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By Iain Baird on

Bradford led the way in modern manufacturing of British TV sets

Iain Logie Baird investigates the history of the most modern and largest TV factory in all of Europe—just down the road from the museum here in Bradford.

Did you know that the nation’s television sets were once manufactured almost entirely here in Britain? In fact, at one time the most modern and largest TV factory in all of Europe was located just 1.5 miles from the museum at 8 Lidget Green, Bradford.

It is a surreal feeling when I think about the fact that thousands of Baird-branded televisions were manufactured in these old buildings not far from the museum. Today there are no signs left that televisions were ever made there.

Part of the factory’s legacy is preserved by historic Bradford-made televisions which we have acquired. A small black and white set can be seen on tours of our collections and research centre. Several other larger sets are housed in in the Science Museum’s stores.

The Baird M702 dual-standard, National Media Museum collection - one of the first colour TVs manufactured in the Bradford factory, c. 1967
The Baird M702 dual-standard, Science Museum Group collection—one of the first colour TVs manufactured in the Bradford factory, c. 1967

1930: Radio Rentals is formed

Radio Rentals was founded in 1930 by Percy Perring-Toms, a radio dealer in Brighton who was one of the first to foresee the potential market for rented radio sets. By 1936 Radio Rentals had become a public company with about 50,000 customers.

Initially, all of its radio sets had been supplied by EK Cole Ltd (Ekco). In 1945, to assure a supply of radio sets at a time when there were restrictions on output, Radio Rentals acquired Mains Radios and Gramophones Ltd, a manufacturing firm established in 1929, and located on Manchester Road in Bradford.

1948: Television Manufacture Begins

After the war, Radio Rentals increasingly concentrated on the rental of television sets. The Manchester Road factory was retooled, and Mains Radio and Gramophones began television manufacture in 1948; one of the first factories in the north to do so.

By 1952, Radio Rentals was well established as the largest company in the television rental business. By the firm’s Silver Jubilee in 1955, Radio Rentals also had over 280,000 radio customers.

In 1960–61, having acquired the Baird Company name from Hartley Baird Ltd., Radio Rentals changed the name of its manufacturing subsidiary in Bradford to Baird Television, to emphasise its position in the manufacturing of televisions.

The annual Baird’s dance was held at the Mecca Locarno at 110 Manningham Lane—a grand ballroom which had opened in 1961. Such was the prestige of the ballroom that within a month of its opening, BBC Television broadcast the first of many Come Dancing programmes from there. The building still exists, but is presently out of use and up for sale.

Mecca Ballroom, Manningham Lane, Bradford

1964 was a big year for Radio Rentals. The millionth set rolled off the production line, and the company merged with its largest competitor, rental chain Rentaset Ltd.

In 1965, Radio Rentals completely ceased renting radios to concentrate on televisions. Growth in the number of rental subscribers continued after the Rentaset merger, and in 1966 the 3-year-old Vista Rentals Company was also acquired.

Retooling for Colour

In 1967, Radio Rentals was using about three quarters of the Baird factory’s output.

In 1968, Thorn Electrical Industries took over Radio Rentals. Baird was producing about 140,000 televisions per year, of which 10,000 were colour models. At this time, Baird employed about 2,400 people making black and white and colour television sets and components at its main factory.

A window display of Radio Rentals monochrome television sets c. 1966 © Daily Herald / National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL
A window display of Radio Rentals monochrome television sets c. 1966 © Science Museum Group collection

The main Bradford factory, the Beckside Works (located at Lidget Green), was extended with the purchase of an adjoining factory. The No. 1 factory became known as the old Baird factory, and across the road was the modern No. 2 factory—then the most modern and the largest television factory in Europe.

Two other factories were acquired, one at Shipley and one at Batley, to make sub-assemblies and components. Baird manufactured a substantial and increasing proportion of its component requirements, and took some of its loudspeaker requirements from the associated Goodmans speaker division.

