The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Y'know, other stuff, Sinclair related.
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PeteProdge
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The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Post by PeteProdge » Tue Nov 14, 2017 9:47 am

The 8-bit computing scene had a 'holy trinity' - three major computers that dominated it - Spectrum, Commodore and Amstrad.

Likewise, the Spectrum magazines that were mainstays throughout the machine's life, were simply three titles - Sinclair User, Crash and Your Spectrum/Sinclair.

Whether Crash or Your Sinclair was best, has always been a topic of debate. It's widely regarded that Crash was very well respected during the era before the covertape wars, but by the late 80s, Your Sinclair's use of offbeat humour and superb freebie cassettes, ensured it stayed on top of the ABC circulation figures.

Going through the old magazines that you can now have as PDF from archive.org, I was surprised at how in-depth, cerebral and comprehensive Sinclair User was in the early 80s. I had only come to the Spectrum in late 1987, back when Sinclair User - then then best selling Speccy mag - was entering its Kamikaze Bear phase and YS started its ascension through early covertapes like Batty and Blind Panic. SU and YS were both trying to be cool and hip, both channelling the tirade of colours and crazy asides that Smash Hits became famous for, although T'Zer's offering nudged it for me, as SU just seemed a little bit disorganised, with some of its articles poorly laid out.

Sinclair User was heavily wordy in the early years, with covers that laid out Sir Clive's vision for the Speccy to be taken seriously as a computing device. Its approach to the gaming scene was to give it a few pages, almost as if it was a niche interest. When Crash landed (no pun intended), this was a wake-up call and games became the focus of all three magazines.

Newsfield didn't have the marketing budget to propel Crash to the top of the circulation figures, but Crash was pretty much the superior product in the eyes of gamers.

A distinct gear change occurred with the first cover-mounted cassettes. Sinclair User entered its Kamikaze Bear phase, went a lot more game focused and committed to a regular 'megatape', that had some pretty damned good games. It tried its hand at humour, but this often was clumsy - especially the time the magazine was featured on BBC's Watchdog because one writer cheekily suggested glue sniffing as a great thing to do in the description of a model aeroplane prize. (Oh, and it seems one SU writer caused an almighty C-word calamity when writing for EMAP's multi-games title ACE)

In this era, Sinclair User really was playing catch-up with YS, and that became reflected as Dennis Publishing's outlet eclipsed SU, quite justifiably in my opinion.

The guys at Farringdon Lane did more tinkering - playing with the Kamikaze Bear character to be a shell-shocked hippy, before replacing him with a weedy nerd entitled Wayne Smedley. I thought a lot of this humour at the time was more 'punching down' and had that kind of school bully sneering tone to it. The SU Megatapes became shovelware pretty quickly.

As the Spectrum's commercial decline kicked in, many SU writers would be featured on other EMAP titles, and the magazine just seemed to be treated as something done in a lunch break. The graphic design just became more shoddy, like they really couldn't be arsed. The covertapes became a competition to shove as many things on it, regardless of quality.

In its final years, as pagination declined across all titles (especially Crash, which had pretty much became a tape attached to a pamphlet), you could feel the desperation from EMAP, as a rough black-and-white only sugar-paper insert was stuck in the middle to keep printing costs down.

Despite superior writing and a fairly decent cover tape, Crash was wiped from newsagents shelves because of Newsfield's hubris at trying expand into other areas of publishing. It didn't last long with the resurrection backed by Europress, and ended up 'merged' with SU, although this was EMAP simply plastering the logo onto the cover and taking Graeme Mason's covertape pokes. Very little of Crash actually ended up in the waning Sinclair User.

From my point of view, both SU and Crash tried very hard to imitate YS's parade of leftfield humour and superb covertapes, and although SU certainly had done well commercially, it really flopped spectacularly in later years. Have I got any of this wrong?
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Mike Davies
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Re: The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Post by Mike Davies » Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:45 am

Only Sinclair User made it to the shores of South Africa, except later on the odd issue of Crash would appear. Never saw Your Sinclair on the shelves at all.

So I grew up with Sinclair User. Issue 48, with Movie on the cover. That opened my eyes to a scene I didn't know existed. The format of the magazine at that point suited me. Pages of type-in listings, a special coverage article, and double-spreads of new games. I got Mission 12 working from that first issue.

It's about that time David Kelly took the reins, thankfully I bypassed the games review just being a set of mini-reviews, to the point where big game releases had double-page spreads, most games had full single page reviews, littered with screenshots. That suited that period of my life. Type-in listings hit a pinnacle with Forest of the Long Shadows, then they became pages and pages of hex values. Well, after the two-part Adventure Builder type-in.

I consider the David Kelly/Graham Taylor editorship years as where Sinclair User was at its best. I liked Kamikaze Bear, until he had his nervous breakdown, and Wayne Smedley I could just about ignore. The first year of covertapes the magazine was still good content-wise. At some point in the Garth Sumpter era the magazine started to be bland, and more comic-esque, and I started to lose interest.

