Clive Sinclair was 'a cross between Einstein and Willy Wonka'

Alexander Armstrong explains what it was like to play 1980's computing maverick Sir Clive Sinclair
Alexander Armstrong explains what it was like to play 1980's computing maverick Sir Clive Sinclair

Back in June, TechRadar announced that the BBC had commissioned a comedy drama based around the tech exploits of Sir Clive Sinclair and Chris Murray, which was set to catalogue their fight for home computing supremacy in the 1980s.

Originally it was to be called Syntax Era, but while that brilliant title has been lost in the ether (it's now named Micro Men) the show is set hit the airwaves early next month and will star comedian Alexander Armstrong as 'maverick visionary' Sir Clive Sinclair and Martin Freeman (of

The Office

fame) as his former colleague Chris Curry.

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"Profiling the brilliant and eccentric characters that triggered the beginning of the UK computer revolution, Micro Men is part of Electric Revolution, a season of programmes giving viewers a unique insight into how developments in technology have shaped our lives over the past 50 years," reads the BBC's blurb on the show. "The season also charts the rise of today's globally linked, instantly gratified digital culture."

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Armstrong explained the challenges and difficulties of playing a character so complex and demanding as Sinclair to TechRadar.

TechRadar: What was it like portraying someone as well known in recent history as Sir Clive Sinclair?

Alexander Armstrong: Difficult. Everyone over 35 has a vivid mental picture of Sinclair – part of his marketing genius was to place himself very much in the public eye – so I had to make my character a fair and truthful version of the Sinclair we all remember. The man is also still very much alive, so one has to be fairly sensitive – it wouldn't do to caricature him, although the temptation was often strong...

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TR: How did you research the role?

AA: I watched every piece of footage of Sinclair I could lay my hands on. As I say he put himself forward as a great champion of technology – particularly Sinclair technology – so there's no shortage of interviews, documentaries, adverts, launches etc. featuring him. In the early '80s I remember we all thought of him as a sort of cross between Einstein and Willy Wonka.

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TR: In your interpretation of Sir Clive what do you think drives him?

AA: In my version – I can't speak for the real Sir Clive – Sinclair is driven by pride. Not a bad thing to be driven by at all, but then it becomes wounded pride and by the time of the C5 launch it has become vanity. In my opinion Sinclair is a great man whose contribution to the progress of technology should not be under-estimated, however he was reluctant to recognise where his true strengths and – more pertinently – his weaknesses lay. Had he swallowed his pride on a couple of occasions and taken good advice he could have ensured that Sinclair was still at the forefront of British technology.

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TR: Your physical transformation is quite amazing, how was this achieved?

AA: A fantastic job done by Amber our make-up designer! It was a daily routine that took four-and-a-half hours at the beginning of the shoot but which we managed to get down to two-and-three-quarters by the end. I grew the beard myself and we coloured that and my eyebrows every day. Then my hair had to be flattened and glued to my scalp so we could stick a bald-cap on, and the fine ginger hair-piece was stuck on once everything else was in place. We were filming on the hottest days of the Summer so I had to keep myself cool by whatever means were available otherwise the latex cap would start to creep and blister. There's one interview scene where you only see me from the waist up – just as well as my trousers were rolled up and my feet were in a bucket of cold water.

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Micro Men airs on BBC4 on Thursday 8 October. The second part of Electric Dreams, also part of the Electric Revolution season, can be seen on Tuesday.

Adam Hartley