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Last updated
8 Jan 1998

The M K 14

Few now recall it, but the 1977 Microcomputer Kit 14 was Sinclair's first computer. Its sales were modest - about 50,000 - and its capabilities minimal, as it had a tiny memory, no tape storage and no VDU!

However, its importance was far greater than might otherwise seem the case, as it showed Sinclair and Chris Curry, soon to found Acorn, that the future lay in home computers. Without the M K14, there probably would never have been a ZX81, Spectrum, BBC Micro or Archimedes, and the British computer scene would have been very different.


(from Sinclair & the Sunrise Technology,
by Ian Adamson & Richard Kennedy)

While the events of the last chapter were gradually moving towards the day when the NEB-Sinclair partnership became so fraught as to be unworkable, in Cambridge activity was afoot that would provide Sinclair with a corporate base on which to build a new empire. Like many small businessmen, Sinclair had taken the precaution of acquiring an off-the-shelf company, Ablesdeal Ltd, which was set up in September 1973. The object of this exercise was simply to have the capacity to start trading without experiencing the delays of formal incorporation. The first signs that Ablesdeal had ceased to be a precaution and was beginning to be considered as a serious option was when in February 1975 its name was changed to Westminster Mail Order Ltd and then again, in August of the same year, to Sinclair Instruments. It was under this last name that the fledgling Sinclair company launched the first of a range of products that would come to include the world's bestselling line of microcomputers.

The introduction of cheap home computers into the UK is popularly regarded as the single most important product of Clive Sinclair's innovative vision. However, a careful examination of the facts surrounding the launch of the ZX80, the forerunner of the incredibly successful ZX81 and the monumentally successful ZX Spectrum, reveals an unsung hero of the microcomputer industry.

Today, Ian Williamson is a highly paid executive with Leyland in Coventry, but back in the summer of 1977 he was one of the many electronics undergraduates whose talents were promoted and marketed by Cambridge Consultants. At the time Williamson first crossed paths with Clive Sinclair, the young electronics engineer was exhibiting all the symptoms of a die-hard enthusiast. Although his work with CCL centred around the solution of the day-to-day problems presented by the company's clients, Williamson could hardly fail but be influenced by the entrepreneurial environment in which he worked. Since he was in daily contact with men such as Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry, it would have been difficult for someone of Williamson's talents to escape the conclusion that there was money to be made from the new technologies. Furthermore, like any electronics enthusiast of the day, Ian made it his business to keep abreast of developments in the States, and it was in the US hobbyist magazines that Williamson noted a market trend that so far remained unexploited in the UK. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the implications of this modest observation would transform the face of consumer electronics in this country for the best part of a decade.

In 1977, the US electronics magazines were beginning to promote the earliest type of home computer kits. These products were primarily directed at the electronics enthusiasts who were bored with the construction of hi-fl-related products and equipment that simply promoted an incestuous exploration of the hobby itself (multimeters, oscilloscopes, etc.). Although calculator and digital-watch kits initially offered a way around this impasse, Williamson suspected that computer kits held the promise of an entirely new market. The intellectual challenge of a new technical practice, especially one like computing, which came with a built-in mystique, would almost certainly prove irresistible to even the most laded obsessive.

Williamson had noted that garage entrepreneurs were importing US computer kits into Britain, but realized that relatively high prices ensured that the technology remained in the hands of institutions and the very well-heeled hobbyist. In 1977, simple kits offering an unknown quantity for around 200 were hardly likely to constitute an impulse buy. The young engineer decided that the key to transforming a specialist fetish into a product for the electronics enthusiast depended on whether or not anyone could bring the price of such kits to below the magic 100 mark.

In the early days of the home-computing industry, the progress of the technology took its lead from the world of hobbyist electronics. Developments and innovations tended to be passed on in a spirit of camaraderie from one enthusiast to another in an environment endearingly devoid of self-interest. It seems impossible to believe that such an era existed when one considers the atmosphere of rabid paranoia and obsessive secrecy that currently surrounds today's microcomputer industry. But such was the climate during the hacker's heyday and, consciously or not, the early pioneers of the industry tended to adhere to the US micro guru Denis Allison's manifesto, 'Let's stand on each other's shoulders, not on each other's toes...' This atmosphere of new-age idealism goes some way towards explaining why Ian Williamson took what, by today's standards, was the incredible step of delivering the fruits of his brainwave into the eager hands of Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry.

