Thorn EMI

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Thorn EMI
IndustryMusic, video, defence equipment
FoundedMerger of Thorn Electrical Industries and The EMI Group, 1979
FateDemerged and subsequently broken up
Key people
  • Sir Richard Cave, Founding chairman
  • Sir John Reid, Founding chief executive
ParentReeves Communications[citation needed]

Thorn EMI was a major British company involved in consumer electronics, music, defence and retail. Created in October 1979, when Thorn Electrical Industries merged with EMI, it was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. But, it demerged back to separate companies in 1996.


The company was formed in October 1979, when Thorn Electrical Industries merged with EMI.[1]

In May 1984, the Company attempted to merge with British Aerospace. And, in July 1984, it bought the micro-chip manufacturer, INMOS.[2]

Thorn EMI acquired the Mullard Equipment Limited ('MEL') division of Philips in 1990.[3]

On 16 August, 1996, Thorn EMI shareholders voted in favour of demerging Thorn from EMI again: the Company became EMI Group plc, and the electronics and rentals divisions were divested as Thorn plc.[4]


Thorn EMI's wide range of business covered five principal areas of activity; television broadcasting, retail/rentals, defence, music, and consumer electronics.

Television broadcasting[edit]

Thorn EMI was, until a share flotation in 1984, the majority shareholder in the London-based ITV broadcaster Thames Television.

This shareholding was inherited from the 1967 purchase of the Associated British Picture Corporation by EMI. The deal included their interests in the ITV company, ABC Weekend Television. Through an enforced merger with Rediffusion London, this became Thames Television.

In 1985, the company attempted to sell their stake to Carlton Communications. But, this was blocked by the governing body of ITV, the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

Retail and rental[edit]

Radio Rentals, DER (Domestic Electric Rentals Ltd) and Rumbelows (which was sold in 1995) Rent-A-Center.

Big Brown Box was launched in Australia in 2008 by Thorn, and was later sold to Appliances Online, a subsidiary of Winning Appliances, in 2011. The site was an online retailer of AV equipment, consumer electronics, and appliances.


From its formation until the mid-1990s, Thorn EMI was one of the United Kingdom's largest defence companies.

The MEL Division, acquired from Philips, was involved in radar, electronic warfare, and communications. The MEL communications business was sold to Thomson-CSF, now Thales.

In 1995, the various defence businesses were sold:

  • Thorn EMI Electro Optics to Pilkington Optronics
  • Thomson Thorn Missile Electronics to Thomson-CSF, now Thales
  • Thorn Sensors Group to Racal (to become Racal-Thorn Wells, now also part of Thales)

Machine Tools[edit]

In the early 1980s, Thorn EMI Machine Tools manufactured Computerised Numerical Controlled (CNC) machine tools at its EMI-MEC Limited factory in Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, Hampshire.


The EMI label expanded greatly as part of Thorn EMI. In 1989, Thorn EMI bought a 50% interest in Chrysalis Records, buying the outstanding 50% in 1991. In one of its highest-profile and most expensive acquisitions, Thorn EMI took over Richard Branson's Virgin Records in 1992.

Computer software[edit]

In the early to mid-1980s, Thorn EMI Video Programmes released a number of games for several home computer formats, initially under their own name. They received a lukewarm reception with no major hits (though Snooker and Billiards did reach No. 6 in the UK Atari Charts). These included Computer War, Tank Commander, Snooker and Billiards, 8-Ball and Tournament Pool, Darts, Cribbage and Dominoes (1981), Gold Rush, Mutant Herd, Road Racer, Volcanic Planet (1983), and River Rescue (1982). The label was later renamed to Creative Sparks.

In 1991, its consulting, systems integration, and outsourcing service division – Thorn EMI Software, was a subject of a management buyout[5][6] and started to trade as a separate company named "Data Sciences Ltd". The staff and management paid £82 million for the £117 million turnover division. In 1996, IBM acquired Data Sciences plc for £95 million.[7]

From 1981 until about 1983, Thorn EMI Video Programmes was based in the Thorn EMI head office, Orion House on Upper St Martin's Lane, near Seven Dials in central London. They moved from there to an office in Soho, and the name changed to just Thorn EMI Video. TEV later became Creative Sparks.

