Happy Birthday, Dear Spectrum

I’m slightly behind the curve here, because Sir Clive’s masterpiece, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, turned 35 years old yesterday. This is, of course, an occasion worth marking, even a day late, so mark it I will do: with my Top Ten Spectrum memories. This won’t represent the best of what Ol’ Rubber Keys was capable of, just a few things that stand out in my memory from back in the day. So, in no particular order:

1. Cookie. The first game I played on my own Spectrum was Chequered Flag, but as has been noted elsewhere in these pages, some of my friends had Spectrums long before I became one of the cool kids, and one of the first games I played on their machines was Cookie. Along with JetPac and Pssst!, Cookie was a simple but playable little game created by Ultimate Play the Game, which had you as Charlie the Cook, putting ingredients into a mixing bowl by throwing bags of flour at them, and in the same way putting various bits of very unhygienic rubbish into the nearby bins (which occasionally woke up Definitely-Not-Oscar-the-Grouch).

2. Jet Set Willy. Another of the games I played on my friends Speccies first, and almost certainly the one that got me hooked, on both the game and the machine. See my earlier ramblings dedicated to Willy’s exploits.

3. The DKTronics Keyboard. Again, a thing one of my friends had, so an integral part of my coming to know and love the Spectrum – and I’ve since acquired one all of my own too. It lacks the quirky charm of both the rubber keyed classic and the later Spectrum+ keyboard, but undoubtedly earns a place in my list nonetheless.

4. Tasword Two. Yes, I’m a writer, so I feel kind of obliged to include the Sinclair word processor package in my list. And yes, I probably did use it as such at the time, but the reason it features here is because the 64 characters a line (where the Spectrum used 32 by default) just blew my mind at the time.

5. The Home Computer Club. In the ZX81 days I saved up my pennies and picked up games from the local shop every now and then; by the time I got my Spectrum, mail order had muscled in and for a while my regular purchases were from the Home Computer Club. They are responsible for introducing me to timeless classics like Penetrator, and the somewhat less memorable Terror-Dactyl 4D.

6. Sausageman. Of course, you’ve never heard of Sausageman; he is possibly the greatest Spectrum hero never to get a game, or indeed exist in any real form. You see, the Home Computer Club also introduced me to Arcade Creator, a wondrous piece of software that meant my creativity could advance beyond experiments in BASIC barely credible enough for Cassette 50, and I could bring my ideas to the screen properly, without having to learn any proper coding! Of course, they never quite worked out in practice as well as they did in my mind, and it may have been more productive to actually learn machine code, but here we are. Still, maybe one day I will sit down and see what files remain of that would-be Spectrum classic. Maybe one day Sausageman will live again.

7. The mags. It was always Crash for me – the Oli Frey covers sold them from the first time I had spare cash for a magazine, I think – until that terrible day when it was absorbed by (the then vastly inferior) Sinclair User. I think I bought one issue before switching allegiance to Your Sinclair, which struggled on until it was more pseudo-Viz humour than actual Sinclair content, but we Spec-chums didn’t care.

8. Dizzy. Who was introdued to me by those same magazines and their covertapes, and I won’t discuss in detail, as I did that just last week.

9. The Spectrum +2. OK, so this was created by the hands of Amstrad, but when I first got hold of one (second-hand) it was a revelation. No more remembering obscure key combinations to type in BASIC commands. Proper music on newer games. And of course the 128K memory meant less multiloads and bigger games. Obviously I hamfistedly punched the rewind button in on more than one occasion and ended up with a hideous Frankenspec with audio cables sprouting from the disabled Datacorder, but I’ve since remedied that with a case transplant.

10. Lemmings. It will always be an Amiga classic (and possibly a Pc and ST classic to those that way inclined) but actually my first exposure to the game was a demo of the Spectrum version on a Crash covertape. Yes, it’s monochrome, of course; and no, it doesn’t have the awesome soundtrack of the 16-bit versions, but it is a fully functioning version of the game, little floppy haired heroes and all, playable in 48K. Nearly ten years old, the Spectrum was enjoying its last hurrah, top games like this squeezing everything they could out of Sir Clive’s baby.


Have different Spectrum memories? That’s what the comments section is for!

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