A Potted History of some famous UK Radio Manufacturers


 It could have been "Bidmead", but presumably the other partner had a name with a better ring to it? Maybe "Bidrob" or "Robmead" was discussed? Whichever way you look at it "Roberts" sounds better. Anyway, when the two lads, Harry Roberts and Leslie Bidmead, went into partnership in 1932 they were already instilled in radio and as with many early radio businesses one partner took the role of salesman and the other the technical guru. Unlike many other radio companies in the 30s Roberts did not seek to enlarge their company using vast loans to finance grandiose factories, instead they aimed at the high quality battery portable niche market.

Advertisement from 1952...is this the Rolls Royce of portables?

Their first "factory" was in a couple of rented rooms near Oxford Circus where they had decided to make sets a cut above the rest. Numbers of sets made each year was tiny but from the outset they concentrated on the quality end of the market, so it was natural to approach the Harrods buyer early on in the proceedings and then a coup de grace when, in 1939, the Queen bought a Roberts for her daughter, Princess Elizabeth. The firm had already expanded (no doubt in no small measure from monies received from the landed gentry via their favourite store)... having moved to larger premises in Rathbone Place in 1936.
From Rathbone Place the Company moved to East Molesley in Surrey and in 1955 they were awarded their first Royal Warrant, by then having sold several sets to the Royal Family.

Many strange sets were made in the years that followed, being encased in various exotic outer coverings including mink and gold. The Roberts radio has always been identifiable because, over the years it employed the same basic design of case. Wood has until recently always been used and this material, although covered in Rexine or whatever, gave it a certain solid feel and no doubt a certain richness of sound not approached by the cheaper plastic cased variety later adopted by rival manufacturers. No doubt the complicated construction of the case as well as its labour-intensive innards helped keep the price in a higher bracket because rarely has the Roberts product been cheap.
Until relatively recently the inside of a Roberts has looked "British". The performance has been superlative, the design first class but the construction, certainly to my eyes, has looked scruffy. Still, when the thing has been reassembled and a battery inserted, and it's been switched on, the sound, which together with the exterior look of the thing are the only yardsticks by which the public can judge, are outstanding.
The sets can still be seen to this day gracing the windows of most Radio and TV shops, nearly 70 years after the Roberts name was hatched. In 1996, set production moved to Yorkshire from Surrey, where the new brand owners, Glen Dimplex who took over in 1994 are located.
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