Pye Telecom History Group - Virtual Pye Museum
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The Product History of Pye
 Two-Way Radio
1939 to 2002
70+ years of radio communications
Company History
2.  The Early Days of Pye 1896 - 1939

* The information on this page is adapted from an original manuscript by Mr. D. B. Delanoy, with the permission of the Author
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 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 1913 he moved to larger premises in 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, 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 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 appointed to run the business.

New Management at W. G. Pye

C. O. Stanley had  previously worked for 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 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.
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 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 receiver of advanced design.  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 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 Radar development team at Bawdsey were searching for a suitable 45 MHz receiver  to replace their prototypes based on an EMI design and were made aware of the developments in Cambridge.

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

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V2.0 - Date 02-06-2006 updated 10-07-2014

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