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Court the favours of the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation BBC was looking for a home computer that could be used in combination with educational programs. Conquering this order would of course provide great benefits, because many schools and later also parents would probably purchase these computers. Sinclair fought a bitter fight with Acorn, incorporated by one of Clive's former co-workers. Acorn won the battle, with as a result the well-known BBC A and BBC B computers.
Clive Sinclair was enraged and held a public tirade against the BBC. Why did they choose for Acorn - he held told them that he could manufacture a good computer for a bit more then 100 pounds! The Acorn-computers cost 400 pounds. Maybe the BBC decided for Acorn because of its much more solid keyboards.
Clive Sinclair later told that there had been much discussion in his company about the name for the new computer. One of the names that circulated was 'Not the BBC Micro'...




Because of the popularity of the ZX Spectrum and the simple technical structure, many clones of this computer appeared. Probably it's the most imitated home computer in the world. Timex manufactured a Spectrum under licence, the TS 2068, for the North-American market. But almost all other clones were illegal. De most imitated Spectrums appeared in de Soviet-Union, in Eastern Europe and in South-America. Clones were still made in the late nineties.



Welcome to the nostalgic history of home and game computers  

the good, old 'speccy'

After his modest success with the ZX80 and his already bigger success with the ZX81, the Britton Clive Sinclair scored a real hit with the ZX Spectrum. This again small but surprisingly colourful computer would bring him a fortune and the title of 'Sir' in 1983. He received a knighthood from prime minister Margareth Thatcher because of his merits to the British industry.
Even giant Commodore 64 didn't manage to dispel the ZX Spectrum from the number 1 position in the United Kingdom. Sinclair sold millions of it - the ZX Spectrum became the most successful computer in the UK and one of the most successful computers in the rest of Europe.

Through the ZX81 many people got acquainted with the new world of the computer, but the Spectrum turned working and playing with computers into a popular habit. With its greater performances the Spectrum made it possible for hobbyists to really conquer the new computer world.
Many people still have nostalgic thoughts on the hours (no: days, weeks, months) they spent in the eighties with their 'Speccy'. And the Speccy is still popular: there are few other computers for which that many emulators can be found on the internet.

Overwhelming interest
keyboard.jpg (154912 bytes)Sinclair announced the ZX Spectrum in April 1982 in two versions: one with 16K and one with 48K RAM.  Like the ZX80 and the ZX81, the Spectrum initially could only be ordered by mail. The interest was overwhelming and after a while the delivery suffered under an enormous backlog. After the summer of 1982 the backlog in the plant of Timex, that manufactured the Spectrum, had increased till 40,000. Sinclair got a rebuke from the Advertising Standards Authority, because it couldn't fulfil its promise to deliver within 28 days. Sinclair almost received more complaints than orders, and Clive was forced to apologize personally in a letter to his clients.
Finally the company succeeded to put things back on the rails, partly because it also started to sell the computers through stores. After a year and a half the counter of sold Spectrums had passed the one million.

ZX81 as starting-point

Sinclair developed the Spectrum because its predecessor ZX81 got increasing competition from more powerful home computers that could even display colours. Besides, Sinclair wanted to win a struggle with Acorn for an order from the broadcasting corporation BBC, but to Clive's bitter disappointment he lost the game. (More about this in the frame at the right.)
Initially fantastic plans lived in Sinclair's company to build an advanced home computer with a Super Basic programming language. But to keep the costs down, Sinclair decided to take as a starting-point as much as possible the technique of the ZX81. That's why the Spectrum was developed under the title ZX82.

Colours, finally!
In spite of this there were considerable improvements. That's already clear when you only take a look at the outside: the little case with coloured keys and a rainbow-like print looked great. And not only the outside was colourful - the Spectrum was Sinclair's first computer that could also put colours on the screen! And this was combined with a resolution of 256 x 192 pixels. These graphical possibilities were the biggest improvement, beside the in comparison to the ZX81 enormous increased RAM. This memory was built-in (soon almost only 48K-Spectrums were sold), which put an end to the trouble with the wobbling RAM expansion packs of the ZX80 and ZX81.
Whereas these first computers veiled themselves in silence, the ZX Spectrum was able to produce sound, albeit very modest. De price was, in Sinclair's tradition, unmatchable low: 125 British pounds for a 16K-Spectrum and 175 pounds for a model with 48K.

The ZX Spectrum got a for the most part positive reception by the computer magazines, but of course also this time there were critical voices.
The rubber keys made the keyboard less awkward then the keyboards of the ZX80 and ZX81. But some critics referred to the rubber keys as 'dead flesh'.
russian_spectrum_clone.jpg (113318 bytes)
Spectrum clone

Indeed, the Spectrum could produce colours, but its abilities in this respect were limited. It could display eight colours, but on each square of 8x8 pixels only 2 different colours could be used. This caused the typical Spectrum effect of strange colour combinations, the so-called 'colour-clash'. That's why some game developers only wrote games for the Spectrum in black-and-white. 

Many games
It's a question of the chicken and the egg, but the popularity of the Spectrum was also caused by the enormous amount of software that was especially written for this home computer. After a hesitating start, caused by the lack of distribution channels when Sinclair only sold by mail, many games and other programs were available.
The amount of hardware was also amazing. This time Sinclair manufactured more hardware options itself, like the Interface 1 and the Interface 2.
With Interface 1 one could connect Sinclair's Microdrive to the Spectrum or shape a network of Spectrums. Interface 2 made it possible to use joysticks and contained a port for cartridges. As far as I know there exist about ten different cartridges (these Sinclair-cartridges were, of course, very small).

This model of the Spectrum was manufactured until 1984. But actually this was only the beginning: the Spectrum persisted until the early nineties! The first model was followed by the Spectrum+, the Spectrum 128, the Spectrum +2 and the Spectrum +3. More about these models soon...

Specifications of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum

Manufacturer Sinclair Research
Period 1982 - 1984
CPU Zilog Z80A
Frequency 3,5 MHz
RAM 16 of 48 KB
Text mode 32 x 24
Graphic mode 256x192
Colours 8
Sound speaker, 1 channel, 5 octaves
I/O tv, cassette, extension port
Price 125 British pounds for the 16 K-model 
175 British pounds for the 48 K-model

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History of Home and Game Computers, by Erik Klooster, the Netherlands

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