We should emphasize that Ian Williamson's project, although inspired, was hardly fuelled by a heartfelt desire to bring the wonders of technology to the masses. As we shall see, philanthropists were pretty thin on the ground in the Cambridge of the 1970s. In the summer of 1977, Williamson had already made up his mind to quit Cambridge Consultants Ltd, and had been offered a secure and lucrative post at Leyland Vehicles. In his spare time, he had developed the working design for a cheap microcomputer, or more accurately a microprocessor trainer, for which he saw a promising commercial future. The machine was created from an imaginative mutation of components found in a Sinclair calculator blended with a few others. However, for Williamson the project seemed like a case of bad timing, since the impending job with Leyland precluded the possibility of marketing the product himself. Williamson maintains that at the time the only way to make a success of a new-wave consumer electronics product was by setting up with one of the Cambridge cliques, impossible unless he decided to pass up his move to Coventry. In the event, he chose the safer of the two options and, given Sinclair Radionics' association with Cambridge Consultants and the origin of the prototype's components, it was natural that he should have taken his idea to Chris Curry and Clive Sinclair, as well as a couple of other Cambridge-based companies. Since everyone was aware that Radionics was sinking fast, it was also understandable that the veteran entrepreneurs should be approached by way of their new commercial identity, then known as Sinclair Instruments.

As we have seen, in the autumn of 1977 Sinclair was preoccupied with the battle between Radionics and the NEB, or rather between Clive and the short-sighted bureaucrats. Sinclair's endgame tactics included the formulation of corporate and commercial strategies that would ensure his personal survival after what by now he regarded as his inevitable departure. Certainly it was an open secret that Sinclair Instruments was to serve as a corporate 'lifeboat' for Sinclair and those loyal to his cause. Sinclair encouraged Chris Curry's departure from the corporate mire that was Sinclair Radionics shortly after the NEB took control, and from this point on his trusty henchman was able to devote his full attention to the development of the new enterprise. Thus, although he never officially resigned from Radionics, the termination of relations between Curry and the company presumably became clear to the NEB when he borrowed some money and rented offices for the new company in King's Parade, Cambridge. John Pemberton remembers the new company as 'a hobby for Clive. Clive was operating it and Chris Curry was dealing with the problems of it.' (Interview, 23 October 1985.)

It is important to remember that at this time one of the main bones of contention between Sinclair and his NEB partners centred around the latter's problems in marketing the Microvision. The miniature television, even in its early manifestations, can be regarded as one of a handful of products whose development and public acceptance were (and remained so until recently) critical to Sinclair's image of himself as an innovator, new-wave entrepreneur and hi-tech prophet. For Sinclair, the sole value of the shell that was Sinclair Instruments was as a money-spinner that would generate the R&D funding for the creation of the products that would confound his critics. In effect, Sinclair Instruments would continue the work of Radionics and its interim products were simply the means to a well-defined end. Avoiding the crippling burden of Radionics' debts and the galling position of being ultimately under the control of others was one reason why the new company became increasingly important for Sinclair. The other associated motivation for wanting to get Sinclair Instruments on the road is likely to have been the desire to get the first computer products that fell within the beloved consumer electronics ethos on to the market. Certainly the NEB-funded Radionics computer project was directed towards mainstream computing, of the Apple variety, rather than cut-price consumerism, although doubtless valuable to Sinclair in terms of the research and development knowledge it produced.

By the time Ian Williamson enters our story, Chris Curry had initiated the first Sinclair Instruments product, setting the company on its path towards a realization of Sinclair's vision. In retrospect, given the company's lofty aims, it's mildly depressing to record the form in which the new age was heralded. The beast in question was known as the Wrist Calculator and, when it appeared, boasted a design that could charitably be described as an eyesore in black plastic. To be fair to John Pemberton, the moonlighting Radionics designer who must take responsibility for the appearance of this unfortunate creation, the calculator was rushed out at top speed and was probably the best that could be done with the components at hand. Sinclair Instruments was set up as a last-ditch sanctuary for a desperate team whose futures depended on their ability rapidly to generate a healthy cash flow from meagre resources. A return to the earlier user base of the mail-order hobbyist product, based on the Radionics calculator design experience, was in order.

