back to article RIP: Sinclair ZX Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson reaches STOP

Rick Dickinson, designer of Britain's iconic ZX Spectrum and ZX81 personal computers, has died following a lengthy battle with cancer. Dickinson joined Sinclair Research in 1979 after graduating from Newcastle Polytechnic's industrial design program. By 1981 he had won the Design Council award for his work in designing the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All the best wishes to the family!

    The title says it all, I can only imagine the bad times they're going through.

    I was a C64 guy myself, pretty much of a die hard, and only got hold of a ZX81 much, much later. It definitely took an attitude adjustment because it was massively different, but it was a really impressive experience.

    1. J. R. Hartley

      Re: All the best wishes to the family!

      I had the pleasure of meeting Rick Dickinson at a charity do once. He was surprisingly down to earth and VERY funny.

  2. Andy 73 Silver badge

    Wonderfully creative

    At a time when people were still working out how to make consumer electronics, Dickinson was pulling together materials and techniques in inventive and unexpected ways. His designs were iconic and helped Sinclair flourish. Jony Ive probably owes him a debt!

  3. Davegoody

    Sad, a real genius and an inspirational designer

    As somebody that built their first ZX80 in kit form, then the same with the ZX81, when the Spectrum came out with the dead-flesh keyboard, it was remarkable that a "Real" keyboard could be included in a machine of the era for anything like the price..... When the Scrabble-key keyboard came out on the QL, which Rick also performed the industrial design for, it was amazing (and a huge upgrade from flat or rubber keys), and was eventually destined for the upgraded Speccy too......

    His legacy lives-on, not just on the Spectrum NEXT which he has been heavily involved-in, but the keyboard I am typing-on now, on my MacBook Pro, is truly an evolution of Rick's designs.... Everything goes full-circle with design, and I do hope that Rick's Legacy is remembered not just for cheap-and-cheerful, but true innovation, he was yet another British Genius that perhaps has not received the recognition that he deserved. RIP Rick, you may have passed-on to a better-place, but I can't wait to receive my cased NEXT, and I will have a beer when setting it up in your honour.

  4. Danny 2

    I was really disappointed when I got a ZX Spectrum for Christmas because I wanted a record player, but I thought at least I could play games.

    My dad wouldn't allow me any games until he could flip open the Spectrum manual and ask me to recite and explain the contents of the page. It was a hefty manual with a lot of scientific and mathematical functions, so I was writing my own games before I was allowed to buy any.

    So thanks, Rick Dickinson, I could've been a rock star or a DJ or a groupie, and instead I ended up in IT. I can't even type well now because there are no proper keyboards like the one-handed Spectrum ones. In fact despite being labelled a programmer at prestigious employers I think the only money I ever earned from coding was a £15 book token from Home Computing Weekly for a diary/array that crashed on the 16K Spectrum if you had more than a couple of events a day - luckily that wasn't a problem for me.

    1. Oh Matron!

      Who doesn't remember programming Mahler's Death March.....

      1. MacroRodent

        re Mahler's death march

        The caption says "12 Spectrums", but there are also some different machines on the table, with built-in cassette drives. What are those? I seem to recall there used to be Amstrads that looked like that,

        1. joeW

          Re: re Mahler's death march

          I'm almost two years late with this (this article came up in the sidebar of a more recent one I was reading and I clicked into the comments out of habit), so I doubt you'll ever see this reply... but those appear to be Spectrum +2 (cassette drive) and +3 (disc drive) machines.

          And you're right about them looking like Amstrads - these models were from after the Amstrad take-over of Sinclair.

  5. Lee D Silver badge

    "Sinclair ZX Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson reaches STOP"

    I'm okay. I believe in GOTO 10.

    1. VinceH


      I too am okay. I come from the BBC BASIC stable, so I can REPEAT UNTIL FALSE.

  6. Shonko Kid

    Raise a glass!

    To Rick, thanks for the iconic designs, they will outlast us all. RIP.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Raise a glass!

      Here's a link to his Flickr album, where you'll find stuff from the past and stuff from the future. And what the ZX81 RAM Pack should have been like.

      His designs were unique, they marked an era.

      1. imwilki

        Re: Raise a glass!

        Judging by his Flikr album and obvious professional achievements, he looks to have lived a rich life. God bless him and best wishes to his famiily and loved ones.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Raise a glass!

        Thanks for the links - he designed the enclosure for the Z88? My first portable computer and a delight to use.

        And looking back at the design language for the Spectrum - it really hasn't dated as badly as much of the stuff from the 1980s. The introductory manual with its clear graphics is a masterclass in how to do it properly.

