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