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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 a few kilometres 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 the 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.

The Mecca Locarno Ballroom in Bradford. Telegraph & Argus via Bradford Timeline on Flickr
The Mecca Locarno Ballroom in Bradford. Telegraph & Argus via Bradford Timeline on Flickr

1964 was a big year for Radio Rentals. The millionth set rolled off of 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 modem and 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.

One comment 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?

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