London 2012 Goodie Bag: ZX Spectrum
Number four in my Thoroughly Good Goodie Bag for London 2012 to be given out to visitors to the Games this year is something from my own childhood: the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Not only an important milestone in the development of affordable home computers, but also a potent symbol of early British success in the field of IT.
This was affordable computing. And mainstream. Launched on April 23 1982, the device in all its forms is believed to have gone on to sell over 5 million worldwide.
I had one My parents bought it for me for Christmas 1982. Or was it my birthday that year? I can’t quite remember. It was – quite possibly – the best Christmas present ever. My favourite.
Every Sunday morning, I’d get the Spectrum, the power and RF cables out of the polystyrene box and connect everything up to the TV in the lounge. I’d commandeer my Dad to read out the computer program listings from the manual (and a few months later from the listings magazines I bought every month) and I’d type them in, line by line. If the resulting programme a) worked and b) was any good, I’d ‘save’ the code by recording it to tape. Thinking about the process now seems utterly alien to present day practises of saving to the cloud and moaning bitterly about our broadband or corporate IT providers.
As well as teaching the basics of coding – never underestimate how effective copying out lines and lines of code can be in gaining a rudimentary knowledge – the Spectrum also brought me pleasure. My favourite (just beating the brilliantly addictive Jet Set Willy – you can play it along with a whole host of other games on ZXSpectrum.net) was undoubtedly Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. I spent hours playing the game, hitting the computer’s low-impact spongy keyboard in a desperate attempt to make a miniscule Daley Thompson run across the screen in pursuit of gold at the decathlon.
At the time Thompson wasn’t just a record-breaking hero, Olympic gold medal winner but also a sports personality in his own right. No surprise computer games company Ocean were keen to use his name, no doubt exploiting the anticipated wave of fascination amongst kids and teenagers in the 1984 Olympics, the same year the game launched.
Peripheral devices I succumbed to included the ZX Spectrum Microdrive (I was entranced by the idea that I could store my programs much faster on a smaller tape which whirred round and round at considerably greater speed than my normal tape recorder, even though the device itself turned out to be pretty unreliable in the mid-term).
I also adored my thermal ZX printer. Quite the oddest and in some respects most useless piece of hard-copy you’re ever likely to want. And given that the print rubbed off in between your fingers, the printer’s output didn’t really have that much of a lifespan. Did Sinclair really think the printer was worth the money?
The mere sight of all of these devices (and the scan of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon) is enough to set my heart a-flutter nearly 30 years after I last played it.
The ZX Spectrum 48K place in my Thoroughly Good Goodie Bag for London 2012 is secured.