Acorns, oaks and Silicon Fen

This morning’s Observercolumn.

For those of us who were around Cambridge in the 1970s and 1980s, Micro Men, BBC4’s dramatisation of the days when Britain (briefly) led the home computing business, raised some awkward questions. Were our jackets really so awful? (Yes.) Did geeks use oscilloscope probes to eat takeaway noodles? (Probably.) Were the technology programmes on TV really as embarrassing as all that? (Yes.) Was Clive Sinclair's hair really as improbable as the hairpiece welded to the pate of Alexander Armstrong, the actor playing him in the film? (No.) Was Sinclair as insufferably pompous as he was portrayed? (Mostly.)

And did he assail his rival, Chris Curry (co-founder of Acorn Computers), in the Baron of Beef pub with a rolled-up newspaper shouting, “You fucking buggering shit-bucket!”? (Yes, according to the Guardian.)

Heady days, eh? But at the core of this story of rivalry between former collaborators was a problem that still plagues the start-ups in the Cambridge ‘technology cluster’, namely how to make the transition from being a small team of bright people to being a global company…