Micro Men was a light-hearted, cleverly realised and wholly entertaining exercise in techno-nostalgia about the battle for dominance of the British home computer market of the eighties.
In one corner Clive Sinclair (Alexander Armstrong), the maverick and tempestuously bad-tempered inventor, in the other, his ex-employee Christopher Curry (Martin Freeman), founder of Acorn computers. Their bitter rivalry culminated in an actual pub brawl, lovingly recreated in the film.
All good fun, but what was going on with Armstrong's make-up? It was terribly distracting. Someone needs to invent a bald wig that doesn't look like a flesh-tone swimming cap.Harry Venning, The Stage, 12th October 2009
More mad, bad-hair acting was available in Micro Men, a faction drama based on the competition between Clive Sinclair and someone who wasn't Clive Sinclair but was very similar. Both of them made crap computers that weren't anything like as good as American ones or Korean ones or Malaysian ones. They finally went bust and were sold to Alan Sugar.
The initial problem with this drama was that soldering as a central activity really isn't very dramatic, though marginally more exciting than men who solder. While factually based on the cut-throat race to be the first official computer to be put in schools, the plot wasn't quite as nail-biting as it sounds. The producers obviously gleaned that the dullness of their contestants might be a stumbling block, so they cast a pair of comics, Alexander Armstrong as Sinclair and Martin Freeman as not-Sinclair. They did what comics invariably do in dramas: they stopped being funny. A comic who's not being funny is like a rubber tin-opener.
All was not lost, though. Riding to the rescue was Armstrong's wig, a thing of radiant, relentless hilarity. Imagine one of those "hey you, Jimmy" Scottish tam-o'-shanters, available from joke shops, with the orange hair attached. Now imagine it without the hat. There was just a shiny, bald, plastic pate with a marmalade nylon fringe. It gave an award-winning performance. When the hair was on screen, you couldn't take your eyes off it. Neither could the rest of the cast. They watched Armstrong's head with fascination. What would it do next? Well, we know what it did next. It invented the C5 and had affairs with ridiculously young girls, revealing a great and comforting truth that there is no dumb idiot like a really clever dumb idiot.A. A. Gill, The Sunday Times, 11th October 2009
In a week when we had both the best and the worst dramas of 2009, the third big show of the week, Micro Men, was as simple and restorative a pleasure as a cup of hot Heinz Tomato Soup, taken in a favourite armchair. With snuggle-socks on.
The most important thing was how committed everyone - director, screenwriter, actors - was to the idea that Clive Sinclair is inherently funny. And it's not a premise that you can argue too vociferously against. Played by Alexander Armstrong from Armstrong and Miller - who showed every evidence of walking on to the set every day shouting "My job is brilliant, and I am having the time of my life!" - Sinclair threw things through windows, dropped and did press-ups during meetings while dressed in a Jimmy Savile-esque tracksuit, and shouted "Bloody bugger!" a lot in his strangled, ginger voice.
The Eighties nostalgia-porn - Manic Miner, perms, Trimphones with curly leads and dials that go "wudder wudder wudder" - was full-on but never stupid, and the script used the battle of party-time Sinclair versus the goody two-shoes BBC Acorn as a winning example of that much-maligned genre, comedy-drama. It peaked with a single shot of an underpass, in Cambridge, at night. The chief executive of Acorn is walking in the road ... when he is nearly run over by Sinclair in a prototype C5.
"Get on the pavement, with the other pedestrians," Sinclair hisses, camply, before accelerating, painfully slowly, away.Caitlin Moran, The Times, 10th October 2009
Though Micro Men won't be winning any Baftas for Best Make-Up - Alexander Armstrong's slaphead looked like it had been dabbed on in the dark - this was a terrifically entertaining romp down memory-stick lane to the days when computers were still crazy, far-out inventions, not a fixture in every home. 'Jesus - it's like trying to read Braille through a pair of gardening gloves,' was the colourful verdict on one early prototype.