Ten years later, although parent company Thorn was still profitable, British demand for colour television sets had begun to drop. This trend was coupled with concern about increasing overseas competition. The controversial decision was made to close the Bradford factory in 1978 with the loss of 2,200 jobs.

11 comments on “Bradford led the way in modern manufacturing of British TV sets

  1. I can remember looking eagerly in Radio rentals windows as child for the first glimpse of colour TV. I also remember being confused and surprised at the “Baird” name on TV sets, been at 10 I was well enough acquainted with TV history to know that these were not in any real sense made by the Baird company. Who now owns the name I wonder?

  2. I worked for Radio Rentals since 1969 as a apprentice for about 30 years through all the changes from black and white to colour ,satellite good times until the accountants took over
    The black and white TV in the shop window are made by GEC /sobel

  3. I worked for Radio Rentals from 1971 until 1982. during this time I witnessed the growth of the colour TV rental market and the rise and fall of the TV rental market. Towards the late 70s new products were being introduced ie. the video recorder and communication with computers in the form of Prestel where a home terminal communicated with a distant ‘main frame’ computer. By 1981 the industry was in decline and the business was loosing more customers than it gained. TV receivers were becoming more reliable which spurred customers into buying TV’s rather than renting.
    In early 1982 I left the industry and went to work In telecommunications at BT and later the IBA a major UK broadcast transmission provider in the radio and TV broadcast industry. Here I helped to maintain the nations TV and radio broadcast infastructure working on analogue and digital (Freeview) TV transmitters. I also worked on AM/FM and DAB digital radio transmitters. So it could be said that in Just over 40 years, I went from the receiver end of the transmission chain to the transmitter.

  4. Thanks Mr Perks

    I remember working at Radio Rentals with great fondness. It was a very well ordered working environment with ‘old style’ managers who had long term careers with the company, starting as TV engineers or sales representatives and working their way up to being a branch or area manager. As a young nineteen year old, they engaged my services as a TV engineer In 1971. They certainly looked after their staff and rewarded us with what I considered to be good working conditions, with plenty of training courses as new products were introduced. The company began its life as the name suggests renting out radios, radiograms and even fridges to their customers. Indeed I remember visiting many long term Radio Rentals customers who still rented a radio from the company.

    The monochrome TV’s themselves were a delight to work on and were designed in modular form so that the tuner assembly or the main chassis could be replaced, returned to a central repair depot or refurbished locally. The TVs themselves were very reliable and the performance good, especially the ones made in the Baird factory at Bradford before Thorn took over the company, and the Bradford factory sadly closed.

    When colour TV appeared in the late 60s, Radio Rentals had developed their own 700 series Baird colour receivers at Bradford. They were state of the art and the performance very good. So good in fact that the BBC used them for display purposes and when set up correctly the picture quality was superb. I remember visiting the BBCs Sutton Coldfield transmitting station for an open day and seeing three 25″ screen Baird 702 full length console receivers displaying the new PAL system ‘I’ colour television transmissions on BBC2 only. The design of the Baird 700 series colour televisions was used as the basis for the design of the successful single standard Decca Bradford chassis used in their colour TV receivers. The monochrome receivers used and designed by Radio Rentals were good too, in particular the 620 and 660 series 405/625 dual standard receivers.
    Into the seventies the Thorn series receivers were being introduced into the company and saw the introduction of receivers using the Thorn monochrome 1400 405/625 dual standard chassis and the 1500 625 single standard chassis.

    Thorn had introduced their all transistor dual standard 405/625 2000 series colour television chassis which was unique in its time as the worlds first all transistor modular chassis colour TV. I believe one remains in the science museum to this day. Dual standard receivers, both colour and monochrome were necessary in the late 60s and early 70s since up until this time, only BBC2 transmitted on UHF 625 lines in colour. After 1969 the situation changed and ITV and BBC1 began colour transmissions on UHF. It was then that the rental market really began to ‘take off’and receivers employing the very successful Thorn modular solid state 3000 receiver chassis were being marketed. This chassis had a production run of well into the late seventies and many thousands of receivers using this chassis were manufactured.