Curiously, in spite of its aesthetic and technical shortcomings, the infamous Wrist Calculator fulfilled its role admirably. Incredible though it might seem today (an incredulity that one suspects must have been experienced at the time by the calculator's creators), more than 10,000 kits were ordered by masochistic hobbyists from all parts of the globe. Contemporary reviews of the kit suggest that its construction demanded much the same dedication required for the solution of a Rubik's Cube. It was extraordinarily tricky to assemble and, once completed, there was only a fair to middling chance of it working. John Pemberton recalled that it was designed to 'minimal tolerances', which meant that only if you were lucky enough to get a set of parts all of which were at or below the mean size of the prototype's components could you get it to fit within the case. So, against the odds, Sinclair Instruments had kicked off to a profitable start. By way of celebration, in July 1977 the company name was changed yet again, this time to Science of Cambridge.

It seems unlikely that anyone would have derived much of a sense of security from the knowledge that his or her livelihood depended on the earning power of a dodgy calculator. If the company was to have a future, its dependents were going to have to come up with reliable and innovative products. And, if the Wrist Calculator is anything to go by, in the early days of Science of Cambridge good ideas were pretty thin on the ground. A partial explanation for this paucity of creative drive is that the Sinclair team had come to rely on Clive to mastermind the direct ion of product development. At this time, although Sinclair's heart may have been with the new venture, his working day was devoted to keeping track of events at Radionics as the company slipped from his control. Constantly on the defensive and increasingly forced to live with the consequences of other people's decisions (a situation he has repeatedly described as intolerable), Sinclair was hardly in any shape to fulfil his customary role as tireless innovator. Furthermore, a year of substantial state funding had encouraged him to think big when looking to the future, and the decidedly limited financial resources of Science of Cambridge would undoubtedly have cramped his creative style. In short, at a time when the new company desperately needed a breadwinning product, Sinclair's mind was still preoccupied with the dreams of the past and distracted by the corporate crises of a decidedly unpalatable present.

Away from the boardroom intrigues and Titanic spirit that marked Sinclair's final year at Radionics, Chris Curry was in a far better position to appraise the market and make the kind of decisions that would secure a viable future for Science of Cambridge. Thus, when Ian Williamson turned up on his doorstep with the idea of marketing a cut-price computer kit, Curry immediately saw a chance to jump ahead of the competition in the world of hobbyist electronics, while at the same time sticking with a market and a technology with which the company was familiar. Curry has always insisted that at the time Sinclair was totally uninterested in computers, and it was only his own commitment to the project that finally persuaded Clive to give Williamson the chance to put his theory into practice. As we saw in the last chapter, this seems unlikely, in the light of Sinclair's declared R & D objectives over at Radionics.

Whether Sinclair was behind the project or not, the fact of the matter is that soon after Williamson's demonstration of his initial creation, Curry was sufficiently impressed to provide the engineer with the necessary resources for the construction of a prototype suitable for production in terms of, surprisingly enough, defunct Radionics calculators. Williamson recalls:

You see, they wanted to do it on the cheap. They had a lot of redundant components from obsolete Oxfords and Cambridges [Radionics' calculator lines] and Curry wanted me to see if I could come up with the same sort of thing as my prototype using different components. (Telephone interview, 28 October 1985.)

Why it should be of any advantage to Science of Cambridge to use the same components that formed part of the defunct stock-in-trade of an entirely separate and state-owned company is not apparent. Perhaps Sinclair was going to bid for the crippled calculators from which recyclable parts could be extracted, in line with his old scavenger inclinations, or perhaps an unfortunate confusion had arisen concerning who was working on what, and for whom. Some light is perhaps shed on the state of affairs by Norman Hewett's comments when asked if Chris Curry had been engaged on Radionics work during his tenure:

While I was there, I occasionally had an emissary come up from the stores and places like that, saying Chris Curry is around again, at the stores, and wanted to take out so-and-so. I said, 'Who is this fellow?' and they'd say that he had worked for us. My response was, 'So what's he doing in our stores then? Tell him he's not welcome, and if he wants anything he must come to see me.' As far as I know, he certainly wasn't working for Sinclair Radionics Ltd, but whether he was quietly working with or for Clive and using Sinclair Radionics components I don't know. He wasn't in our stores for his health! Certainly Clive didn't give the impression that Curry was working for Sinclair Radionics - he had no comment about my chucking him out of the stores. (Interview, 16 October 1985.)

Component source and ownership aside, it's worth emphasizing that Williamson worked on the design of the kit in his own time, and that the computer was never intended as an item to be marketed by Cambridge Consultants. Indeed, as far as one can tell, Williamson's employers knew nothing of the project at the time; the idea was simply to make a little pin money out of the Cambridge scene before the move to Coventry. The engineer finally managed to cobble together a working prototype, and judging from its inventor's disarmingly modest description, it seems that the electronic equivalent of a silk purse somehow emerged from a heap of silicon junk whose equation to a sow's ear would constitute an insult to pigs: 'I made the original prototype based around a Sinclair Cambridge [calculator] that I bought in a shop somewhere.' (Telephone interview, 28 October 1985.)

