Pye Telecom History - Virtual Pye Radio Communications Museum
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The Product History of Pye
  Radio Communications
1939 to 2022
80+ years of radio communications
Company History
issue date 03-03-2022
2.  The Early Days of Pye 1896 - 1939

* The information on this page is based on an original manuscript by Mr. D. B. Delanoy, (with the permission of the Author) plus additional research
Origins of W. G. Pye and Company

In 1896, William George Pye left his employment as workshop superintendent at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge and, assisted by his wife Annie Eliza Pye, set up W.G. Pye and Company, at his home in Humberstone Road, Cambridge to design and manufacture high precision scientific instruments.

William Pye was a trained instrument maker, and his equipment for schools physics lessons were soon in great demand from centres of learning and research all over the world.  Gradually he began to take on staff and in 1897 moved to premises in  30 St. Andrews Street and in 1899 to premises in Mill Lane which he called Granta Works. In 1913 he moved to larger premises at the end of  Montague Road Cambridge which, later (and greatly expanded), formed part of the Haig Road/St. Andrews Road complex of first Pye Radio Ltd, then Pye Ltd and later Pye Telecom.

Pye benefited from the enormous demand for military equipment during World War 1, making optical instruments, telescopes and gun sights etc. but by 1921 this market had disappeared.  Short-time working was introduced as a temporary measure, but the company also searched for something else to manufacture.

The Wireless Receiver

The management decided to try the new field of domestic broadcast
wireless receivers and planned what was Pye's first wireless set; designed to receive the experimental broadcast signals then being radiated from London.

A small number of receivers based on modular scientific building blocks were produced and, due to the Company's background, were superbly made precision instruments.  Because they were more compliant with the Post Office specifications than some of their competitors' products, (the Post Office was the type approval authority) they tended to be somewhat insensitive and therefore did not find a very enthusiastic market.

William Pye's son, Harold, after graduating from St. John's College Cambridge, joined his father, and in 1924 designed the first commercially successful Pye receivers, the "700 Series".

From then on the business made good progress and eventually it became so important that a separate division called Pye Radio Limited was formed, with Charles Orr Stanley (who had previously been their advertising agent) appointed to run the business.

New Management at W. G. Pye

C. O. Stanley had  previously owned Arks Publicity, an advertising agency, one of whose most important clients was Stanley Robert Mullard, who in September 1920 had set up the Mullard Radio Valve Co. Limited.

Stanley Mullard's company prospered, and in 1924, in an attempt to solve some problems he had experienced with glass-to-metal seals in his valves he approached Philips Lamps of Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

The most important outcome of the relationship formed from this liaison was that by January 1927, Philips had taken over the Mullard valve company.

New Associations

The association of Pye with Mullard was, from the beginning, very important in terms of the bond of friendship between C. O. Stanley and S. R. Mullard, the prices paid for valves and the technical assistance exchanged between the two.

Meanwhile, the Pye family was not happy with the rate of growth of Pye Radio Limited and it was suggested that C.O. Stanley should negotiate to sell the business to Philips.

In 1928, C.O. Stanley offered Pye Radio Ltd to Philips for 65,000, of which 5,000 was to be his own commission.  Philips countered by offering 60,000 saying that the commission was too high.  Stanley, as the manager, declined to sell and he himself bought Pye Radio Limited for 60,000. In order to fund this purchase he demonstrated the latest Pye Portable radio (Model 25) to Barclays Bank and sucessfully borrowed a deposit of 5000.  He then floated Pye shares on the London Stock Exchange, and raised the balance of 55,000 to complete the purchase of Pye Radio.
Brisk expansion followed and in 1929 the Haig Road factory, by then called Pye Radio Works, occupied an area of 8,000 square metres.  By 1933 Pye had expanded again and was producing more than 40,000 radio sets per year, and had moved on from the early "Tuned Radio Frequency" (TRF) design of receivers to the latest "Super-Sonic Heterodyne" (Superhet) receiver concept.

The Significance of Television

From as early as 1925, Pye had taken a keen interest in television, and in 1930, started developing TV sets and cathode ray tubes.

By 1936, when the BBC began the worlds' first high-definition (405-line) television broadcasts, Pye had already been making TV sets with a 9" screen for over a year.  The high point of Pye pre World War II TV development came with the introduction of the Model 915 TV, which was a high-gain receiver of advanced design, intended to receive London television in Cambridge.  By 1939, a  production line had been set up in Cambridge and samples produced.

Interestingly, the Pye Model 915 TV receiver was a "straight" or "tuned radio frequency" (TRF) receiver design, centered on the BBC London TV carrier frequency of 45MHz, and used what at the time was a revolutionary new radio valve of exceptionally high performance.  This valve was the famous EF50, developed by Philips at Eindhoven, later to be manufactured by its subsidiary company, Mullard, in the UK.

By chance, in May 1939 the RAF airborne radar development team at Bawdsey were searching for a suitable 45 MHz receiver  to replace their prototype (based on an EMI design) and were made aware of the TV developments in Cambridge and came to collect equipment samples of the Pye receiver. VHF or UHF RF amplifier and mixer circuits were placed ahead of it and this high gain 45 MHz band-pass amplifier became the core Intermediate Amplifier (IF) stage of most WW2 radar receivers.  In the RAF it was known as Receiving Unit Type 153.

When World War II began on 3rd September 1939, UK TV broadcasting came to an end, as did the production of the 45 MHz Pye Model 915 TV receiver, and Pye was switched over to the design and production of first radar, and later wireless equipment, for the British military.

Sources:  1.  Mr. D. B. Delanoy 2003*,  2.  The Story of Pye, Pye Limited, 1956,   3.  Bowen E. G., Radar Days, 1987, Adam Hilger, Bristol, 4. Sayer A. P., Army Radar, 1950, The War Office

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V2.0 - Date 02-06-2006 updated 19-03-2022

Copyright reserved 2002 - 2022 Pye Telecom Historic Collection, conservators and authors, Cambridge, England