Armstrong had a ball as Sir Clive Sinclair, crackpot boffin behind the ZX80 and a whole raft of equally unreliable gizmos, while Martin Freeman provided the perfect foil as Chris Curry, head of Acorn. While Acorn's products lacked the style and pizzazz of Sinclair's output, they did have the benefit of working for more than a week. By telling the story of these two pioneers - first collaborators and later rivals - Micro Men provided a hilarious insight into recent history. We were in the 1980s but it might as well have been the Dark Ages, so much has changed.Keith Watson, Metro, 9th October 2009
Overall, Micro Men's combination of character-based drama and archive footage, resulted in a television show of niche appeal and mixed success, but it stoked some affection for the era and cultivated a regret that these British pioneers' couldn't quite compete with upstarts like Microsoft.Dan Owen, Dan's Media Digest, 9th October 2009
They don't make eggheads like they used to. Alexander Armstrong wore his best cosmetic slaphead with distracting ginger furze in Micro Men, the story of Clive Sinclair's race with his former colleague Chris Curry (Martin Freeman) to develop the personal computer in Cambridge. There was a wilfully mischievous tone to Tony Saint's drama, which spanned the late-1970s to mid-1980s: Armstrong as Sinclair was an erratic mix of geeky idealist and corporate tyrant. One minute he would be discussing the finer points of circuitry, the next throwing a phone through a window.
Sinclair was determined to take personal computing to new frontiers: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp - or what's a heaven for?", he said, quoting Browning. But he was also shown to be a control freak, ironically, as the thing he most resented in the early days was the "Stalinist" stranglehold on his company of the National Enterprise Board. Curry jumped ship from Sinclair after Sinclair refused to let him work on computers, insisting he focus instead on Sinclair's masterplan to develop a "personalised motor vehicle".
The early personal computer was quintessentially British: amateurish, user-unfriendly and unbecoming, but also a stunning technical achievement rooted in boffinry. Once upon a time, and not so long ago, the idea of having a personal computer seemed astonishing. Saint's drama included old episodes of John Craven's Newsround and clunky TV computer shows to show how far our expectations, and technology, had progressed in such a short space of time. Sinclair began as the hare, with the ZX80, ZX81 and later the Spectrum capturing the public imagination - although he was initially annoyed that people were more keen to play games on computers than anything else.
Armstrong presented Sinclair as occasionally regretful that Curry had left him to set up Acorn Computers, but his ambition to do things for magically cheap figures - £99 for a personal computer - soon displaced wistfulness. But even the big bucks couldn't extinguish the spirit of invention and innovation, which pinged as brightly as the green neon of the early computer. The conflict in Micro Men wasn't just between Sinclair and Curry, it was between egg-headery and profit; both men had teams of impressively long-haired nerds.
Armstrong caught Sinclair's weird diffidence perfectly. Assailed by a bevy of beauties at a Mensa conference, he banged on about his ambition to put the words of every book ever written on to something the size of a sugar cube. One of the women said it was nice to put his hands on something big once in a while. He nodded, as if she were making another scientific point, and then actually got what she was suggesting and his smile widened for a millisecond.
Sinclair and Curry were ultimately thrown into competition to supply the BBC with a computer system - which, several hundred sleepless nights and many kebabs later, Acorn won. (At Sinclair HQ, another telephone was thrown.) Home computers were all over the shops, but almost as quickly Sinclair and Curry were over-reaching themselves; Sinclair by trying to drive himself upmarket (he raged that he did not want to be known as "the man who bought you Jet Set F***ing Willy"). Acorn tried to go downmarket. They were both out of step. The consumer had moved on to the first CD players.
Sinclair emerged the more moderately triumphant when he swung past Curry late one night on one of his absurd C5 vehicles: his formal attire, his ugly machine and his slap-headedness all combining to produce an immediate visual gag. An absurd fight broke out between the rival boffins in their former local with scrappy punches and feeble attempts to concuss with newspapers. Reconciled afterwards, Sinclair told Curry that he was looking into the possibility of the flying car. Both companies were sold on, but the eggheads were not sunk.Tim Teeman, The Times, 9th October 2009
BBC4 comedy about Sir Clive Sinclair and Acorn boss Chris Curry gains 2.3% share of digital TV audience.Steve Busfield, The Guardian, 9th October 2009
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs they weren't, but our own Micro Men had a fascinating rivalry.Sam Wollaston, The Guardian, 9th October 2009
If you're British and over 30, try and watch Micro Men. It's the story of computers in the 80s, the days when Britain ruled the computing world, a nostalgia trip to make Siralan weep into the top of his game. Alexander Armstrong proves that he's way too good for daily quiz shows in the role of genius inventor and sort-of-idiot Clive Sinclair who ends up competing against his former colleague Chris Curry, a role that's perfectly programmed for the as-ever understated Martin Freeman, for the nascent home PC market. Period details are piled so high that they almost take detract from the main characters, but that's a minor quibble in a really good drama. Oh, and on top of all that it also features a cameo from extremely talented and lovely actress Nicola Harrison.TV Bite, 8th October 2009