Jim Westwood, home micro revolutionary
We salute Sinclair's chief geek
Unsung Heroes of Tech We all know Sir Clive Sinclair, the sometimes eccentric British boffin whose early simple, cheap and often kit-assembled devices helped usher in the UK's home computer revolution.
You may also have seen the irreverent 2009 BBC drama Micro Men, which chronicled Sir Clive's failed battle with his own ex-employee and Acorn co-founder Chris Curry to secure the contract for the influential BBC Microcomputer.
Micro Men: (L-R) Nigel Searle (Derek Riddell), Clive Sinclair (Alexander Armstrong) and
Jim Westwood (Colin Michael Carmichael). Source: BBC/Darlow Smithson Productions
If you saw that film, you saw Jim Westwood. Not one, but two of him: the character played by actor Colin Michael Carmichael, and the real Jim Westwood, appearing as an extra retiring behind a newspaper in WHSmith's as Martin Freeman, playing Chris Curry, enquires about games for the BBC Micro.
The newspaper is typical Jim Westwood. He likes to stay well out of the limelight. Always shy of publicity, he was the engineer tasked with making many of Sinclair's wilder dreams come true though much of the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, Clive saw pricing as the secret of market success, and the budget restriction was a challenge Westwood particularly enjoyed. Like Apple's Steve Wozniak, Westwood delighted in twisting the existing features of a low-cost component to unexpected new capabilities.
Will the real Jim Westwood step forward? JW in a cameo appearance in Micro Men alongside
Martin Freeman as Chris Curry. Source: BBC/Darlow Smithson Productions
In 1983, Westwood told an interviewer from Sinclair User magazine: "It's a challenge managing to achieve something without using expensive components and I like that challenge."
A favorite among his early designs, was the ZX80, the first home computer sold anywhere in the world for less than £100. "It was a real breakthrough in the use of cheap components," says Westwood. "It's something which ought to be in the Ark by now but I am still proud of it."
The kit that kick-started the home computer revolution in Blighty: Jim Westwood's ZX80
Although the ZX80 and its successors, the ZX81 and the Spectrum are what Sinclair is mostly remembered for today, computers were almost a sideline. His first ideas had centered around hi-fi and wireless products. His grandly named first company, Sinclair Radionics, had grown up as a one-man electronic component vendor, bulk-buying Plessey transistors that had failed quality control tests, which Sinclair then assayed himself and re-rated.
Next page: Jim Westwood, meet Clive Sinclair
people like this we should be celebrating, not bloody Steve "I'm a good salesman" Jobs
Another unsung hero
Could we please, please, please have a similar article on Sophie Wilson ?
people like this we should be celebrating, not bloody
Sir Alan "Barrow Boy" Sugar.
I own a Z88 that was used in 1991 to file reports on the attempted coup against Gorbachev.
Indeed we should celebrate Westwood instead of Sugar. I often wish people would remember that Sugar's talent was employing bloody good engineers, namely Roland Perry, and Cliff Lawson, as well as people like Richard Clayton at Locomotive.
Like Westwood it was these guys who sat in the background doing the hard work that made their bosses very rich indeed.
So Jim Westwood we salute you, and all the other guys who sat in the background doing all the hard work that gave us so many wonderful computers and electronics. I may now carry around a iPhone, tablet and a laptop but computing just isn't as fun anymore.