Planet Sinclair


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Last updated
4 Mar 1998

A brand of living

THE TIMES, 16 April 1994


From Marmite to M&S, Clive Sinclair on the brands he uses daily.

SIR CLIVE Sinclair likes a touch of class. But paradoxically for a man associated with innovation, his tastes run to the traditional quality product. His shoes are by Bally, his stationery by Smythson's of Bond Street, his pen is a Cross fine point Medallist, which he finds "elegant, wonderfully precise".

A recurring element among his preferences is the feel of quality. He plays in a high-stakes poker school at which five-figure sums can move across the table. The cards must be Bicycle: "The shape, the texture, the feel of them is exactly right." His after-dinner mints are Bendick's; he enjoys the "strong, plain chocolate, firm mint". His soap is Imperial Leather: he likes the way the label stays on ending up as a raised patch. His cars are usually classics, worth more on re-sale than when he bought them. He has owned a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and a Porsche 924 Carerra; he now drives a Lotus Elan. The sale of the Lotus, Jaguar and Rover companies to overseas investors makes it harder for him to buy British, as he prefers. He reckons the Bentley Java, recently unveiled, has come out just in time. "If they don't put it into production, I might make them an offer for the prototype," he says, and it is not obvious whether he is joking.

Quality for Sir Clive does not always mean expensive brand names. He buys his trousers, socks, shirts and underwear at Marks & Spencer, with a preference for the Aertex variety of the latter. He never wears suits, preferring a blazer with the M&S flannels.

He carries a Lett's month-to-a-view diary rather than a Filofax. He uses plain Crest toothpaste "to fight cavities", and Head & Shoulders shampoo on the lingering wisps of his ginger hair. He shaves with Bic disposables, "sharper, cleaner", and always with soap, rather than shaving cream or gel. Most of his tastes endure, but not all of them. In childhood he was hooked on the Hornby Double-0 model train series, but cheerfully admits he traded the lot in for a wooden-boxed microscope which caught his fancy. Now his toys tend to be made by Sony. There are two exceptions: his wristwatch is a plain, black, plastic LCD digital Casio, and he makes regular use of the alarm. His calculator is a Casio Scientific, "because it is fit for its purpose". It always surprises people that the inventor of the pocket calculator rarely uses one, preferring instead the trusty slide-rule which has seen him through the years.

His tastes in food and drink are commonplace, but exact. The gin is Booth's ("the yellow one"), and the tonic must be Schweppes, "and not the diet version which tastes quite different". His whisky is Bell's, mixed with one-and-a-half times as much water, which must be London tap" (this has to be the best endorsement Thames Water has ever received). He likes the taste of French chablis, and buys it by the case.

Sir Clive's world would be poorer without Marmite and Edam cheese, and his breakfasts rotate through All Bran, Grape Nuts and Alpen muesli. He often surprises his lunch or dinner guests by ordering sausage and mash with gravy.

He travels well but infrequently. His role as chairman of Mensa takes him around Britain, first class with Intercity if possible. He adores London's transport system, and wishes we all thought enough of it to spend money on it. He relishes London's double-decker buses, and is a regular user of black cabs (he tips at 15 per cent). For trips further afield, he prefers a flag-carrier, and flies either Virgin or British Airways. He likes the window seat in the second row from the front. His club is the Chelsea Arts, his dictionary the Oxford English. He reads The Times, Daily Mail, Financial Times and The Sunday Times. His magazine choice includes The Spectator and The Economist, amid a plethora of scientific publications. If there is an overall impression conveyed by his tastes, it is of a man who does not do a thing just because it is fashionable. He knows what he is looking for, and sticks with it once he has found it. In many cases this may be the brand with the name for quality, but in others it is the less costly but equally good alternative. Most of the brands he chooses are, perhaps like Sir Clive himself, part of the culture that gives our nation a sense of identity.