Remembering The Man Who Made Tech For Everyone – NPR

  • by

Sir Clive Sinclair, a computing pioneer and an inventor that spent a lifetime making technology accessible for everyone, has died at age 81.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Sir Clive Sinclair has died. The British inventor helped revolutionize the computer industry.

WILL GUYATT: Well, you had everything going on in Palo Alto. And you had Wozniak and Jobs. We had our very own guy, and this was Sir Clive Sinclair.

SHAPIRO: That’s Will Guyatt. He’s a technology journalist in the U.K.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Sinclair spent most of his adult life trying to make normally expensive technology more affordable and accessible. In 1972, he invented the first mass-produced pocket calculator, known as the Sinclair Executive. It sold for about half the price of other calculators on the market at the time.

SHAPIRO: Sinclair then moved on from personal calculators to personal computers. Some of his early models produced only black-and-white images, no sound. In 1982, Sir Clive Sinclair changed everything with what he called the ZX Spectrum.

DOMINIK DIAMOND: My kind of gray world exploded in color when my mother brought home this small box called a ZX Spectrum.

FADEL: Dominik Diamond is a radio host. Nineties British kids will remember him as host of “GamesMaster,” one of the first TV shows dedicated to video games. Diamond says the ZX Spectrum…

DIAMOND: Gave you color, gave you sound, gave you arcade-quality games in your home for, basically, under $200. And it completely just switched on a great economic class of the U.K. to be able to not only play video games and fall in love with video games but also, because it was a bona-fide home computer, as well, to allow them to start making their own games. It was the computer equivalent of being able to listen to the Ramones and then pick up a guitar and play.

SHAPIRO: And Diamond says those budding game makers went on to create some of the most inventive video games of the ’90s and beyond.

DIAMOND: You’re sitting today, and you’re playing a game like “Grand Theft Auto” or “Red Dead Redemption.” Well, that comes from a British software company whose programmers were inspired by Sir Clive Sinclair.

SHAPIRO: Sinclair then turned his attention to electric vehicles. In 1985, he introduced the C5, which looked like a futuristic golf cart. He was a bit too ahead of his time. Instead of revolutionizing transportation, the vehicle bombed.

FADEL: Still, tech writer Will Guyatt says Sinclair’s legacy is untouchable.

GUYATT: Until the loss of Sir Clive, nobody really appreciated him for the cool work that he was doing. And now it’s quite gratifying that we’re actually waking up to his importance.

SHAPIRO: Sir Clive Sinclair died last Thursday. He was 81 years old.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.