The somewhat overly-dramatised story of Sinclair and Acorn Computers in the 1980s, starring Alexander Armstrong and Martin Freeman.
It’s an amazing thing, technology. As I discovered that I could sync up my Galaxy S3 mobile phone with the YouTube app on my XBox 360 to make searching for videos a much simpler experience, it’s interesting that I did all this in order to watch a docu-drama about the birth of the affordable home computer in Britain during the early 1980s.
Micro Men was a programme first shown on BBC Four in 2009 about the battle between two British companies to dominate the newly-established home computer market. As components got more affordable and the country’s finest minds got together to make computing more than the niche market for hobbyists it previously was, two distinct figures emerged to make it their own.
Alexander Armstrong plays Clive Sinclair, the eccentric genius inventor, and Martin Freeman plays Chris Curry, his loyal employee. Along with a good supporting cast this is a humorous re-telling of the British computer boom with plenty of geek out moments for the real footage of products and games spliced in.
When the National Enterprise Board refuses to continue backing Sinclair’s vanity projects, he suggests that Curry takes control of a shell company that Sinclair obtained some years back in order to focus on raising more money through more conventional products. When Sinclair doesn’t give his blessing for Curry to pursue a microcomputer called the MK14, Curry breaks away and set up his own firm in order to continue the purer project.
This sets the scene for a head-to-head contest between the two companies, Sinclair and Acorn – firstly with the race to have their working products used exclusively on BBC television for an educational programme, and then to dominate the market which the television coverage helped open up.
If you’re looking for the cold, hard facts about the race for financial and technological innovation in the 80s then you won’t find them here. But such is the surreal nature of proceedings as Sinclair throws phones through windows with a string of expletives, and Curry toasts his success with two young ladies sipping champagne in the back of a limo – but it’s very nicely played in such a way that it is almost believable due to the actual scale of their achievements and failures.
For the record, this is probably my favourite ever work of Alexander Armstrong – I thought his sketch shows with Ben Miller were only okay and he’s now absolutely everywhere on TV which is far more than I can stand – but his portrayal of Sinclair is just sharp enough to rein in the hyper-realism of events unfolding.
I really enjoyed watching Micro Men as a re-telling of big moments in geek history and a funny one to boot.