In 1982, Laskys (UK) was one of the most popular high street electrical retailers. They were also one of the few national chains where you could see a selection of microcomputers on display and, in Cardiff at least, happily fiddle around with them without getting shooed away – a rare thing if you were a 9 year old computer nerd!
I vividly remember the first time I went into a Lasky’s store as until that point I’d only experienced my Atari 2600. Me and a friend, Gerald Pearce, had walked into the centre of Cardiff from the leafy suburb of Roath. Gerald was slightly older than me and had been allowed into “town” on his own, this was my first trip and I bounced alongside him in the sun. As we arrived in Queen Street, Gerald walked us over to a store with a large 70’s styled brown and orange logo, Lasky’s. We walked past the usual array of hi-fi equipment and televisions to the rear of the store where something magical was taking place.
It was here I first saw the ZX Spectrum. It was sandwiched between an Atari 400 running Missile Command and an Apple IIe (I think, it was a IIe, I was unashamedly mesmerised by the spectrum). Having had a 2600 I’d seen Missile Command plenty of times but even the 8-bit version was no match for what was sat next to it. Compared to to the chunky Atari, the Spectrum looked a bit like a tiny tin of biscuits: it’s probably around 1/5th of the 400’s size. The Spectrum also had a little rubber keys which I remember really liking as they felt squidgy to touch. But it was what the little black box was pumping out on to the colour TV that really caught my attention.
Next to Missile Command’s blocky game of warfare, Jetpac’s pristine lunar jetman whizzed around the screen at high speed and in high resolution. The purists will argue that the hardware inside the two machines meant the Atari was utterely superior. The rest of the 1980’s in the UK tell a different story. The Spectrum was the dominant machine of its day thanks to a pragmatic design which mean it was available cheaply and consequently developers jumped on it. The Spectrum was available from around £129 compared to around £300 for an Atari.
That December my brother and I looked at each other dumbstruck as we unwrapped our very own 48k Spectrum, complete with copies of Jetpac, Lunar Jetman, Atic Atac and an introduction to programming. The following year I wrote my first game, Acorn Invaders. A lifelong obsession had started.