  5. Thanks Steve, your comments took me back to the good old days. My dad formed Jack Reynolds & Co Ltd in the late 1940s on Lumby Street at the bottom of Manchester Rd and started with the production of radio cabinets for Mains radio.
    The company grew quickly in the 50s through to the 60s making cabinets for various companies but the main one was Baird.
    We had approximately 200 skilled workers producing cabinets and I recall many visits to Beckside Works, we had an R&D section producing samples to new designs which had to be approved at Bairds design dept.
    Cabinets came off our production line straight into large furniture vans and half and hour later into Beckside, regards Keith

  6. Hi there. I’m a bit confused with dates mentioned. I started work for Vista Rentals in August 1969. At that time there were no mention of a merger with Radio rentals, and yet 1966 was mentioned as the merger year? Also the other strange thing that puzzles me, the window of the Radio rentals shop, clearly shows GEC televisions. If I remember rightly at the time, Vista were the only company on the high Street to offer these new slim line TVs for rental? I worked for these companies from 1969 till 2007. I Started as a tea boy at Hackney Vista, and then in 1970 or 1971 we merged with radio rentals, which later combined with Multi broadcast and DER after many years we ended up as Box Clever. When I started, I began learning how to repair those GEC sets, and ended up running the Plasma repair centre for the South East. The first Plasma TV that I repaired was worth £14,000 retail. How time’s have changed. Great site by the way. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. Best wishes too you all Barry Joseph

  7. I use to work for bairds television in 1965 until emigrating to Australia in 1970 had great memories of the factory, we used to work on the tv live so had many shocks in those five years.

  8. I worked at Thorn in the early ‘70s at both the old factory and the new factory over the road on Beckside Road as a ‘troubleshooter’ i.e repair and debugging of manufactured modules (panels) and final receiver assembly. The new factory was built on the site of a railway yard and the final assembly ‘tracks’ in the factory replicated this with the final test personnel standing below floor level as the TVs passed by right to left several feet above. In the early 70’s we had the nationwide unrest and power cuts, to keep production going huge power generators were hurriedly hired and deployed in the car park then the cabling lashed across to the factory, as I remember the phasing of the generators output caused problems with the TVs power supplies and picture ‘hum’ could be seen on the tv screens until it was finally sorted. At this time I think the work force had amassed to around 3,500. When the factory closed this caused a massive impact on the area. Thorn had a sister factory down in Gosport which continued production at a much reduced output. The UK was nearing saturation point with colour tv sales, the initial rush to buy/rent was tapering off as the consumer demand was fulfilled. Then came The Japanese invasion, the government at the time restricted these far eastern imports to a mamimum screen size of 18” to protect British production of larger screen sets. Once the restrictions were lifted the flood gates opened – what the Japanese and some European manufacturers were now offering was a more reliable and sophisticated product. You could buy a Sony Trinitron for a lot more money, but boy, what a picture and did they ever break down ? Never!
    I left Thorn just as the 9000 ‘cyclops’ series chassis was being developed, the so called life saver ( it wasn’t). I then worked for various rental companies , British Relay, Visionhire,Granada working as a field service engineer. The service technicians role became redundant as we graduated to the throwaway age that exists now. Electronic and domestic appliances of today are just disposable cheap commodities, how times are changing.

  9. Hi… I left an office job to go work in a factory to make friends after returning from Australia…The factory was in making TV’s etc…I actually worked on a production line putting components on a motherboard…I became quite good at it actually… I made lots of friends then left and went back to office work…
    For the life of me I can not remember what they called it… It was up Stanningley Rd and I seem to remember it being on the right on the way to Bramley… Does anyone have any idea what they called this place…I have been back in Oz for donkeys yrs but was over there in 2017 and actually caught a bus up to Bramley and could not see this factory anywhere.. Maybe knocked down.. Yes !!! It was a factory job but I did actually enjoy it, for a little while anyway..

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