The Speccy turns 30!

Happy birthday to what must be Sir Clives’ greatest invention, the ZX Spectrum. Originally rubber-keyed and with 16K of memory (I’ve written longer blog posts!), the Speccy went on to be one of the largest selling computers during the 1980s, and to a lesser extent, the 1990s.

But, you already knew that, and as Glen suggested on Farcebook, I should write a bog about it. I’ll base it around my own memory, and quite an extensive one at that.

I remember Daddykins coming in from work with a huge box under his arm. It was meant to be for my upcoming 5th birthday, but seeing as I’d already seen it, I was given it early. Imagine my excitement. I was fascinated by Ceefax (RIP) at such an early age, and to be able to have my very own computer at that age was a dream come true. It was probably this, that made my parents get me the computer. I’d received it with a load of “educational” games such as ‘Learn to Read III’, “Alphabet Games”, “Magnets”, “Make a Chip” and a number of other games. I could probably name them all, but I’d be here all day, and I’m going to the pub in a few hours, that’s not going to happen.

The first game that was bought for it, came on the same night we’d received it. It was a simple, turn based strategy game called “Viking Raiders“. Daddykins had picked it up from the local newsagents. Imagine that, buying a game the same time you buy a paper…

I’m amazed at such an early age, how much I taught myself about programming, entirely subconsciously. There’d be many times I’d press the Break key and alter games to make them easier. One of these was the afore-mentioned “Alphabet Games”. If you altered one of the lines which contained the graphics of the mouse character and placed it with a load of nonsensical gibberish, you could score a whole load of points more than what you were supposed to. This game also became the first time I had ever experienced tape-tangle. Cassette tapes were never the sturdiest of media, and obviously I know that now, but the noises it made when it went funny, and the sight of loose tape everywhere scarred me for a good few months. I remember having to get Daddykins to load my tapes because I was scared I’d break it again. I’m happy to report that the game still worked, and I’d like to know if it still works, except I have no idea where my tapes are.

Next up on the “games bought” list was a compilation… “They Sold a Million“, with Sabre Wulf, Beach HEad, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon and Jet Set Willy. Each of them classic games in their own right. Only two of the games worked properly. Beach Head suffered from bad mastering which meant the Speccy rarely picked up the signal on the tape, and Sabre Wulf suffered some tape damage, though this was several years into owning it. One of my last Speccy memories involve actually fixing the tape and getting it to play only once.

Of course, it wasn’t long after owning the machine that Daddykins started getting interested in it too. He would often spend a night or so using it to type in program listings from magazines. He also knew friends with Spectrums, and lots of games, therefore our collection of C15s was started.

The permanent home was in the kitchen. It started off on a little white B+W TV, (you know the type if you were a child of the 80s), eventually, the TV was upgraded to a portable colour Saisho variant. This was where I spent many happy days during my childhood…


Of course, my time with the spectrum was not all fun and games. At some point, during 1987 / 1988, I’d discovered the brilliant colour effects you could get if you pulled the joystick port out of the back while the system was on. I wanted to show this to one of my friends at the time, William. He came over, and I said “Watch this!”.. On went the system, out went the joystick port, flash went the funky colours. He seemed stunningly unimpressed, yet I enjoyed the light show. I’d do what I did many times, and unplug the Speccy to reset it. I did this, and…. garbage. Instead of getting the familiar RAM test (black bars, red lines), all I got was yellow garbage on the screen… another power cycle, another set of garbage. I could have cried. In fact I probably did. I was good at crying back then, as Chad often points out on here.

What was I going to do without my beloved computer? Thankfully, Chad’s parents step in and offer my parents their old Commodore 16 while my Speccy was away for repair. Around the same time, Chad also received a Spectrum 128K. It was the superior version of the 48K I had, but with an extra toast rack on the side. I’ve always wanted to own one of those particular machines, but as they were as rare as rocking horse shite (his was the only one I ever saw “in the flesh” for want of a better phrase) I suppose I never will. This meant that the rest of my childhood were spent playing Soccer Boss with his brother, Scott, and receiving dodgy C90s filled with the latest games which I’d never be able to afford, and being mocked by Chad because the cassette tapes I used stunk of cheese. No, they really did.

