Micro Men (Syntax Era) – why clusters need characters

I am quite excited about Micro Men for lots of reasons: it is set in my home town; I know a few of the people portrayed; it is about tech entrepreneurs; I was at College with Xander Armstrong who plays Sir Clive Sinclair and he is one of the funniest people I know; I like watching telly and terrible puns. The potential for poor punning is high – it is billed as a ROM -com for example. There is also an important lesson for Cambridge and other technology clusters around the world.

This is the official trailer:

But this programme is more about rampaging egos than computers which is what I hope will make it entertaining.

“One of those who found himself at the business end of Sinclair’s ire was Chris Curry, who’d worked with him at Sinclair Radionics (site of the aforementioned ashtray scenario) since 1966. Portrayed in Micro Men by Martin Freeman, Curry’s unshakable belief in home computing would precipitate one of the most curious chapters in modern British history, his vision ushering in an era when every playground in the country buzzed with exciting talk of ROM, bits, bytes and motherboards.” (From Guardian Preview).

This is a story that is an integral part of the story of the Cambridge Technology Cluster. Never mind the business, this is a story of personal rivalry, petty jealousy, vindictive backstabbing and geek macho posturing that we just don’t get in this town any more – and the town is worse off because of it. If you believe the people who were there that I talk to now, many of the principle players in this particular story were as driven by personal rivalry as by inner drive. Someone once drew a map of the relationships that existed between some of the characters and their respective partners at the time. I wouldn’t spill the beans online but it does make Hollyoaks look quite dull.

To a repeatable story of the time.

Set in the Baron of Beef, whose landlord was a military man like the landlord of the Cumbrian pub in Withnail. This was where the entrepreneurs of the early 80s hung out and showed off. Of course the rivalry between Chris Curry and Clive Sinclair was huge and they were never able to stop themselves when it came to demonstrating their own personal success.

Sometimes the Baron of Beef rivalry boiled over and fights broke out. At the height of the BBC/Spectrum bubble, in the autumn – the conker season – Clive and Chris challenged each other to a conker fight outside the Baron of Beef. As neither of them had conkers on them, they made do with their Rolexes.


Jed Christiansen, an excellent fellow, recently compared Cambridge to Ann Arbor and concluded that Ann Arbor could teach Cambridge a lot about DOING. I agree with him but would add that Cambridge should get a bit more antsy and a bit more honest. There are lots of people who disagree with each other, and who don’t like each other who kiss, hug, drink, dine and walk away – then bitch people up behind their backs. Lets just say what we think. Lets find a pub where people can hang out, share ideas and show off.

If clusters want to become the new Silicon Valley of XXXX, they need to be able to disagree with each other publicly and be strong enough to take the knocks. Dave McClure‘s powerful Interant about Jason Fried’s comments on the role of VCs in the sale of Mint.com is a good example of the kind of thing that would never happen in my home town. But it stirred up a very thoughtful debate. Perhaps if we were a little less English, and a little more confident of ourselves, we would have a stronger identity and bigger ambitions.

We don’t have to be rude, and we don’t have to swear, but we should be able to disagree with one another without the fabric of society falling apart. There should be a place for people to hang out in the town. The closest place to this at the moment seems to be The Punter Pub. Shame it doesn’t have WiFi.

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4 responses to “Micro Men (Syntax Era) – why clusters need characters”

  1. Hi, Mark.

    I have to say I agree with you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be strictly personal feuds, though they’re probably hard to avoid! But the only way to have larger-than-life companies in a larger-than-life cluster is to have larger-than-life personalities.


  2. Chris Grew says:


    As an alum of both Ann Arbor (U of M) and Cambridge, I have to say that there is only one similarity: if you take the university out of each place, all you’re left with is a small market town!


  3. Brill Gates says:

    Idiot. The Cloud is the Road Ahead.