Clive Sinclair

Sir Clive Sinclair

Sinclair meeting young inventors in Bristol, England in 1992
Born Clive Marles Sinclair
30 July 1940 (1940-07-30) (age 71)
near Richmond, Surrey
Nationality English
Ethnicity Caucasian
Citizenship British
Occupation Inventor, entrepreneur
Partner Angie Bowness
Children Belinda, Crispin, Bartholomew
Parents George William Carter Sinclair
Thora Edith Ella Marles

Sir Clive Marles Sinclair (born 30 July 1940) is a British entrepreneur and inventor, most commonly known for his work in consumer electronics in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

After spending several years as assistant editor of Practical Wireless and Instrument Practice, Sinclair founded Sinclair Radionics in 1961, where he produced the first slim-line electronic pocket calculator in 1972 (the Sinclair Executive). Sinclair later moved into the production of home computers and produced the Sinclair ZX80, the UK's first mass-market home computer for less than GB£100, and later, with Sinclair Research, the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum; the latter is widely recognised for its importance in the early days of the British home computer industry. Sinclair stated in 2010 that he does not use computers himself, using the telephone in preference to email.[1]

Knighted in 1985, Sinclair formed Sinclair Vehicles and released the Sinclair C5, a battery electric vehicle which was a commercial failure. Since then Sinclair has concentrated on personal transport, including the A-bike, a folding bicycle for commuters that weighs 5.5 kilograms (12 lb) and folds down small enough to be carried on public transport.


Early life, family and education

Sinclair's father and grandfather were engineers; both had been apprentices at Vickers the shipbuilders. His grandfather George Sinclair was an innovative naval architect who got the paravane, a mine sweeping device, to work. George Sinclair's son Bill Sinclair wanted to take religious orders or become a journalist. His father suggested he train as an engineer first; Bill became a mechanical engineer and remained in the field. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939 he was running his own machine tools business in London and later worked for the Ministry of Supply.[2]

Clive Sinclair was born to George William Carter Sinclair (known as Bill) and Thora Edith Ella Marles in 1940 near Richmond, then in Surrey. He and his mother left London to stay with an aunt for safety in Devon, where they eventually travelled to Teignmouth. A telegram arrived shortly afterwards, bringing the news that their home in Richmond had been bombed. Clive's father found a house in Bracknell in Berkshire. Sinclair's brother Iain was born in 1943 and his sister Fiona in 1947.[2]

Clive enjoyed the freedom of holidays and swimming and boating. At an early age he designed a submarine, possibly influenced by his grandfather George. During holidays he could pursue his ideas and teach himself what he wanted to know. Sinclair had little interest in sports and found himself out of place at school. He preferred the company of adults, which he got only from his family.[3]

Sinclair attended Box Grove preparatory school. He excelled in mathematics. By the time Clive was ten, his father Bill had financial problems. He had branched out from machine tools and planned to import miniature tractors from the U.S.; he had to give up the business.[3] Because of his father's problems, Sinclair had to move school several times. Sinclair took his O-levels at Highgate School in London in 1955 and A-levels in physics, pure maths, and applied maths at St. George's College, Weybridge.[4]

During his early years, Sinclair earned money mowing lawns and washing up, and earned 6d (old pence) more than permanent staff in a cafe. Later he went for holiday jobs at electronic companies. At Solatron he enquired about the possibility of electrically propelled personal vehicles. Sinclair applied for a holiday job at Mullard and took one of his circuit designs; he was rejected for theoretical precociousness. While still at school he wrote his first article for Practical Wireless.[4]

Sinclair did not want to go to university when he left school just before his 18th birthday; he wanted to sell miniature electronic kits by mail order to the hobby market.[5]


Sinclair Radionics

Sinclair's Micro Kit was formalised in an exercise book dated 19 June 1958 three weeks before his A-levels. Sinclair drew a radio circuit, Model Mark I, with a components list: cost per set 9/11 (49½p), plus coloured wire and solder nuts and bolts, plus celluloid chassis (drilled) for nine shillings (45p). Also in the book are advertisement rates for Radio Constructor (9d (3¾p)/word, minimum 6/- (30p)) and Practical Wireless (5/6 (27½p) per line or part line).[6]

