10 PRINT “Thirty years ago today, Clive Sinclair showed off the ZX Spectrum at a computer show, and kick-started what was to become a very British decade of small, lightwight computers in the home for kids.”

 

20 PRINT “You couldn’t buy the computer though – it was just for show – and you had to order it by filling in a form and posting a cheque to the company. Sales were swift, and delays to deliveries generated as many headlines as the sales.”
 

30 PRINT “I never quite understood my dad complaining about the delays until Christmas morning, when I unwrapped what looked like a collection of silver toilet rolls.”
 

40 PRINT “Two other packages revealed my very own 16k model ZX Spectrum, and the infamous ZX Printer – a thermal printer that used the silver toilet rolls as printer paper.”
 

50 PRINT “I think my parents hoped I would become a programmer – but early days/months were spent laboriously copying computer code from the magazines that sprung up, or hooking the computer up to a cassette player and loading games from a C30 audio tape.”
 

60 PRINT “Like a lot of families, they bought it to help me with my homework.”
 

70 PRINT “A bizarre rumour at school built up that I could identify computer programmes simply by listening the whistles and tones coming from the cassette player. I have no idea how that started, and I didn’t do anything to dissuade people of it. Fortunately, I was never tested on it either.”
 

80 PRINT “It took a while for the programming geek to emerge, but it was triggered by a single book – the hilariously named Advanced Graphics with the ZX Spectrum.”
 

90 PRINT “This was a book of two halves – the second devoted to developing graphics for computer games. Sadly it lacked any explanation about how to write an exciting computer game, so it inspired pretty, but boring products.”
 

100 PRINT “However, the first half. Oh, that was good!”
 

110 PRINT “Devoted entirely to the raw mathematics of 3D modelling, it taught me more about complex maths than a decade of schooling had achieved – and to this day underpins my, at the time, impressive understanding of multi-dimensional arrays.”
 

120 PRINT “I was fiddling with code that could draw ever more complex 3D shapes on the screen, from cubes to dodecahedrons. All utterly useless as an end product, and the Spectrum needed an extra fan blowing on it to try and stop the poor thing from overheating.”
 

130 PRINT “Repeatedly told I was wasting my time on silly ideas – 3D computer modelling now underpins the vast computer films and games industry. Damn!”
 

140 PRINT “I never did work out what the strange VisiCalc software programme that came with the computer was for, nor did I ever work out how to use the flight simulator. But I could draw a free floating 3D cube.”
 

150 PRINT “Sadly, I matured too slowly as a person to take up programming as a career, and left computers behind for a decade until I worked at a shop where the boss was given a Psion 3A, which had its own programming language. My return to computing had begun.”
 

160 PRINT “I am not a hardend computer geek coding away any more, but there is no doubt that I would not have been able to write my first database application on that Psion handheld device had I not first used a ZX Spectrum.”
 

170 PRINT “That lead in a series of unplanned steps to where I am today – each time taking advantage of developments in websites and databases and putting them into use at different companies.”
 

180 PRINT “Without the ZX Spectrum giving me the early experience of computing and making it easier to re-enter the field when I was mature enough to exploit it properly, I just might still be working in a retail store or a call centre.”
 

190 PRINT “For that, I am truly grateful.”
 

200 PRINT “I still own that programming book, and the ZX Spectrum, but not the printer.”
 

© 1982 Sinclair Research Ltd


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11 Comments

  1. Sandra Lawson

    I remember buying a ZX Spectrum+ for my kids, and playing with it myself. I seem to recall that you had to connect it to a cassette player to load the tapes and the whole process took an eternity. I came across one in a cabinet in an exhibition at the London Transport Museum last year. I photographed it on my phone, but have now deleted it.

  2. my first computer was a zx spectrum +2A – the one with the built in tape drive! i still have the manual, and it has ‘pong’ in it! I also remember ‘speccy’ magazine, and the free tapes you got with it :D

  3. This, too, was my first computer. I had no idea why I wanted it or what I was going to do with it, but the idea of doing ‘stuff’ just appealed. I wonder how many hours/days/weeks I wasted copying those barely legible programmes from magazines. I never got any to work before my mum did the hoovering (unplug).

  4. Jonathan Allen

    Spectrum, ah, you youngster. I started with a ZX 81.
    been in IT ever since!

    • IanVisits

      Technically, I also started with the ZX81 – but it belonged to the school so wasn’t what I call “my” first computer.

      I also had no idea what I was doing with it.

  5. @noynek

    Excellent piece Ian. I too started out with my trusty Spectrum 48k. Took it to computer club. Spent hours copying code from the magazines. At the time I was at tech college doing OND in engineering. For final years project made a simple robot that was driven by the spectrum using a relay box attached to the big PCB strip in the back. Still got the computer and power pack and cables and the final year project report. Happy days.

  6. Of course, ’10 PRINT “XXX”‘ is the only BASIC command anybody can remember these days…

    I can’t help but notice that your parents hoped you would become a programmer. Nowadays, the limit of anybody’s ambition when buying a computer for themselves or their offspring is to run Microsoft Word on it, and as a result, today’s UK computer industry is almost entirely staffed by people who grew up in the 1980s when programming was encouraged. Progress, eh?

  7. ColinB

    Remember the days of ZX81, Spectrum etc all too well. only issue I had with the Spectrum was it over heated, hence the fan as mentioned. My first one failed, left it on over night and the keyboard melted. shop exchanged it for me, which was nice. The memory module that plugged into it had to have a bit of card under it else it didn’t make contact or fell out. Still it led me into a career in IT and never looked back. Well until the Raspberry PI, back to 8/16 bit computing?

  8. www.itrentals.com

    I’m surprised you were able to match up the font, from memory yours is a pretty close match. Is it actually the original font?

  9. Oh, the memories…. Spectrum Elite until 3 am with school the next day.
    I remember spending days coding a green man that jumped when you hit Enter… Fun times!

    I think it’s a shame my son is a little too young to use the Raspberry PI as I would love to teach him some code :)

  10. I was 13 years old and my Mum bought me a 48k Spectrum for Christmas. She thought it would give me a head start because “computers were going to control the world”. We were the first class in our school to do computer studies on BBC Micros. They sent a maths teacher on a course so he could teach it but we ran rings around him every lesson. I wrote programmes for four other people’s O-level projects.
    I recently bought a Raspberry Pi and got that same excited feeling I had as a school boy. This prompted me to go into the loft and blow the dust off the Spectrum. I have done a composite video modification and replaced the cassette recorder with a CF card and DivIDE interface.
    There is a thriving Spectrum community on the web and even a few software houses still producing titles for it.
    I will put some pictures of the composite modification and keyboard membrane replacement on my own blog soon.

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