Brendan Dawes
The Art of Form and Code

Thank You Sinclair ZX81

On the 5th March 1981 a small home computer was released that, without exaggeration, changed my life. The Sinclair ZX81, retailing for £69.95 was the first affordable home computer and when I saw it advertised in this issue of Computer and Video Games — which I still have — I knew I had to have one.

zx81 ad
Ad for the ZX81 from my copy of Computer and Video Games dated November 1981, complete with tea stains and my pen wishfully marking the price up

On boxing day that year my Granddad — who himself owned a small electronics business — surprised me with this wonderful little machine. As soon as I got it I took it into the front room of my Granddad's house, plugged it into the TV and switched it on. There was no welcome screen, no GUI, just a flashing cursor inviting you to type something. I opened up the manual that came with it and began to learn how to write programs in BASIC. I typed things, made it run and things happened right there on screen. I thought it was completely magical.

Here was this tiny box, with its 1KB of RAM — which I would later upgrade with a 16K RAM pack — that let me make things. Yes by today's standards the graphics, if you could even call them that, were rubbish / non-existent, but non of that mattered. What mattered were the possibilities brought about by this humble starting point into the world of computing.

37 years later I'm lucky to be able to make a living tapping away on a computer, albeit a much more powerful one. The excitement I experienced back then in that front room in 1981, as those letters on that big hulking TV stared back at me, has never gone way.

Thank you Sir Clive — I owe you a lot.