Pye Ltd.

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W.G. Pye & Co. Ltd.
Industry Electronics
Fate Discontinued
Founded Cambridge, 1896
Defunct 1988
Headquarters York Street, Cambridge
Products Televisions
Telecommunications equipment
Parent Philips

Pye Ltd. was an electronics company founded in Cambridge, England, now wholly owned by Philips.

Early growth[edit]

W.G. Pye & Co. Ltd. was founded in 1896 in Cambridge by William George Pye, an employee of the Cavendish Laboratory, as a part-time business making scientific instruments. By the outbreak of World War I in 1914 the company employed 40 people manufacturing instruments that were used for teaching and research. The war increased demand for such instruments and the War Office needed experimental thermionic valves. The manufacture of these components afforded the company the technical knowledge that it needed to develop the first wireless receiver when the first UK broadcasts were made by the British Broadcasting Company in 1922. Instruments continued to be designed and manufactured under W G Pye Ltd, later situated in York Street Cambridge, while a separate company was started to build wireless components in a factory to become known as Cambridge Works at Church Path, Chesterton.

A series of receivers made at Church Path were given positive reviews by Popular Wireless magazine. In 1924, Harold Pye, the son of the founder, and Edward Appleton, his former tutor at St John's College, Cambridge, designed a new series of receivers which proved even more saleable. In 1928 William Pye sold the company, now renamed Pye Radio Ltd., to C. O. Stanley, who established a chain of small component-manufacturing factories across East Anglia.

When the BBC started to explore television broadcasting, Pye found that the closest of their East Anglian offices was 25 miles outside the estimated effective 25 mile radius of the Alexandra Palace transmitter. Stanley was fascinated by the new technology and on his instructions the company built a high gain receiver that could pick up these transmissions. In 1937, a five-inch Pye television receiver was priced at 21 guineas (£22.05) and within two years the company had sold 2,000 sets at an average price of £34.

The new EF50 valve from Philips enabled Pye to build this high-gain receiver, which was a Tuned Radio Frequency (TRF) type and not a superhet type. With the outbreak of World War II, the Pye receiver using EF50 valves became a key component of many radar receivers, forming the 45 MHz Intermediate Amplifier (IF) section of the equipment. Pye went on to design and manufacture radio equipment for the British Army, including Wireless Sets No. 10, 18, 19, 22, 62 and 68.

In February 1944, Pye formed a specialist division called Pye Telecommunications Ltd which it intended would design and produce radio communications equipment when the war ended. This company developed, prospered and grew to become the leading UK producer of mobile radio equipment for commercial, business, industrial, police and government purposes. See .

Demo of television in Mons (Belgium) on 16 September 1947

After the war Pye's B16T nine-inch table television was designed around the 12-year-old EF50 valve. It was soon superseded by the B18T, which used an extra high tension transformer (EHT) developed by German companies before the war to produce high cathode ray tube voltages.

In 1955, the company diversified into music production with Pye Records. The Independent Television Authority (ITA) started public transmissions in the same year so Pye had to produce new television designs that could receive ITV and the availability of a second channel introduced the need for tuners. Pye's VT4 tunable television was launched in March 1954 and was followed by the V14. The V14 proved to be technically unreliable and so tarnished the Pye name that many dealers transferred their allegiance to other manufacturers. This failure so damaged corporate confidence that Pye avoided being first to market thereafter, although they developed the first British transistor in 1956. Pye TVT Ltd was formed to produce broadcast television equipment, including cameras, which were very popular with British broadcasters including the BBC as well as international sales. The early cameras were called "the Photicon" and the later ones by their Mk number: 2, 3, etc. The Mk7/8 solid state monochrome cameras were the last ones produced. The Pye Mk6 Image Orthicon camera was the last version supplied to BBC Outside Broadcasts in 1963 for a new fleet of eight outside broadcast vans. The ITV companies purchased the popular Pye Mk3s, and to a lesser extent the Mk4s and Mk7s. Unfortunately, Pye (TVT) never made it into producing a colour broadcast television camera, but there was an abortive colour telecine camera; few if any were sold. The reason for this was probably the financial difficulties the company was in.