  7. NanoMeter

    Interesting video

  8. HmmmYes

    Didnt Johnny Ives go to Newcastle poly too?

    Impressive output.

    I gad a zx81. Lookswise, its still looks modern.

    Dont think my joints could take the fixed kbd though.

  9. RancidRodent

    Thank You Sir!

    I owe my long and lucrative career in IT to you and your machines! Rest In Peace good man.

  10. DiViDeD

    RIP Rick - You did well

    Started on a home built ZX80, moving on through the Sinclair family, designing my 'pixel' graphics on 8x8 graph paper with a biro.

    You were part of the team that started me off on this weird computer journey and news of your passing prompted me to drag out the ZX81 (still works!!) for one more SCROLL down (wobbly) memory lane.

    Thank you sir.

  11. cb7

    Spectrum +2

    The +2 was my first computer. Probably because my brother, who bought it for me for my birthday, couldn't afford the C64 which had better gfx. But without the original Spectrum, the +2 wouldn't have existed.

    I played games on it. Coded simple stuff in BASIC. And then later in college learnt about Z80 assembler before moving on to 8088 including a wire wrap board with a 2K EEPROM chip & 2K RAM. And everyone laughed because my wiring was so neat lol. It did work first time though.

    My respects to a man who's efforts helped forged and continues to shape my entire working life.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Like many commentards here, I also started with a ZX80 which I built from a kit. It was the inspiration which turned an electronics hobby into a career in computing.

    My respects to Rick and my sympathies to his family and friends. As someone who has also felt the cold hand of cancer on my shoulder, I know how hard a fight it is.

    I'd just like to note that Jim Westwood is credited with designing the ZX80 and ZX81. See:

    Maybe they worked together on the Spectrum?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Yes, and the Z88 too, but I don't think Jim Westwood was involved in the design of the QL.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As far as I'm aware, Dickinson's contribution was as the industrial designer who developed the cases of all Sinclair Research computers from the ZX80 up to the Z88. Apparently he also designed or was involved with the design of the keyboards themselves on the ZX81 and Spectrum.

      (The internals of the various machines were developed by a number of people, the Spectrum hardware and ROM were- I believe- designed by Richard Altwasser and Steve Vickers respectively, and this article covers the development of the QL.)

      Recently, Dickinson was involved with the case design of both the Spectrum Vega+ - coincidentally in the news again today for unfortunate reasons- and the Spectrum Next. The latter appears to be a rather nice update of the case of the original Spectrum+ case and keyboard and- if it comes to fruition at a reasonable price- something that might be worth looking at.

      (I also should make clear that the Spectrum Next isn't associated with the company responsible for the Vega+ fiasco, and is intended to be a true hardware level recreation of the Spectrum rather than just an emulator).

      At any rate, the guy gave us plenty of designs that went on to become iconic, so RIP.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sad news.

    The kick-started my career and, when I moved on to other machines and languages, the relative it was handed on to also became a programmer.

    I owe so much to Rick Dickinson.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I got a ZX81 Taiwan clone when I was 18, plus the 16 KB module (lived in South America at the time). The first night I had already programmed a game, and parents got on my case as it was past midnight (very strict schoolday bedtime hours we had). Eventually I got "the real thing", with spark printer, bought it with a friend to split expenses. I went on to code an operating system, just because I didn't know it was supposed to be difficult. Took me couple more years before we were able to afford an Apple IIe clone and past the Sinclair. By that time there was even a Brazilian clone, not too bad, even did colour...

    Oh my, time passes.

    Today we found out I have gout. Me? A rugby man, then coach? Gout? that just doesn't happen. Then Rick passes on. Time sucks.

  15. ForthIsNotDead

    A legacy for all time...

    Only relatively few of us get to really make an impact in society in some way. Famous scientists, engineers (Brunel, etc.), politicians (spit), and rock stars. Most of us will shuffle off of this mortal coil having had a full life, being loved and missed by our family, and... well that's about it. And nothing wrong with that.

    Then there are people like Rick Dickinson, who, through their talents, tenacity, and hard work, actually produce something that not only benefits an entire generation, but serves to live on long after the man himself has passed.

    And so it is with Rick Dickinson. I'm sure his family and friends will miss him very much, but I hope they can take some comfort from the fact that the work he produced, while not being the cure for Malaria, really did benefit a generation of people, and his memory will not only live on in the hearts and minds of his loved ones, but also the hearts and minds of those that benefitted from his work in those heady heady days of the home computer revolution.

    Rest now, Rick. You've done your bit. Bravo.


