Sir Clive Marles Sinclair (born July 30, 1940) is a well-known British entrepreneur and inventor of the world's first 'slim-line' electronic pocket calculator in 1972 (Sinclair Executive) and the ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, amongst many other things. The ZX80 was the UK's first mass market home computer to be sold for under £100. Sinclair has been fascinated by electronics and miniaturization since his teenage years. In 1961 he founded Sinclair Radionics Ltd after spending several years as assistant editor for Practical Wireless and Instrument Practice to raise funds.
In recent years Sinclair has become a keen poker player. He appeared in the first three seasons of the Late Night Poker television series. He won the first season final of the Celebrity Poker Club spin-off, defeating Keith Allen. His most recent invention is the A-bike, a folding bicycle aimed towards commuters that weighs and folds to a very small size for easier carrying on public transport.
Clive Sinclair was born in 1940 near Richmond, London. 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 after, bringing the news that their home in Richmond had been bombed. Clive's father, Bill Sinclair, found a house in Bracknell in Berkshire. Sinclair's brother Ian was born in 1943 and his sister Fiona in 1947.
Clive enjoyed the freedom of the holidays and had interests in swimming and boating. At an early age he designed a submarine, possibly being influenced by his grandfather George. During the holidays he could pursue his own ideas and teach himself what he wanted to know. Sinclair had little interest in sports and found himself out of place with others at school. He preferred the company of adults, this type of companionship he only got from his family.
Sinclair attended Box Grove preparatory school. At school, he excelled in mathematics. By the time Clive was ten, his father Bill Sinclair had financial problems. He had branched out from machine tools and planned to import miniature tractors from the US; however, he eventually had to give up the business. Because of his father's financial 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.
During his early years, Sinclair earned money mowing lawns and washing up, and earned 6d (old pence) more than permanent staff in the cafe. Later he went for holiday jobs at electronic companies. At Solatron he started to enquire his mentors about the possibility of electrically propelled personal vehicles. Sinclair applied for a holiday job at Mullard and took along one of his circuit designs; he was rejected for the theoretical precociousness. While still at school he wrote his first article for Practical Wireless.
Sinclair did not want to go to university when he left school just before his 18th birthday. By this time, he knew that he wanted to sell miniature electronic kits by mail order to the hobbyist market.
Sinclair's Micro Kit was formalised in an exercise book dated 19 June 1958 three weeks before the start of his A-levels. In the book, Sinclair drew a radio circuit, Model Mark I, with a components list, cost/set 9:11d (49½p) + coloured wire & solder nuts & bolts + celluloid chassis (drilled) = 9/- (45p). Also in the book are the advertisement rates for Radio Constructor (9d (3¾p)/word, minimum 6/- (30p)) and Practical Wireless (5/6 (27½p) per line or part line).
Sinclair estimated to produce at the rate of 1,000 a month, orders placed with the companies supplying the components for 10,000 of each to be delivered at a call off rate of 1,000 per month.
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 first published in June 1959; and reprinted seven times over a period of 14 years. The last book Sinclair wrote as an employee of Bernard's was Modern Transistor Circuits for Beginners, first published in May 1962. During the period he was employed by Bernard Babani, he had produced 13 constructors' books.
Sinclair decided to start his own business. In 1961 he registered his company as Sinclair Radionics Ltd. His original choice, Sinclair Electronics, was already taken; Sinclair Radio was available but didn't sound right to Sinclair. Eventually Sinclair Radionics was formed on 25 July 1961.
Sinclair made two attempts to raise the startup capital necessary 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 spent some time seeking a backer for its production in kit form. Eventually he found someone who agreed to buy 55% of his company for £3,000; however, the deal didn't go through.
Sinclair, unable to find capital, joined United Trade Press (UTP), based at 9 Gough Square, just off Fleet Street, as technical editor of the journal Instrument Practice. Sinclair's name first appeared in Instrument Practice as an assistant editor in March 1962. Sinclair described the method of making silicon planar transistors, their properties and applications and expressed a hope that they might be available by the end of 1962. Sinclair was obsessed with miniaturization, as became more and 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.
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 and ordered rejects that he would repair. He produced a design for a miniature radio powered by a couple of hearing aid cells and made a deal with Semiconductors Ltd to buy their micro-alloy transistors at 6d (2½p) each in boxes of 10,000. He would then carry out his own quality control tests, and market his renamed MAT 100 and 120 at 7/9d (38¾p) and 101 and 121 at 8/6d (42½p).
Sinclair Radionics lasted until 1979, with various products and company spin-offs. Beginning with a mini-amplifier, the company quickly earned a name for design, quality and pioneering ideas. The overall vision was to produce in bulk and to sell cheaply. This risky but potentially profitable 'stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap' approach has made fortunes before, but carries with it the risk of bankruptcy. In the early days one strategy essential to this policy for Sinclair Radionics was production in kit form.
As part of an exit strategy from Sinclair Radionics, 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.
In June 1978 Science of Cambridge launched a microcomputer kit, marketed as the MK14, based around the National SC/MP chip. By July 1978, a personal computer project was already underway. When Sinclair learnt that the NewBrain could not be sold at below the sub-£100 price that he envisaged, his thoughts turned to producing a much 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.
In March 1981, Sinclair Computers was renamed again to 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 US under the name Timex Sinclair. In April the ZX Spectrum was launched, priced at £125 for the 16 kB RAM version and £175 for the 48 kB version. In March 1982 the company made an £8.55m profit on turnover of £27.17m, including £383,000 government grants for the TV80 flat screen portable television.
In 1982 Clive Sinclair converted the Barker & Wadsworth mineral water bottling factory at 25 Willis Road, Cambridge into the company's new headquarters. (This was sold to Cambridgeshire County Council in December 1985 due to Sinclair's financial troubles.) The following year, he received his knighthood and formed Sinclair Vehicles Ltd., in order to develop electric vehicles. This resulted in the 1985 launch of the Sinclair C5.
In 1984, Sinclair launched the Sinclair QL computer, intended for professional and business users. Development of the ZX Spectrum continued with the release of the enhanced ZX Spectrum 128 in 1985.
In April 1986, Sinclair Research sold the Sinclair trademark and computer business to Amstrad for five million pounds. Sinclair Research Ltd. was reduced to an R&D business and holding company, with shareholdings in several new "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, and its activities have since concentrated on personal transport, developing products such as the Zike electric bicycle, Zeta bicycle motor and, most recently, the A-bike folding bicycle.
Despite his historic involvement in computing, he does not use the Internet.
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