In 1960, Pye acquired the Telephone Manufacturing Company.[1]

Company trouble and sell-off[edit]

Not wishing to risk further damage to their fragile brand, Pye first used transistors in a product sold as a subsidiary brand: the Pam 710 radio, with the transistors themselves labelled Newmarket Transistors (another subsidiary). When this proved acceptable the company launched the Pye 123 radio (still with the Newmarket label on the novel internal components). Products such as these reversed the decline but the arrival of Japanese competition reduced demand to a level that threatened the viability of the manufacturing plants. The company, like most of its domestic competitors, attempted to restore demand with price competition and, where viable production exceeded demand, sold excess stock at loss-making clearance prices. This tactic has no strategic value and by 1966 Pye was in such difficulties that they started to reduce their manufacturing capacity with closure of the EKCO factory in Southend-on-Sea.

Philips attempted to buy out the ailing Pye in 1966. The Trade Secretary Anthony Wedgwood Benn determined that a complete sale would create a de facto monopoly so he permitted the transfer of just a 60% shareholding with an undertaking that the Lowestoft factory would continue to manufacture televisions.

On 20 April 1964, BBC2 was launched, broadcasting entirely on the new television standard of 625-line UHF, but BBC1 and ITV would remain in 405-line VHF until 1969, when they began UHF broadcasting (405-lines carried on until 1985), so, until 1971, all television receivers in the UK had to handle both the VHF and UHF wavebands. This added to the cost of producing television sets. The price of buying a dual-standard set, combined with the small coverage of BBC2 and the highbrow programming on that channel, meant that initial sales of dual standard sets were slow. The VHF system was finally switched off in the UK on 3 January 1985.

The arrival of 625-line UHF & PAL colour television in the mid-1960s was not the rescue that domestic manufacturers had hoped. Test signals began in 1966 and scheduled transmissions commenced on BBC2 on 1 July 1967, with a full colour service beginning on that channel on 2 December 1967. BBC1 and ITV followed suit on 15 November 1969.

The arrival of colour broadcasting in the UK added further to the cost and complexity of producing television sets. The resulting high price and low coverage areas of the new technology delayed consumer adoption further. It wasn't until 1977 that the number of colour licences sold outnumbered those of black and white.

In the early 1970s Sony and Hitachi launched UK colour televisions that cost less than £200. Domestic manufacturers attempted to compete, but were handicapped by outdated manufacturing techniques and an inflexible workforce. Pye found themselves with high stocks and low cash flow at a time when industrial relations were poor, the economy was ailing and there was little scope for cost reduction. Foundering, the Pye group of companies was bought outright by Philips in 1976. The Lowestoft factory was subsequently sold to Sanyo and Philips moved the manufacture of Pye televisions to Singapore. Prior to the manufacturing offshoring, the company produced a range of televisions branded 'Pye Chelsea'. The range were teak-clad with stainless steel 'feet' and sported three large channel selectors. Whilst unsuitable for the reception of the oncoming Channel 4, the equipment would operate through early video recorders, machines with larger channel capability. The Chelsea range were popular with TV rental companies such as Radio Rentals, Rumbelows and Wigfalls. Maintenance of these sets continued well into the 1980s, with the northern rental chain Wigfalls being the last to withdraw them in 1988.

In 1979 Pye were implicated in an episode of Granada's World In Action in relation to the sale of UHF and VHF radios as well as telephone intercept equipment which was used by the Ugandan Public Safety Unit, the secret police of Idi Amin's rule responsible for killing perhaps several hundred thousand Ugandans.[2] Pye had been supplying Uganda through Wilken Telecommunications, its East Africa distributor.[3]

The Pye brand enjoyed a short-lived renaissance in audio equipment (known as music centres) during the 1970s, and in the late 1980s with televisions, gaining something of a cult status among college students at the time.[citation needed]

In recent years the Pye brand has enjoyed a resurgence on the UK market[citation needed], with domestic products including DVD recorders. The Pye brand is one of a handful surviving today from the early domestic electronics era that dates to before World War II.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ World In Action: Inside Idi Amin's Terror Machine, first broadcast 13 June 1979
  3. ^ "Electronic Company's Ugandan Affairs", New Scientist, 7 June 1979

External links[edit]