So, it’s 2012, 30 years ago today, people would have been queuing up to get their hands on Mr. Sinclair’s rubbery offerings. 30 years on, I’m proud to still be a Speccy owner, and although I don’t use my Spectrum anymore, I still have it, and will never part with it. Unfortunately, too many Spectrums will have met the same fate as this one…


Here’s to you, Clive Sinclair, and of course Daddykins, who also shares his birthday with the machine. Happy birthday Dad!

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5 thoughts on “The Speccy turns 30!”

  1. That post had me in stitches! What a blast from the past!

    I remember playing “Rambo” on some machine constantly while drinking weird mixtures of pop.

    Your cheesy tapes! Fucking hell, I’m gonna be giggling to myself during my next class thinking of that!

    Glad you are back mate!

  2. That post was so good I had to read it again and comment too. That photo of you is a classic. You’ve filled out a bit since those days, ha ha.

    I think I went from C16 to 128 to Sega Master system (?) to Super Nintendo. I remember playing “Link/Zelda” after my GCSEs constantly- through the night sometimes and several days on end. One reason I am reluctant to buy a wii or whatever now, already spending way too much time in front of iPhone, PC, TV screens as it is.

    All of us sat around that table in the “playroom” (ha ha, I always considered my family not so well off, but a room for playing in ffs) hoping the game wouldn’t crash as it loaded. Brilliant. You’ll have to do more of these posts to trigger dormant memories for me.

  3. I loved the Speccy. We went through the 16, 48 & 128k versions. No idea why, I probably broke them I suppose. I certainly remember going through josticks and kempston adapters like fucking wildfire. My uncle ended up making me a joystick out of wood in the hope i wouldn’t rip it to death with my teeth after getting smashed on Airwolf or Yie Ar Kung Fu. I doubt it lasted the week.

    I can vividly remember trying to load Way Of The Exploding Fist. Sat on my chair, feet off the floor, holding my breath as much as I could, sat still like carved out of stone knowing full well that the slightest breath or movement of the chair would instantly crash the bastard.

    Interesting fact about Rambo on the Spectrum, if you sat on the left hand side of the keyboard (on the menu screen I think), you got infinite lives. Sheer genius.

  4. Andy: Firstly, I must commend you (and everyone else so far) on realising I wouldn’t actually give up the blog, and have continued to read after my departure, whether it’s by RSS feed, or whatever.

    Anyway, Speccies. Oddly, I never had that eating-joystick problem, I was literally forced to use the keyboard. After the speccy-death mentioned in that posting, the repair (by Peak Computers) disabled the interface port. Once we got it back, I connected up the joystick and Kempston interface. I remember it didn’t work. The first game I tried was “Herbert’s Dummy Run” from a compilation tape Chad had loaned me, and it didn’t work.

    I’d tried a couple of other games, none of them registered the kempston input either. Never mind, I’d obviously popped the interface too. I’d grown accustomed to the cursor keyboard, and 0 to fire.

    Gregg (a name I’ve not mentioned on here for at least 10 years) loaned me an Interface II, with microdrive and carts, and that was the last time the Speccy came out of the… chest of drawers… I set it all up, and it didn’t work. Suddenly, I’d remembered the problem with the joystick port, put two and two together, and can only assume that my Speccy is disabled in some way. It boots, that’s all I care about.

    I gave Gregg the Interface II (IFII) back, as it was no use to me at the time, but for some reason, I still kept the microdrive, carts, and 16K ROM cart he’d given me. A couple of months passed, and I wanted to experiment. I asked if I could use the IFII. His response was devastating, he’d “thrown out” both his speccy and the IFII. Ugh, I felt physically sick.

    This photo ended up in a publication a few years ago, as an illustration on how digital storage has moved on.

  5. Yeah the kempston interfaces were made out of dust. The slightest knock and they were buggered.

    I always figured my anger biting thing was a bit weird, oh well. I blame the atari 2600 one button joysticks made out of chewable rubber. :D

    and holy crepe, Peak Computers! There’s a blast from the past. My mum ended up on first name terms with that guy.

    De nada on reading the blog, always fun to read and I want to make sure I’m there to see you go nuts buying CDs when you get a new job. ;)

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