As we have seen, Williamson set about his R & D with low cost as one of the central considerations determining his design, which was further constrained by the decision to limit the choice of components (other than the microprocessor chip, and memory) to those which could be found in existing Sinclair Radionics products. One of the most impressive results of Williamson's labours was that he managed to create a computer that accepted hexadecimal input entered via a standard calculator keyboard. Without going into details, this involved basing the machine's software around octal notation, which, even today, the self-effacing Williamson concedes is an achievement of which he is proud.

In retrospect, it's tempting to conclude that ironically it was the chip choice that, despite the prototype's imaginative design and, even by today's standards, extremely clever software, explains why Ian Williamson's name is unlikely to crop up in any account of the early development of microcomputing in the U K. Like the American kits that provided Williamson with the original inspiration for his project, the enterprising engineer used what was known as a 'Scamp' chip (the National SemiConductor MicroProcessor or National SC/MP) at the centre of his system. Designed and originally marketed in the States, this interesting little chip never really caught on with manufacturers on either side of the Atlantic. However, if we assess Williamson's choice of chip in the context of the era in which the product was being developed, the wisdom of opting for a Scampbased design soon becomes apparent. For a start, the chip already had a proven track record as the centrepiece of comparable US products and by the standards of the day was unusually low-priced. In addition, the Scamp boasted an incredibly simple architecture for an 8-bit microprocessor of the 1970s, and thus for the novice was encouragingly easy to use and program. In short, and in the words of a contemporary assessment of the chip, 'For the homebrew enthusiast, the SC/MP is a good choice.' (Byte, July 1978.)

It should be stressed that the machine Williamson demonstrated to Curry would appear incredibly primitive if placed alongside even the simplest of today's home computers. Readers familiar with the units by which a computer's memory is measured will be amused to learn that the commercial implementation of Williamson's idea proudly boasted 256 bytes of RAM (random-access memory)! For the uninitiated, suffice it to say that today's home micros specify memory size in units of just over 1000 bytes (K), and that no selfrespect mg hobbyist would even consider a product offering less than 49,152 bytes (48K) of memory.

Following the example of the designers of the US computer kits, Williamson deliberately restricted his machine's capabilities in an effort to keep down the price. It is quite clear that this early micro was never intended to be much more than an educational aid. Certainly Williamson's book about the machine emphasized its value as a tool for learning about the way microprocessors work, and never claimed that it offered a computing power that was of any practical use.

Chris Curry realized that if Science of Cambridge was to reap the advantages of launching a promising product into a virgin market, he was going to have to move fast. Williamson's prototype had already been seen by a number of other companies, and there was always the chance that someone else would have the guts to snap up a new idea. Curry and Sinclair agreed that it was time to formalize an agreement with Williamson. Sinclair arranged a hotel conference with the engineer and contractual conditions were discussed and agreed. Science of Cambridge would license Williamson's design, for which the company would pay a flat fee of 5000. The inventor would also receive royalty payments according to the number of units sold. Shortly after his meeting with Sinclair, Williamson received a contract detailing the licensing deal he had agreed at the meeting. This he signed and returned to the King's Parade offices. All that was required for the deal to be formalized was for Williamson to receive a copy of the contract bearing Sinclair's signature. It never arrived.

Williamson's project has been chronicled in detail in an attempt to clarify the circumstances in which his prototype was produced and to facilitate an informed assessment of subsequent developments. By now the reader should be able to appreciate that Williamson was essentially selling an idea whose commercial value was bolstered by the existence of a working design based around an American chip. The fact that the prototype made use of Sinclair components is almost irrelevant, apart from showing yet again Sinclair's recycling instincts and the fact that they were almost certainly the cheapest available components. Considering the relationship that existed between the two companies, Williamson is hardly likely to have argued that it was of any benefit to Science of Cambridge that the production of his machine required the purchase of components that might possibly be held in quantity by Sinclair Radionics. He was selling an idea for a product whose economic and technical viability was confirmed by the prototypes he built and demonstrated. Clearly any company that decided to market Williamson's design would first take the precaution of costing each of the product's components, and at the same time shop around for cheaper alternatives. Obviously, if a selective substitution of components could reduce production costs, it would be acceptable for the manufacturer to request the designer to make any reasonable modifications required by the inclusion of the new components. Such situations are common enough to merit a standard clause in most licensing agreements.

