09/12/2021

075 – Low-cost UK PCs – 1985

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Once you decide to work for yourself, you never go back to work for somebody else. 
Alan Sugar

Alan Sugar was born in the East End of London.  He left school at sixteen and was soon selling car aerials, intercoms and other electrical items from a van.  In 1968 he formed Amstrad, A M Sugar Trading, to operate initially in the audio and hi-fi business.  The company went public in 1980.

It entered the PC market in 1984.  Its first computer product was the Amstrad CPC series, colour personal computer, which was based on the Z80A and targeted to compete with the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 home computers.  It developed a following and prompted a number of user magazines.

In September 1985 it launched the Amstrad PCW range, personal computer word processor, primarily sold for its Locoscript word processing package for use at home or in a small business.  Locoscript was produced by Locomotive Software, a UK software house responsible for much of the Amstrad software.

At just £399 in the UK and $799 in the USA the Amstrad PCW included a printer and was available with BASIC and CP/M; it proved a very competitive package.

Initially sold exclusively by Dixons Group in the UK, some 700,000 units were purchased in the first two years – a 60% share of the UK market and a 20% share of Western Europe.  In total 8 million units were sold in its thirteen years of manufacture.

1986 – Amstrad acquired the name Sinclair, rights in its computers, plus its unsold stocks for £5m.  Selling through those stocks proved to be worth more than the sum paid.  Amstrad went on to launch two new Sinclair computers, the ZX Spectrum +2 and +3.

Amstrad also manufactured low-cost PC clones.  In 1986 the PC1512 with the GEM GUI was priced at £399; it took a 25% share of the European market.

Amstrad launched several early portable PCs but later models proved less successful.  The PC2000 series had some hard-disk problems.  Entry into the games consoles space with the GX4000 in 1990 had limited success.

But by then the company was refocused and had become a significant supplier of Sky satellite television set-top boxes.

1994 – Amstrad acquired Viglen, specialising in the education and public sectors.  The business was rearranged such that the satellite boxes and comms side of the business became Amstrad plc.  This segment was later sold to BSkyB in 2007 for £125m and Sugar stepped down as chairman.

Viglen retained the computer business, chaired by Sugar until he handed over the reins to Claude Littner in 2009.

2000 – Alan Sugar was knighted for services to business.  In 2005 he was selected as host and taskmaster of the UK version of ‘The Apprentice’, following the US version with Donald Trump. June 2009 as the ‘enterprise tsar’ to Gordon Brown’s Labour government he was awarded a peerage to become Lord Sugar, Baron Sugar of Clapton.

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