ZX81 – Future changer

Great article this week on BBC on the Sinclair ZX81 computer. It all rings true – this computer basically changed my life. I have my father to thank for that, he bought a second hand ZX81 for the family from a car-boot sale.


Up until then I was looking to become a chef, had studied Home Economics (the only boy to do so at my school), even spending a week in a hotel in France to learn about their cooking, and was in the process on deciding on a catering college. Out of nowhere really came this this small black box; the ZX81.

The fact it came with no software meant I had to write a program for it to do anything. I got a basic game of Frogger running in a few days, but with initially no way of storing the program I had to write the game each time me or my brothers wanted to play it (I got cassette player for back up later, though it was never very reliable).

So then it was back to college for Computer Science A level followed by Univeristy for a BSc in Computer Science and, well, onwards and upwards really.

Computers are so friendly these days, an iPad is so far removed from utilitarian hardware and software of back then. That’s a good thing, but I’m glad to have been able to see both.

A nostalgia search, has just found someone elses version of Frogger is available on ZX81 emulator here.

2 thoughts on “ZX81 – Future changer

  1. I remember very well getting a hold of a ZX80…the white one with Blue keys!…
    i started with the following program:
    10 – print ' XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX'
    20 – goto 10
    30 – end
    and yippee on the TV screen, loads of X's
    I then progressed as you probably did, to buying magazines that had programs printed and you had to sit and type it all out…as i recall the ZX80 only had 1k memory?….probably wrong there though!
    i was then given a ZX81 which had 16k memory?…i remember spending a whole day typing a game into it (the tension was unbearable as you got towards the infamous line : 'end'
    upon hitting return, it didn't work and i spent 2 days working out where the typo was…..nightmare…and the game was crap landing a block onto another block that went along the bottom of the screen.
    i also got all my mates round to tell them i had a computer game, and they were less than impressed as i had kind of upsold it as a Tron type affair..it fell sadly short.
    I did manage to get the tape recorder to save ok though, such techniques carried on through commodore 64 and beyond as i recall.
    happy days indeed and as I recall i did actually use the ZX80 as a doorstop…probably worth a few quid on ebay now.
    i did recently acquire a ZXspectrum and sold it to someone who said DJ's liked em?….does that make any send Jason?

  2. Yep, been there and done that too – though I started with ZX81, not 80.
    The games we wrote were nothing compared to games you get today, but the fact is we wrote them (or at least copied them out of magazines, but even then we were learning, debugging, improving sometimes).

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