W.G. Pye & Co. Ltd. was founded in 1896 in Cambridge by William George Pye, an employee of the Cavendish Laboratory, as a part time business making scientific instruments. By the outbreak of World War I in 1914 the company employed forty people manufacturing instruments that were used for teaching and research. The war increased demand for such instruments and the War Office needed experimental thermionic valves. The manufacture of these components afforded the company the technical knowledge that it needed to develop the first "wireless" (as early radios were called) when the first UK broadcasts were made by the BBC in 1922.
The company started a wireless components factory at Church Path, Chesterton and the series of receivers that it made were given positive reviews by Popular Wireless magazine. In 1924 Harold Pye, the son of the founder, and Edward Appleton, his former tutor at St. John's College designed a new series of receivers which proved even more saleable. In 1928 William Pye sold the company, now renamed Pye Radio Ltd., to C. O. Stanley, who established a chain of small component-manufacturing factories across East Anglia.
When the BBC started to explore television broadcasting, Pye found that the closest of their East Anglian offices was some 25 miles outside the estimated effective 25 mile radius of the Alexandra Palace transmitter. Stanley was fascinated by the new technology and on his instructions the company built a high gain receiver that could pick up these transmissions. In 1937 a 5-inch Pye television receiver was priced at 21 guineas (£22.05) and within two years the company had sold 2,000 sets at an average price of £34.
The new EF50 valve from Philips, enabled Pye to build this high gain receiver, which was a Tuned Radio Frequency (TRF) type, and not a superhet type. With the outbreak of World War 2 the Pye receiver using EF50 valves became a key component of many radar receivers, forming the 45 MHz Intermediate Amplifier (IF) section of the equipment. Pye went on to design and manufacture many famous British Army radio equipments such as Wireless Sets No. 10, 18, 19, 22, 62, 68.
In February 1944 Pye formed a specialist division called Pye Telecommunications Ltd which it intended would design and produce radio communications equipment when the war ended. This company developed, prospered and grew to become the leading UK producer of mobile radio equipment for commercial, business, industrial, police and Government purposes. See http://www.pyetelecomhistory.org
After the war Pye's B16T 9" table television was designed around the twelve-year-old EF50 valve. It was soon superseded by the B18T, which used an extra high tension transformer (EHT) developed by German companies before the war to produce high cathode ray tube voltages.
In 1955 the company diversified into music production with Pye Records. The Independent Television Authority (ITA) started public transmissions in the same year so Pye had to produce new television designs that could receive ITV and the availability of a second channel introduced the need for tuners. Pye's V4 tunable television was launched in March 1954 and was followed by the V14. The V14 proved to be technically unreliable and so tarnished the Pye name that many dealers transferred their allegiance to other manufacturers. This failure so damaged corporate confidence that Pye avoided being first to market thereafter, although they developed the first British transistor in 1956. They also produced broadcast television equipment, including cameras which, as well as international sales, were very popular with British broadcasters including the BBC. The early cameras were called "the Photicon" and the later ones by their Mk number 2,3 etc. The Mk7/8 solid state monochrome cameras were the last ones produced. The Pye Mk6 Image Orthicon camera was the last version supplied to BBC Outside Broadcasts in 1963 for a new fleet of 8 outside broadcast vans. The ITV companies purchased the popular Pye Mk3s, and to a lesser extent the Mk4s and Mk7s. Unfortunately, Pye (TVT) never made it into producing a colour broadcast television camera, but there was an abortive colour telecine camera, few if any were sold. The reason for this was probably the financial difficulties the company was in.
Not wishing to risk further damage to their fragile brand, Pye first used transistors in a product sold as a subsidiary brand: the Pam 710 radio, with the transistors themselves labelled Newmarket Transistors (another subsidiary). When this proved acceptable the company launched the Pye 123 radio a Pye 123 (still with the Newmarket label on the novel internal components). Products such as these reversed the decline but the arrival of Japanese competition reduced demand to a level that threatened the viability of the manufacturing plants. The company, like most of its domestic competitors, attempted to restore demand with price competition and, where viable production exceeded demand, sold excess stock at loss-making clearance prices. This tactic has no strategic value and by 1966 Pye was in such difficulties that they started to reduce their manufacturing capacity with closure of the Ekco factory in Southend-on-Sea.
Philips attempted to buy out the ailing Pye in 1966. The Trade Secretary Anthony Wedgwood Benn determined that a complete sale would create a de facto monopoly so he permitted the transfer of just a 60% shareholding with an undertaking that the Lowestoft factory would continue to manufacture televisions.
On April 20th 1964, BBC2 launched, broadcasting entirely on the new television standard of 625-line UHF, but BBC1 and ITV would remain in 405-line VHF until 1969, so, until 1971, all television receivers in the UK had to handle both the VHF and UHF wavebands. This added to the cost of producing television sets. The price of buying a dual-standard set, combined with the small coverage of BBC2 and the highbrow programming on that channel meant that initial sales of dual standard sets were slow. The VHF system was finally switched off in the UK on January 3rd 1985.
The arrival of 625-line UHF & colour television in the mid sixties was not the rescue that domestic manufacturers had hoped. Test signals began in 1966 and scheduled transmissions commenced on BBC2 on July 1st 1967, with a full colour service beginning on that channel on December 2nd 1967. BBC1 and ITV followed suit on November 15th 1969.
The arrival of colour broadcasting in the UK added further to the cost and complexity of producing television sets. The resulting high price and low coverage ares of the new technology delayed consumer adoption further. It wasn't until the TV license year of April 1976 to April 1977 that the number of colour licenses sold outnumbered those of black and white.
In the early 1970s Sony and Hitachi launched UK colour televisions at under £200 and most domestic manufacturers decided to compete with them in that market. This decision handicapped the domestic manufacturers when the Japanese moved upmarket using just in time (JIT) manufacturing. When the UK consumers chose quality over price, domestic manufacturers found themselves with high stocks and low cash flow at a time when industrial relations were poor and there was little flexibility in cost reduction. Pye was unable to recover and the entire Pye group of companies was bought by Philips in 1976. The Lowestoft factory was subsequently sold to Sanyo for the manufacture of television sets after Philips moved the manufacture of Pye televisions to Singapore. However, the brand enjoyed a short-lived renaissance in the late 1980s, and almost gained cult status amongst college students at the time. Many a collegical common room would be filled with such phrases as 'Do you like Pye', 'Are you a Pye-man', and the ever endearing 'Just look at the shape of the badge!', with many of the aforementioned emblems being scrawled on desks and department notice boards.