Such considerations hardly seemed relevant in the case of Williamson's machine. There were only two elements of the hardware design whose replacement would effectively invalidate the brilliant software that established the uniqueness of Williamson's work. The first of these was the Scamp chip itself, which defined the machine's limitations and the way in which it could be programmed. The replacement of this chip would effectively mean the creation of an entirely different machine tailored to the idiosyncrasies of a new microprocessor. The second hardware feature on which the rest of the design depended was the inclusion of a standard calculator keyboard for the communication of hexadecimal input. As we have already mentioned, Williamson laboured over almost insurmountable problems in his determination to use an existing keyboard in his design. Ever conscious of production costs, he reasoned that a unique keyboard would require a unique production process. It would surely be cheaper to take advantage of an existing process that was churning out what could become a dual-purpose component. So a software design based around octal notation was eventually programmed on to the ROM (read-only memory) chips, which allowed hexadecimal instructions to be communicated via a standard Radionics calculator keyboard. Any decision to change the keyboard would mean the design of an entirely new input/output (I/O) program.

Williamson sat around waiting for the contract that was never sent. Finally, he received a phone call from an uncharacteristically edgy Curry. With a profusion of apologies, Christopher gallantly faced up to his responsibilities as the spokesperson for Science of Cambridge, and informed Williamson that the deal was off unless he was prepared to modify his original design. The engineer made it clear that he was prepared to consider any reasonable changes that Sinclair and Curry deemed necessary. It was explained that the calculator keyboard was to be replaced by one that made use of an economical membrane design, and that Williamson's I/O software would have to be modified accordingly. Williamson explained why such changes were impossible since they demolished the foundations on which the machine had been designed.

Science of Cambridge had changed its plans in the light of an offer from National Semiconductors (N S), the firm that manufactured the Scamp chip at the heart of Williamson's design. With a thoroughness to tempt tedium, we have established that because of the circumstances in which it was produced, Williamson's prototype made use of components that originated from a variety of sources but which, for the most part, were unexceptional enough to be replaceable when necessity demanded the application of a little creative substitution. When Curry approached National Semiconductors to negotiate the purchase of the first batch of Scamp chips, the Americans turned round and made the latent millionaire an offer he couldn't refuse. They offered to redesign the kit for the Brits free of charge. The idea was that the capabilities of Williamson's prototype would be realized in a product built exclusively from National Semiconductor chips.

Such a deal made obvious business sense to both parties. The Americans would be able to sell a product that would succeed only to the extent to which it was used - which in the case of the Scamp chip was hardly at all. In addition, although the primitive microprocessor had turned out to be a lost cause with the folks back home, there was a chance that it might catch on in Britain if adopted by high-profile whizzkids like the boys at Science of Cambridge. Finally, a redesigned product which made exclusive use of National Semiconductor components multiplied the original unit sales offered by the Williamson design by the number of components required in the NS design. All it would cost NS was the price of a new design.

The final National kit used the same processor, the same instruction set if you like, the same display and had the same memory size. Apart from that the hardware design was not similar because National tailored it to the products they had available. They already sold kits over here and in the US. You have to remember that my idea had been to make it as cheap as possible - right down to using a Cambridge [calculator] keyboard. (Ian Williamson, Interview, 29 October 1985.)

The attraction of the NS deal for Sinclair's company should be obvious. The logistics of manufacturing a product that requires components from a variety of sources are often unworkably complex. As the Sinclair team had learned from bitter experience, it needed only a single source to foul up and the entire production process could be brought to a standstill. Although delays in fulfilling orders were by now regarded as almost a defining quality of any Sinclair operation, any situation that diminished the risks of such difficulties would have been embraced with enthusiasm. It would clearly be easier to control the supply of components from a single source than attempt to plan production according to predictions concerning the reliability or otherwise of a large number of small suppliers. It would be reasonable to assume that the NS deal also provided Curry with an opportunity to negotiate a cut-price deal, since it could be argued that Science of Cambridge would be purchasing a large part of the American company's range in the kind of quantities that justified job-lot rates. Finally, Chris Curry has something of a reputation for his ability to bank the fruits of a competitor's weakness, and is unlikely to have pulled his punches when negotiating a deal that centred on a chip he knew National Semiconductors was desperate to promote in the UK.