Sinclair estimated producing 1,000 a month, placing orders with suppliers for 10,000 of each component to be delivered.[6]

Sinclair wrote a book for Bernard's Publishing, Practical transistor receivers Book 1, which appeared in January 1959. It was re-printed late that year and nine times subsequently. His practical stereo handbook was published in June 1959 and reprinted seven times over 14 years. The last book Sinclair wrote as an employee of Bernard's was Modern Transistor Circuits for Beginners, published in May 1962.[7] At Bernard Babani he produced 13 constructors' books.

In 1961 Sinclair registered Sinclair Radionics Ltd. His original choice, Sinclair Electronics, was taken; Sinclair Radio was available but didn't sound right. Sinclair Radionics was formed on 25 July 1961.

Sinclair made two attempts to raise startup capital to advertise his inventions and buy components. He designed PCB kits and licensed some technology. Then he took his design for a miniature transistor pocket radio and sought a backer for its production in kit form. Eventually he found someone who agreed to buy 55% of his company for £3,000 but the deal didn't go through.

Sinclair, unable to find capital, joined United Trade Press (UTP) at 9 Gough Square, just off Fleet Street, as technical editor of Instrument Practice. Sinclair appeared in the publication as an assistant editor in March 1962. Sinclair described making silicon planar transistors, their properties and applications and hoped they might be available by the end of 1962. Sinclair's obsession with miniaturisation became more obvious as his career progressed. Sinclair undertook a survey for Instrument Practice of semiconductor devices, which appeared in four sections between September 1962 and January 1963.[8]

His last appearance as assistant editor was in April 1969. Through UTP, Sinclair had access to thousands of devices from 36 manufacturers. He contacted Semiconductors Ltd (who at that time sold semiconductors made by Plessey)[9] and ordered rejects to repair. He produced a design for a miniature radio powered by a couple of hearing aid cells and made a deal with Semiconductors to buy its micro-alloy transistors at 6d (2½p) each in boxes of 10,000. He then carried out his own quality control tests, and marketed his renamed MAT 100 and 120 at 7s 9d (38¾p) and 101 and 121 at 8s 6d (42½p).[10]

Sinclair Radionics lasted until 1979, with various products and company spin-offs. Beginning with a mini-amplifier, the company earned a name for design, quality[citation needed] and pioneering. The vision was to produce in bulk and sell cheaply. This risky but potentially profitable approach made fortunes before but carries the risk of bankruptcy. In the early days one strategy essential to this policy for Sinclair Radionics was production in kit form.

Science of Cambridge

Sinclair had formed another company, initially called Ablesdeal Ltd, in 1973. This changed name several times, eventually becoming Science of Cambridge Ltd in July 1977.[11]

In June 1978 Science of Cambridge launched a microcomputer kit, the MK14, based on the National SC/MP chip. By July 1978, a personal computer project was under way. When Sinclair learnt the NewBrain could not be sold at below £100 as he envisaged, he turned to a simpler computer. In May 1979 Jim Westwood started the ZX80 project at Science of Cambridge; it was launched in February 1980 at £79.95 in kit form and £99.95 ready-built. In November, Science of Cambridge was renamed Sinclair Computers Ltd.

Sinclair Research

ZX Spectrum (1982)

In March 1981, Sinclair Computers was renamed again as Sinclair Research Ltd and the Sinclair ZX81 was launched at £49.95 in kit form and £69.95 ready-built, by mail order. In February 1982 Timex obtained a license to manufacture and market Sinclair's computers in the United States under the name Timex Sinclair. In April the ZX Spectrum was launched at £125 for the 16 kB RAM version and £175 for the 48 kB version. In March 1982 the company made an £8.55 million profit on turnover of £27.17 million, including £383,000 government grants for the TV80 flat-screen portable television.

