing off his latest invention, the 'A-bike'

Sir Clive Sinclair showing off his latest invention, the 'A-bike', outside the Design Museum in central London in 2006. Home computing pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair has died at the age of 81 - Credit: PA

The outcome then valued his personal worth at around £130 million, making him one of the country’s richest men.

At the time he separated from his wife, they had three children.

He was knighted in the birthday honours in June 1983 after his many accomplishments had been praised as examples to British industry.

Sir Clive Sinclair in 2014. Home computing pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair has died at the age of 81. Thursday September 16, 2021

Sir Clive Sinclair in 2014. Home computing pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair has died at the age of 81. Thursday September 16, 2021. - Credit: PA

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