HOW THE ZX SPECTRUM NEARLY WASN'T!
Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?Of course you’re not. Why, that’d be crazy talk.But what if you proposed that the ZX Spectrum was the result of a botched enterprise? We love you, Clive, and we owe our youths to you (that’s our chi...
Posted by boyo on May 15, 2011 18:17 (May 15, 2011 18:17)
Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?
Of course you’re not. Why, that’d be crazy talk.
But what if you proposed that the ZX Spectrum was the result of a botched enterprise? We love you, Clive, and we owe our youths to you (that’s our childhood, not our offspring, you understand Sir), but the truth is out about Sinclair’s near fatal dabble into the wristwatch market.
Ten years before the C5, there was the Black Watch. In 1976 the government stepped in to save Sinclair Radionics (Mr Sir Sinclair’s company previous to Sinclair Research) after its first deliciously unsuccessful endeavour.
The Black Watch was a five digit LED display digital watch. Like all LED display watches, the idea was, from a technical standpoint, a load of old arse. Powering up the Light Emitting Diodes (I thank you) made for a tragically short battery life of only ten minutes, so the display remained blank until a button press made the time shine bright.
The Black Watch was adorned with two massive buttons right there on the face, one that brought on hours and minutes and one that lit up minutes and seconds. The seconds display was especially useful to see how long the battery had left (just kidding).
For a mere £17.95, punters could have themselves a kit form of the watch that was easily assembled by your average electronics genius with access to a NASA robotics laboratory. For £24.95, however, you could have the parts knackered and binned right there at the factory and save yourself the migraine.
I was born in 1975, so if I ever wore any Draylon clothes I either don’t remember, or the static from the material caused partial memory loss. The Black Watch was equally susceptible to the massive amounts of 1970s static, meaning many units never even escaped from the factory. Anyway, I was born in 1975, so if I ever wore any Draylon clothes I either don’t remember, or the static from the material caused... what was I saying?
Any watches that actually made it onto a wrist easily had their overly sensitive chip fried by a nylon shirt (or vacuum cleaners, air conditioners, carpets or nothing at all). This stopped the multiplexing of the display (a process whereby only one segment of a display is turned on at any one time, but so quickly it looks like the whole thing is lit) so one digit burned brightly until the battery quickly overheated and exploded on your wrist.
Anyone lucky enough to successfully assemble a Black Watch was then faced with the constant struggle of adjusting the quartz trimmer to get the thing keeping correct time.
This was kind of a cruel practical joke, as the timing circuitry was so susceptible to temperature variations the watch ran at different speeds in winter and summer!
The plastic Sir ZX Sinclair used for the watch’s casing (into which he poured his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life) was impervious to all types of glue. This meant clipping the case together, and of course, the clips didn’t work. The problem was given to an outside contractor to solve, who - legend has it - ultimately sent Clive a box with a note saying;
“We’ve solved the problem of the Black Watch!” Inside was a watch with a bolt through the middle.
The Black Watch wound up (pun-tastic!) leaving the company destitute, losing £355,000 of a £5.6m turn over, at which point the National Enterprise Board stepped in.
The Iron Lady's rule (of which Sir was an ardent supporter) would soon abolish the NEB, and even though it had saved his bacon, it seems their intervention - in the form of subsidies and direct management - had been unwelcome. Mr Sir-inclair soon took his hook from Radionics with a tasty £10,000 'so long, and thanks for all the fist'.
The fires of Sinclair Research were born from the Radionics ashes, and strategies were soon turned toward affordable home computing, and success.
Even then, on the eve of triumph, Sinclair Research's venture into computers can be traced not to Sir Clair Sinclive, but his ex-partner and future arch rival Chris Curry, founder of Acorn Computers.
But that... is another story.
Actually it isn't, but I'm off to play Target Renegade now.