I'm still a fan of the 1986-1989 period. It's one of my long list of projects to bring some of that online, following the path Nick took with Your Sinclair: Rock and Roll years. I've tracked down the current copyright holder to Bauer Media, I just need to get into contact and ask.
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ramsrc
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Re: The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Post by ramsrc » Tue Nov 14, 2017 11:28 am

I was more of a Crash fan to be honest, although I would quite often buy YS as well.

I never really liked Sinclair User and by the time the market started to wane, I had moved onto a BBC Master :oops:
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Re: The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Post by Joefish » Tue Nov 14, 2017 12:10 pm

My parents bought my brother and I separate magazines (once we each outgrew our comics phases) so I got to see YS and Sinclair User. I inititally had Sinclair Programs, as I'd seen it advertised in Sinclair User. I did read its game articles which were few, but I vaguely remember them developed with more depth as features rather than just game reviews. I don't remember typing any of the listings in, but they still interested me as a programmer to see what was being done and to feed my own ideas.

It was precisely Crash's dedication to game reviews that didn't appeal to me. I was as much interested in developer articles, hacking and type-ins as I was game reviews, so when Sinclair Programs announced it was packing it in I cast around and ended up with a copy of Your Spectrum from the bigger newsagent in town. The juvenile humour helped, and we placed an order with my local newsie just as I got to the back page and discovered Your Spectrum was no more; it was changing its name to Your Sinclair! At least it grew by a lot more pages. They may have been mostly advertising, but it seemed better value for money. I think the only other option was C+VG which I found interesting, but apart from the odd interest in future 16-bit machines, it was 90% irrelevant to me.

I always preferred the humour in YS. There was plenty to read in SU, but its articles on the business side of games and hardware companies I found a bit dry and boring. Perhaps they were too adult in nature, or too much mutual back-slapping. Of course, those are exactly the things that I want to hear about now!

When SU got the 'Kamikazi Bear' makeover I really felt it went downhill. I think PeteProdge is right in that the humour was more abusive than inclusive. I guess I was already feeling a generational gap from the new audience of pre-teens who were getting those +2 bundles for Christmas as their first taste of videogames!
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Mike Davies
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Re: The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Post by Mike Davies » Tue Nov 14, 2017 1:17 pm

I liked the various columns about how titles were made, from Background Noise through to Code Blueprint, my favourite being the one on Bobby Bearing. Hewson's Helpline/How The Hell sometimes had a great article on how to produce a certain type of game or effect, e.g. the fixed 3D "isometric" game, physics effects. Sometimes the interviews with game developers gave some insights into actual development. That's what made Sinclair User something to look forward to.
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Re: The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Post by 5MinuteRetro » Tue Nov 14, 2017 4:30 pm

Died-in-the-wool Crash man here. Well, boy back then. Pretty much everything you say sounds about right to me. I occasionally flirted with YS and, to a lesser extent, SU -- but with the Kamikaze Bear years I lost all interest in SU. It just seemed so childish. I guess by then I was 17, so probably not targetted at me.

Thinking about it, I certainly didn't continue buying Crash into the 1990s either but certainly up to around 1988. But by then I suppose I was properly growing up and out of the Spectrum and the magazines that supported it.

I'm now 47 and have basically become a man-child who just wants to relive those care-free days. Sigh!
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Re: The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Post by ZXDunny » Tue Nov 14, 2017 6:09 pm

Crash here too. I really like YS when it was Your Spectrum, but when it transitioned into the comic that was Your Sinclair, I abandoned it and that left me with Crash magazine. Sinclair User was a great steaming pile of mutt's leavings to my teenage mind, so only bought one issue.
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PeterJ
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Re: The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Post by PeterJ » Tue Nov 14, 2017 7:27 pm

A nice chap called Daniel has rebuild the old Sinclair User website from copies he found on Wayback Machine. Its available here:

https://www.sinclairuser.com/

We are in the process of changing links on the main website so they link to the new site.
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Alessandro
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Re: The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Post by Alessandro » Wed Nov 15, 2017 11:26 am

I was a reader of SU from 1987, when I casually found it available in my home city in a newsagents that also sold foreign magazines. I enjoyed it thoroughly and still have quite fond memories of it, especially because Italian computer and videogames mags were dominated by C64 stuff at the time. However I could never put up with that Kamikaze Bear thing, although the Pengo clone based upon him (Go Bear Go!), given with the first MegaTape, is quite nice.

In 1989 that newsagents also stored YS for some time. I bought a couple of issues and, although liking the graphical style, was not very impressed with the articles and did not buy any more of it. I stayed faithful to SU until January 1991 when it was no more available here due to poor sales.
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Re: The rise and fall of Sinclair User

Post by chinnyhill10 » Fri Nov 17, 2017 11:27 pm

1990's era of SU was grubby and horrible. Nasty paper (like the toilet paper at school), shoddy reviews (64% to Count Duckula 2!). Even the photos of the team members each month looked grubby. Looked as if they were shot on a cheap 35mm camera from Boots whereas YS always had nice photos which even when candid were taken on a proper camera with a professional lens.
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