Interview with Marcus Berkmann
January 1998

 

How did you get started in computer journalism?

I had recently passed a happy two and a half years as the Worst PR Man In Europe, until my boss suggested, ever so sweetly, that I begin to investigate alternative career options. So I applied for a job on Your Sinclair as Staff Writer. "Gizza job," I said in a laughable approximation of a Liverpool accent. "I can do that." Astonishingly Kevin Cox, the magazine's publisher, agreed, although he later admitted that the general standard of applicants had been remarkably low. I became a part of the magazine's vibrant four-person editorial team in December 1986, for the generous starting salary of �7,500 a year.

When did you first see a Spectrum and what were your first impressions?

A year or two before, perhaps. I had bought one purely to play games on. The programming side of it interested me not at all. I merely wanted to destroy badly animated aliens. I was a young and foolish 26.

How did you leave the Spectrum scene? Were you sad to leave?

At the same time as joining YS, I had had a couple of pieces published in The Spectator about pop music. In May the following year this turned into a regular monthly column, and in October the Daily Mail rang up and asked if I felt like doing the same thing for them. By mid-1988 I was earning more from my freelance career (carved out in evenings and at weekends) than I was from my day job at YS, so I went fully freelance in June of that year. I was sad to leave, of course, although as I was sharing a house at the time with Teresa Maughan (the magazine's editor), I didn't exactly lose contact.

What are you doing now?

Still freelance, still enjoying myself. I was TV critic for the Daily Mail for six years, the Sunday Express for a further year, a sports columnist for the Independent On Sunday, Punch and the Daily Express over several years, and I still write a monthly column on pop music for the Spectator. I had a book out on cricket a year or two back (Rain Men, Abacus, �6.99), and am writing another one on quiz culture. For Christmas my girlfriend gave me Diddy Kong Racing on the Nintendo 64.

What were the best/worst things about the Speccy?

Best were the games, or rather the programmers. Incredible creativity despite (because of?) fearsome technical limitations. Worst was what we might call laughingly its user interface. Only sad beardie tech-heads could have designed something so ridiculously hard to use.

What were your favourite Speccy games and why?

Head Over Heels was the best of them all. My memory otherwise is less than reliable, although I do remember a strong early loyalty to the Wally games.

Favourite Speccy coders/artists/musicians?

Never knew much about all this: left it to Phil.

Favourite Speccy journalists?

Phil Snout, of course, and T'zer, Mike Gerrard, John Minson (who traded under the names Rachael and Gwyn for reasons no-one can now remember), David McCandless, Duncan Macdonald (where is he now?). We had a very talented bunch on YS.

Do you use an emulator to play Speccy games?

No.

What did you think of Crash and Sinclair User?

Very little. Crash had a certain sort of brainless youthful energy for a while, but Sinclair User was consistently feeble.

What do you think of modern games? Can they compete with the classics? Aren't they all presentation and no gameplay?

Too huge a subject for one question, I'm afraid, even if I were well informed enough to give a coherent answer, which I'm not. But Phil is right: game designers could learn a lot from some of those old Speccy classics.

Is there anything you miss about the old days?

What, the poverty? The long hours? The fucking Speccy 48K failing to load another useless Codemasters game? The borderline alcoholism? The enforced celibacy? The endless meetings to discuss things that didn't need discussing? The hangover-busting Lucozades on the way into work in the morning? The stomach cramps? The boredom? The ennui? All of it, every last miserable minute of it.

Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc about the old days?

Many, but they are either not interesting enough, or far too interesting...

Have you anything to say to people who still use the Speccy today?

Ah, but what do they use it as?

 


Thanks to Marcus for doing the interview.
Thanks also to Phil South for giving Marcus the questions and emailing me the answers.

Interview conducted by Philip Bee.
Text Copyright (c) Philip Bee and Marcus Berkmann.