Young Eric Kirkham Cole and his
girlfriend, the future Mrs.Cole, built radio sets. In 1924, because
of interruptions to charge somebody's accumulator or to fix a
customer's radio they only averaged half a dozen sets a week.
These were the first "Ekco Receiving Sets". One day
a freelance journalist, Bill Verrells, who had been looking for
something to interest readers in a local paper for which he wrote
articles, chose the subject of using the mains to power radio
sets rather than the cumbersome accumulator and HT battery. Eric
had also been contemplating such a device and he contacted Bill
Verrell, and soon, after further development work, and advertising
a suitable device, the pair started an enterprise making and
selling their new "Battery Eliminator".
some examples of mains eliminators in the Radio Museum
Several different models were
sold as some customers had DC mains and others, the more modern,
AC mains. If one looks at articles written in those days, ideas
were not lacking in using mains voltage for things other than
lighting. DC mains battery chargers often consisted of nothing
more complicated than a suitable light bulb connected in series
with the battery. Mains voltages varied from less than 100 to
more than 200 and charts were available for determining the right
wattage bulb, the right type (i.e. carbon or tungsten filament)
versus the voltage of your supply. No doubt there were lots of
puzzled faces when such a technique was attempted with AC mains!
Front of a 1931 Instruction
Anyway, business boomed and many local people who were visited
bought an eliminator. Because valves had directly heated filaments
it wasn't easy to eliminate the accumulator in areas with AC
mains. And so because of technical shortcomings in cheap, low-ripple,
low voltage rectification, the new AC eliminators catered for
HT battery replacement only.
As business was now so good, by mid
1926 Cole had ditched not only repair work but also his long-standing
accumulator charging service.
Once valves with indirectly heated filaments appeared things
changed dramatically. Now AC mains could be used as a source
for heating the valves, and as more and more districts switched
from DC to AC mains and sets started to appear with built-in
power supplies, the battery eliminator business started to suffer.
In 1927 with funding from local businessmen, a new factory had
been built at Leigh-on-Sea, to produce eliminators, and as Ekco
turned to radio set production, they expanded, first to premises
owned by their various directors and then in 1930, to a very
big new factory at Southend-on-Sea.
Business continued to expand at a phenomenal rate and soon their
staff had grown from 50 to 1000. In 1930, just as they had been
getting into gear, a new material called "Bakelite"
had appeared on the scene. AEG were hawking the stuff around
in an attempt to get orders to feed their new plant in Berlin
and Ekco immediately seeing the advantages of using the new material
for their cabinets quickly placed an order.
Unfortunately the Government, perhaps under pressure from lobbyists
representing other radio companies, placed a huge import levy
on the import of Bakelite cabinets and such was the competitiveness
of the industry, that Ekco were forced to build a new plant,
equipped with giant presses, for making their own.
Ekco were flying high in their flourishing
new pemises and lots of orders when suddenly, in 1932, a fire
destroyed their R&D labs. Designs for the 1933 range were
lost and the models cobbled together for that year didn't sell
too well putting the company into dire straits. By risking all
and borrowing a lot of money Cole and Verrell kept the firm afloat
and by the end of 1933, helped by the appeal of new stylish Bakelite
cases, regained their previous position in the marketplace.
The company did well up to outbreak
of war when, after moving to Aylesbury, and a number of smaller
sites, to get away from the vulnerable Southend factory, started
making military radio and radar equipment. Amongst the new sets
were such famous names as the R1155/T1154 produced for Lancaster
bombers, the 19 set for tanks, and the Type 46 Walkie Talkie
used by the Infantry.
Like taking an umbrella with one to keep rain away, the deserted
factory at Southend had escaped unscathed during the heavy bombing
during the Battle of Britain and a year after it had been abandoned
the Government ordered it to be re-equipped whereupon it re-entered
business making wiring harnesses for bombers and a range of bakelite
fittings to support the war industry. Because of the speed of
change, the number of factories, and volume of business, Ekco's
management were floundering. Difficulty working out arrangements
for co-ordinating their activities, costing and financial control
was taking too much effort and was damaging the business. However
with a concerted effort and novel techniques, not only did Ekco
succeed to overcome their problems, but they opened further new
factories in Preston and in Scotland and became a model for other
companies engaged in War Production. A key element to their business
was valve production, which now included lamps and special types
for radar sets. This had continued during the upheavals at a
small factory in Southend and later expanded into their new Preston
After the war Ekco not only made radios and TV receivers in large
numbers but, using their new found expertise, produced electronic
equipment for the non-domestic market.
In the mid 50's mergers were commonplace and Ekco, not to be
left out, had bought the Ferranti brand name and the Dynatron
business, a name signifying quality.
In 1973 when most of the household names including Ekco had been
absorbed into conglomerates, Ekco TV sets used The Pye "697"
Chassis. In the same year, limited radio production with the
Ekco badge included an FM only stereo receiver. 1975 brought
yet another Pye offering in the shape of the "731"
Chassis, and their radio, although having a different model number
to its stablemates was really a Pye in disguise. By the end of
the decade, because of business and marketing pressures, manufacturers
had dropped most of the old names from the 30's although some
marques such as Bush and Alba have survived albeit to be manufactured
in places like Turkey or the far east.