Rick Dickinson, ZX Spectrum designer, RIP

Liam Proven lproven at gmail.com
Thu Apr 26 07:47:29 CDT 2018

A lengthy interview with the later great Rick Dickinson, product designer
of basically every Sinclair computer, who sadly died of cancer on Tuesday.


He not only did the ZX 80, ZX 81, ZX Spectrum and the QL, but also the Z88,
the Spectrum Next and others -- along with a lot of other stuff.

I know this is a rather USA-centric list, so probably most of you started
off with things like the Apple II, the first sub-$1000 home computer. But
in Britain and Europe back then, we were a lot poorer, and $1000 was an
impossibly large amount of money -- many months of pay in a good job.

I think in my early home-computer days, I never saw a single Apple II --
they were exotic, expensive foreign machines. I have only seen them in
recent years, as collectible antiques.

In the UK, the revolution was the first sub-£100 home computer, the ZX 81.

I first used a Commodore PET. Later, a few of my richer friends had
Commodore 64s. The super-wealthy might have a BBC Micro. In either case, a
working setup with mass storage -- floppy drives -- was nearing £1000.
Nobody owned a _monitor_ -- they were exotica for professionals.

Whereas a Spectrum with a Microdrive was a quarter of that and a highly
usable system, with tens of thousands of games, plus mutiple programming
languages, word processors, databases and more.

I think if you ask virtually any British person in their late 30s, 40s or
50s, in anything connected with IT, what their first computer was, the
answer would be a ZX 81 or a ZX Spectrum. It was the single range of
machines that drove the entire computer revolution over here, and also in
the form of a myriad clones in the Communist Bloc.

Later, imitators came along -- the Oric (6502) and Dragon (6809) ranges,
for instance. And of course there were many machines that aspired to be
better: Memotech. Camputers Lynx, Elan Enterprise, etc. All flopped to some

The only thing that displaced Sinclair was Amstrad, who made more expensive
computers but with much better specifications -- an integrated tape drive,
or floppies, even a printer, and a real monitor. They cost more but still
less than Commodore or Acorn: you got a lot for your money. Amstrad
eventually bought Sinclair's models and name, and later still, it launched
the first _cheap_ PC clones and kick-started the IBM-compatible industry
over here. But it did it standing on Sinclair's shoulders.

Part of the joy of Sinclair machines (like Apple and Commodore) was their
very distinctive look -- black, slablike, with tiny discrete bits of
colour, unlike the grey or beige boxes of virtually all the competition.

And that was down to Rick Dickinson, who only discovered years later how he
had inspired whole generations of people.

Liam Proven • Profile: https://about.me/liamproven
Email: lproven at cix.co.uk • Google Mail/Hangouts/Plus: lproven at gmail.com
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