Interview with Marcus
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
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
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?
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
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.