  16. Noonoot

    Atic Atac

    I remember when my cousin got one for her birthday and I was sooooooooo envious. Those rubbery keys, the little beep sounds, unlocking rooms in Atic Atac.

    A genius he was. RIP.

  17. Tom Watson 1

    With all due respect to the family and friends of the deceased

    Editorial guidelines

    Just a thought but how about saying 'died' instead of 'passed'?

    The Register has always had a readership, more or less, of grown ups. I think we can take it.

    And 'passed' is of course short of 'passed on' or 'passed over' 'to the other side' or 'to a better place'.

    Which is just silly.


    1. petethebloke

      Re: With all due respect to the family and friends of the deceased

      I agree. While we're at it, can we ditch the "battle with cancer" myth as well?

      Having said that, RIP Rick Dickinson.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: With all due respect to the family and friends of the deceased

        can we ditch the "battle with cancer" myth

        Why? You may not, as an individual, be directly fighting it, but your immune system will be firing away at it until one of them wins.

      2. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: With all due respect to the family and friends of the deceased

        It's not a myth.

      3. Anonymous Coward

        Re: With all due respect to the family and friends of the deceased

        I can assure you that dealing with cancer and specifically with the treatment for it is very much a battle.

        Quite why you think this is a myth is beyond me.

  18. Vanir


    Thank you Rick Dickinson.

  19. ukgnome

    Wherever you're uploaded to

    May your loading screens be colourful and your tape heads forever clean.

  20. wolfetone Silver badge

    I, too, like many others, have lost my Dad. And I, like others, see the effects of cancer has and how it ruins not only the person who has it but those around them.

    You miss them daily, you think about them daily, every life event you think of them. He was a builder, and many of the things he worked on are still standing today, some of which I use nearly every week. And as I use them I think of him, and feel proud of what he was part of, even though the other thousands of people who walk past these buildings and roads never think of who built them. They're just there, as objects. Some of them, hopefully, will continue to stand for years after I've departed.

    While flesh is weak, the body a vehicle that will break down, what we create and leave behind can leave a legacy that isn't so easily removed. Something that is still used after we're gone, looked at, inspiring to others.

    The legacy Mr.Dickinson leaves behind is just that. Programmers today cut their teeth on the Spectrum and ZX81 (even with the crappy dead flesh keyboard, but that's more Sir Clive's fault). They've gone on to create other things, software that still inspires etc. The legacy also captures the imagination of people like myself who weren't around in the heyday of the Spectrum but can look back on it, use it, and see the progression of the home computer, and gaze in awe on how such a simple machine with plenty of faults could be utilised to create stunning pieces of software that really shouldn't have been created on the machine in the first place.

    The family, I am sure, will be proud of their husband and dad and what he has done in his lifetime, and that what he created continues to be looked upon fondly. Even in 50 years time they'll still talk about him and the impact he had on the home computer market.

    RIP Sir.

  21. Martin Brennan

    Best wishes

    I knew Rick at Sinclair - I can't think of him without smiling.

    Martin Brennan

  22. Ian Bush

    Sad day. Started with a ZX81, progressed to a ZX Spectrum, and now program HPC machines. Wouldn't be doing that if it weren't for Mr Dickinson, and the lessons that you HAD to learn about memory usage are still with me today - you can't always just plug in another DIMM.

  23. Kevoc


    There goes another bit of my childhood. Iconic design - perhaps had a part in pushing me into studying industrial design - nerds+art. Have one on me, Rick.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Speccy

      "There goes another bit of my childhood. Iconic design - perhaps had a part in pushing me into studying industrial design - nerds+art. Have one on me, Rick."

      Just being curious here, not being a designer of any kind myself, but was it really an iconic case design or was it just that it was a cheap, affordable computer that sold millions and whatever shape case it came in would eventually be seen as iconic through nostalgia? From my perspective, the ZX81 was a minimal, functional design created to use the minimum materials to enclose the innards. I really don't intend to diss the guy, but it just looked like a standard blocky plastic case that was pretty standard for electronics projects of the day. Certainly it was the same basic shape as most computer/keyboard combos of the time. Or maybe that was the genius? Minimal and just big enough, no wasted space inside.

  24. Haku


    Thanks for my early years of computing with the ZX81 & Spectrum+.

  25. Stoke the atom furnaces

    Thank you

    Thank you for the ZX81, my first childhood computer.

  26. bugalugs

    Vale, Rick

    and sympathy for his family, best wishes to all.

  27. Displacement Activity


    So long, Rick. We spent many happy nights in the Baron after work, along with Jim and Dave, and occasionally Clive, back in 80/81. If there's a bar where you're going, get me one in.

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