Fire and security systems[edit]

Thorn Security installed and serviced all types of electronic security systems from their bases around the UK, inheriting EMI's well-known AFA-Minerva lineage. The business was absorbed into ADT, soon after the EMI demerger, and; all but a handful of the famous red 'Thorn' bellboxes were replaced, mostly by ADT's hexagonal bellboxes, which were inherited by ADT's prior takeover of Modern Alarms. However, the fire products are still present in many premises, and until recently spares and complete systems of Thorn heritage continued to be manufactured by ADT. Most of Thorn's bells and sounders were rebadged Friedland, Fulleon Cooper, or Hosiden Besson products, with most of the bells made during the EMI era being based on the Friedland Master Bell (Big Bell for 8" models).

Business Communications[edit]

This division, based in Marlow, provided hotels with televisions and related equipment. It also embarked upon a project called Hotel 3000, which provided interactive set-top boxes for hotel rooms in the late 1980s.

After Thorn's demerger, this division started operating as Quadriga[8]

Advanced Product Development Centre[edit]

This small subsidiary further developed existing products, as well as introducing new ones. It was based in St. Lawrence House, Broad Street, Bristol.

Consumer electronics[edit]

Ferguson Radio Corporation was owned by Thorn EMI. It made consumer electronics, such as TV sets and radios. TVs were designed and manufactured by Ferguson in the UK until around the early 1990s, although, before this, some Thomson-designed models were introduced to the Ferguson range of TVs for sale in the UK. Some of these Thomson-based models were even manufactured in the UK, although, in later years, these models were made outside the UK by Thomson.

By 1992, the Ferguson TV factory in Gosport had closed, ending a long period of manufacturing of Ferguson TVs in the UK.

VCRs were sourced until the early 1990s by a joint company called J2T, established by JVC, Thorn (Ferguson), and Telefunken. From around 1991, VCRs were sourced from Thomson alone.

One important aspect of Thorn EMI's business was its ability to manufacture one of its Ferguson televisions, and then make it available for rental through its rentals sector, or sell it through its retail sector.

Prism Micro Products was owned by Thorn EMI for a short period in the 1980s.

Domestic appliances[edit]

Kenwood Limited is now owned by DeLonghi.

Thorn EMI's film and video interests[edit]

The newly merged company continued the film interests EMI had acquired over the preceding decade; these had included the former Associated British Picture Corporation, and their facilities at Elstree Studios, Shenley Road, Borehamwood.

Thorn EMI Video was established in 1981. Thorn EMI released films on video from various film companies including Orion Pictures (First Blood, The Terminator), New Line Cinema (The Evil Dead, Xtro), and Universal (Bad Boys, Frances) in the 1980s.

Thorn EMI joined HBO in November 1984 to create Thorn EMI/HBO Video.[9] In 1986, Cannon Films bought Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment (see EMI Films) and the film library, although Cannon sold the latter in 1987.[10] HBO maintained an involvement the video company, which became HBO/Cannon Video. Cannon left operations and the company was eventually called HBO Video in 1987.[11][12]

After demerger[edit]

  • Thorn was purchased by Nomura Principal Finance Group in 1998, which subsequently became Terra Firma Capital Partners (who also owned EMI for a period). It disposed of Thorn in 2007 to a private buyer.[13]
  • EMI announced in November 2011 that it would sell its music arm to Vivendi's Universal Music Group and its publishing business to a Sony/ATV consortium.


  1. ^ EMI: a giant at war with itself,, 18 January 2008
  2. ^ Reversing corporate diversification and the use of the proceeds from asset sales: The case of Thorn EMI Financial Management, Winter 2001
  3. ^ "Scout & Pilot". Archived from the original on 11 July 2011.
  4. ^ Vote solid for Thorn demerger,, 17 August 1996
  5. ^ "THORN EMI plc" (PDF). Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  6. ^ "Data Sciences (Company Profile)". Archived from the original on 9 March 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  7. ^ "IBM to acquire Data Sciences". New Straits Times. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  8. ^ "Quadriga Company History". Archived from the original on 4 December 2008.
  9. ^ Billboard (1 December 1984, page 6)
  10. ^ "Cannon Sells British Library for $85 Million : 2,000-Title Film Collection Nets $40 Million Less Than Ailing Firm Had Forecast". Los Angeles Times. 2 May 1987.
  11. ^ "HBO said it is buying out HBO/Cannon Video". Los Angeles Times. 7 April 1987.
  12. ^ "COMPANY NEWS; Cannon Will Sell Home Video Stake". The New York Times. 7 April 1987.
  13. ^ "Terra Firma - Thorn".

External links[edit]