In 1982 Sinclair converted the Barker & Wadsworth mineral water bottling factory at 25 Willis Road, Cambridge, into the company's headquarters. (This was sold to Cambridgeshire County Council in December 1985 owing to Sinclair's financial troubles.) The following year, he received his knighthood[12] and formed Sinclair Vehicles Ltd. to develop electric vehicles. This resulted in the 1985 Sinclair C5.

In 1984, Sinclair launched the Sinclair QL computer, intended for professional users. Development of the ZX Spectrum continued with the enhanced ZX Spectrum 128 in 1985.

In April 1986, Sinclair Research sold the Sinclair trademark and computer business to Amstrad for £5 million.[11] Sinclair Research Ltd. was reduced to an R&D business and holding company, with shareholdings in several spin-off companies, formed to exploit technologies developed by the company. These included Anamartic Ltd. (wafer-scale integration), Shaye Communications Ltd. (CT2 mobile telephony) and Cambridge Computer Ltd. (Z88 portable computer and satellite TV receivers).

By 1990, Sinclair Research consisted of Clive Sinclair and two other employees,[11] and its activities have since concentrated on personal transport, the Zike electric bicycle, Zeta bicycle motor and the A-bike folding bicycle.

In November 2010 Sinclair told The Guardian newspaper that he was working on a new prototype electric vehicle, called the X-1, to be launched within a year. "Technology has moved on quite a bit, there are new batteries available and I just rethought the thing. The C5 was OK, but I think we can do a better job now."[13][14] The X-1 will be available on July 2011 at the price of £595.[15]

Personal life

Sinclair married Ann Trevor-Briscoe in 1962, and has three children: Belinda, Crispin and Bartholomew. Clive and Ann divorced in 1985.[16] In 2010 Sinclair married Angie Bowness, who also has an only son called Marcus Thornton. Despite his involvement in computing, he does not use the Internet, stating that he does not like to have "technical or mechanical things around me" as it distracts from the process of invention.[17][18]

Sinclair has become a poker player. He appeared in the first three seasons of the Late Night Poker television series in Britain. He won the first season final of the Celebrity Poker Club spin-off, defeating Keith Allen.

Sinclair is a member of British Mensa, and was Chairman for 17 years from 1980 to 1997.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Garfield, Simon (2010-02-28). "Sir Clive Sinclair: "I don't use a computer at all"". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 2011-05-23. ""I don't use a computer at all. The company does." [...] "Well I find email annoying. I'd much prefer someone would telephone me if they want to communicate." 
  2. ^ a b Dale 1985, pg.1
  3. ^ a b Dale 1985, pg.2
  4. ^ a b Dale 1985, pg.3
  5. ^ Dale 1985, pg.4
  6. ^ a b Dale 1985, pg.6, 7
  7. ^ Dale 1985, pg.11
  8. ^ Dale 1985, pg.12
  9. ^ "Vintage Semiconductors Ltd transistors". Mister Transistor's Historic Semiconductors. 2010. Retrieved 5 May 2011. 
  10. ^ Dale 1985, pg.13
  11. ^ a b c "Sinclair: a Corporate History". Planet Sinclair. Retrieved 2008-04-30. 
  12. ^ a b Goodenough, Jan (March 2000). "Biography of Sir Clive Sinclair". British Mensa. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  13. ^ Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian (13 November 2010). "Whose bright idea was that?". London. Retrieved 2010-11-13. 
  14. ^ "Sinclair Research X-1". Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  15. ^ "Sinclair X-1 Official Web Site". Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  16. ^ Natalie Clarke (2009-06-29). "''Daily Mail'' 29 June 2009". Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  17. ^ "Sinclair dreams of 'flying cars'". BBC News. 2008-06-30. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  18. ^ "Clive Sinclair on 'elegant' electric vehicles". BBC News. 2 July 2010. 


  • Adamson, Ian; Kennedy, Richard (1986). Sinclair and the "Sunrise" Technology. London: Penguin Books. 224 pp. ISBN 0-14-008774-5.
  • Dale, Rodney (1985). The Sinclair Story. London: Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-1901-2

External links

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