It was nearly two years later that the man who could have been Watkins's replacement, Roland Perry, approached Sugar with a project to build a world-beating microcomputer, and Alan was deeply sceptical. Perry wasn't Watkins, and Watkins had just spent more than 18 months getting absolutely nowhere with a design based on the same chip that was inside the Commodore Pet and the Tandy TRS-80 - a long forgotten chip called the Z80.
I got a call from Perry. "You may remember me from the Sintrom shop I set up in Reading, selling microcomputer parts? Well, I'm now running a consultancy, and I've built a new computer and Alan Sugar wants to know if it's any good."
Perry's proposition was very simple: "Would you come and see the prototype and write a review of it as if you were doing it for Personal Computer World?" - and he offered to pay me exactly what PCW would. In my innocence, I accepted a consulting job for which I could legitimately have charged a great deal more, but for journalism rates (trust me, not princely).
These were the days of Clive Sinclair's ZX Spectrum. Like the Spectrum, Perry's machine (called the CPC 464) was a games-playing Z80 based machine theoretically capable of running CP/M but with a built-in tape player, and - the mug's eyeful - a proper monitor, not a TV-out socket. It came with Locomotive Basic for writing your own software, and several people wrote games for it, based on existing Spectrum software. I wrote a thousand word report saying "nice, standard bit of kit, brilliant feature of a proper monitor and built-in tape!" and was summoned to Tottenham, where Amstrad was based at the time.
Alan and I seemed to get on pretty much straight away. I was immediately struck by his directness. He had questions to which he wanted exact answers. No guesswork. If I didn't know exactly how long, how many, how much, and how heavy, he had a phone which I could use to call someone and find out. Now.
The similarity to Felix Dennis was disconcerting. Both had a similar way of staring right into your face, watching for betraying flinches that might reveal uncertainty. Both were curly-haired and bearded - business hippies, as we used to say. And both were uncanny in their ability to focus on exactly the issues that were unclear - and both expected you to be the same.
A year or so after my first encounter with Sugar, I received a call: "Do you want to do another project, like the last one?"
By this time, Sugar had won the title of "young businessman of the year" and had set up Amstrad in its Brentwood offices, hiring Roland Perry as his chief digital techie.
Perry and Sugar had gone on to co-operate in a truly remarkable design, a word processor which could work as a business computer - the PCW8256. It was an astonishingly efficient design, including a non-standard diskette drive from Hitachi, and it was built almost entirely around Sugar's perception of the critical price point of the typical Barclaycard spending limit of £500. Any features which took it outside the reach of a Barclaycard holder - out.
But this time round, we worked on Amstrad's new PC 1512 and PC 1640 machines - same trick of building the PC around a proper video monitor with the power supply built in, same low price. It was a controversial success (pundits said it needed a cooling fan, Perry said it didn't and was proved right) and propelled Sugar into the spotlight which, in those days, surrounded anybody who was operating in the shadows of IBM.
Blah blah blah...
A dinosaur gushing about another dinosaur. I thought this site was about what's going on now rather than being an archive of anecdotes from ancient history. Maybe we can have an informative article about how Alan Turing was a really nice chap by some old hasbeen claiming to be be a good friend of his.
Seriously, can the staff at El Reg not find anyone to write articles other than their dads?
Geeking isn't just for computers
Alan Sugar started his business selling from the back of a Mini Van.
I notice no-one mentions how Sugar used the Elan/Enterprise's pre-launch publicity to infliuence the colour scheme of the 464 and benefit from the delays that the technically superior Enterprise suffered ;)
What a great article! I never realised his price points were based around credit card limits! Pure genius! Just a little thing so tiny and insignificant, exploited by a real pro!
I was basically raised an Amstrad junkie! We had an Amstrad Car stereo in our old VW van, the second home computer was an Amstrad 464 ( first was a Dragon 32! ), the third was a CPC6128 then the first PC we ever owned was, yep, Amstrad 1640 ECD (EGA)! I even convinced five of my schoolmates to get 464's so we could "trade" games and copy them on, yep, one of my mates had a double-deck Amstrad Hi-Fi unit! We beat the life out of it everyday for 3 years!!! If it wasn't for Mr Sugar I wouldn't have a good job in IT. He made it possible for average hardworking Joes, like my old man, to afford to the technology they knew would set their kids on the road to jobs in the new wonderful world of computers!
Thanks Alan for everything! Now how about getting Murdoch to re-release an updated 464 or Speccy?