As far as Science of Cambridge was concerned, the NS offer provided the company with an irresistible opportunity to make a fast and unusually respectable return on a relatively modest outlay. The only thing standing in the way of a straightforward deal was Ian Williamson. At this stage in the proceedings it would have been tempting to push to the back of the mind the fact that it was Williamson who had initiated the project and brought it to fruition.

From the security of life near the top of a national institution, Ian Williamson clearly feels that he can afford to be generous when looking back on his life in the Cambridge of the 1970s. These days he's sufficiently sanguine to be able to dismiss his experiences as a young inventor and aspiring entrepreneur as simply the first of many tough lessons that make up a commercial education. It's clear that Williamson has never regretted his decision to forsake the life of the inventor, which under the circumstances is hardly surprising.

Williamson insists that when Sinclair backed off from the deal they had agreed in favour of the N S option, his bitterness was primarily directed at the American company rather than the management of Science of Cambridge:

I was never particularly pissed off with Clive. If anything I think I was pissed off with National Semiconductors. You see, considering what NS were offering and the state of the company [Science of Cambridge] at the time, they [Sinclair/ Curry] were faced with an offer they couldn't really refuse. I was pissed off with N S for having the sense to offer Sinclair a design which only used components which could be ordered from one place. (Interview, 29 October 1985.)

In June 1978 Science of Cambridge launched a microcomputer kit based around the National SC/MP chip. The machine was marketed as the M K 14, and the features it offered were identical to those of the prototype Ian Williamson had demonstrated to Chris Curry the previous summer. In the words of Williamson, the launch of the machine and the familiar post-natal depression that followed bore all the hallmarks of a 'typical Sinclair flop'. An inability to fulfil the first batch of orders inspired by the launch was, as usual, compounded by the effects of the extravagant advertising campaign by which it was preceded. Science of Cambridge had instructed National Semiconductors to produce a mere 2000 sets of components for the launch of the machine. It seems likely that this conservative launch stock was partly a reflection of the financial plight of the new company, and partly an indication of Sinclair's doubts about the potential of the home-computer market. In any case, the punters' donations flowed in to fill the corporate coffers, but little in the way of product flowed out of the company's doors. In the age-old tradition of a Sinclair launch, supply immediately collapsed from the shock of attracting an encouraging level of public interest. Anyway, the first 2000 M K 14 kits were no sooner packed than dispatched, after which eager customers were invited to kick their heels while the NS manufacturing machine was brought back to life, funded by the punters yet again.

In its short, sweet life as the UK's first cheap computer kit, the M K 14 design was sold into between 10,000 and 15,000 homes. The rights of the manual Williamson had written for his machine were bought by Science of Cambridge and the book included as part of the M K 14 package. It is clear that the company's principals were less than comfortable about Williamson's reward for his labours and enterprise, since Sinclair felt obliged to fork out the princely sum of 2000 for the right to use the engineer's documentation.

The unexpected success of the M K 14 directly influenced product development at both Radionics and Science of Cambridge. At the former, it stimulated the development and design work on a more sophisticated home computer, a decision that, many years later, resulted in the appearance of the ill-fated NewBrain, and rather sooner, the ZX80. The Science of Cambridge followthrough was considerably more modest. The company churned out a small range of products that enabled the hobbyist to upgrade the basic MK 14. There was the VDU Module (33.75), which enabled sixteen lines of thirty-two characters to be displayed on a UHF television. To this was added the Cassette Interface Module (which allowed programmers to save programs to magnetic tape), the Prom Programmer, and a power supply to drive the expanded system.

According to the first editor of Personal Computer World magazine, Dave Tebbutt, the success of the M K 14 was one of the major inspirations behind the decision to launch the UK's first homecomputing magazine. it was undoubtedly also a contributory factor in Chris Curry setting up Acorn Computers some time in 1978, thus continuing the entrepreneurial splintering that his mentor Sinclair had taught him. Indeed the first Acorn product, the System 75, was remarkably akin to an enhanced M K 14.

There was a more direct sense in which the M K 14 hinted at the shape of things to come. The early hobbyist who cobbled together the complete M K 14 system had before him the heart of the kit's legendary successor. The Scamp was ditched and replaced by the Z80A chip; the easier BASIC language replaced hexadecimal numeric code and provided programmers with a less cumbersome method of communicating with their machines. But such factors aside, in every expanded M K 14 the essentials of a ZX80 lurked, waiting to take the world by storm. Well, almost ...