Radio Exhibits in UK Museums
In the first part of new, occasional, series, David Harris and Bernard Nock take a closer look at a number of fascinating, UK-based, museum collections
In the first part of new, occasional, series, David Harris and Bernard Nock take a closer look at a number of fascinating, UK-based, museum collections with significant radio-related content and useful historical displays.
The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
This museum first opened in 1984 in Gloucester Docks, to house a collection assembled by consumer historian Robert Opie. It relocated to Notting Hill, London in 2005 and in 2016 moved to new premises in Ladbroke Grove, London (Fig. 1).
While the museum is primarily a display of food and drinks packaging and adverts it also has a very good collection of old radios (Fig. 2). My travels to old radio and technology collections have so far taken me to Amberley, West Sussex (RadioUser, December 2015) Science Museum, London (RadioUser, July 2016) the Faraday Museum, London (RadioUser March 2017) and the Design Museum, London (see the next section).
The main exhibition area of the Museum of Brands is the Time Tunnel, a long gallery, which commences in the early 19th Century with newspaper advertisements.
It then advances, decade-by-decade, until visitors ‘arrive’ in the 1990s.
The focus of the museum is on the types of consumer goods that were bought by ordinary British people. This is not a museum of technological progress or cutting-edge design; it is a feast of pure nostalgia focusing on the ordinary and the mundane.
Within each display area, visitors will find a selection of goods from that decade, together with a number of domestic radios and a few television sets. Opie has selected the types of radios that would have been commonly used by people in the UK. There is no short wave, amateur or utility radio display; the focus is solely on what could be found in the home, during various historical periods.
The first decade to feature radio was the 1920s and there is a comprehensive display of early crystal sets, early editions of the Radio Times, other radio publications, radio board games and adverts featuring radios (Fig. 3).
By the 1930s, most households had a radio, which would have been housed in a wooden cabinet and would often have been given ‘pride of place’ in the front room (Fig. 4).
I first became interested in radio after visiting some elderly relatives and wanting to know what all those exotic sounding stations were, which were listed on the radio dials.
Radios of the 1930s, meanwhile, can also be seen to be doubling up as pieces of furniture, with their beautiful, polished, hardwood cabinets. Many of them were made in the Art Deco style.
Radio design did not move forward much in the 1940s, due to the Second World War. However, radio was essential for spreading news about the war and many of Churchill’s rousing speeches were heard over the radio by almost the entire population of the UK.
During the 1950s (Fig. 5) plastics were coming into use and the transistor radio first appeared. Radios were now becoming portable and young people were keen to acquire them to listen to the ‘new-fangled’ Rock ‘n’ Roll music. In the 1960s (Fig. 6) the transistor was king and every young person would have had their own personal radio in their bedroom. Who, among the baby- boomer generation, did not at some time listen to Radio Luxembourg under the bedclothes, when they were supposed to be fast asleep?
One display, which was rather amusing, showcased ‘promotional’ radios. This refers mainly to the 1960s and puts on show many unusually shaped radios in the form of beer cans, model cars, hats, cigarette packets and even children’s toys. Mr Opie is to be admired for his enthusiasm in collecting such ephemera, which would have been rejected by other, more ‘traditional’, museum curators.
Part of the considerable charm of this museum is that it is not a collection of the ‘best’ or ‘most important’ equipment but simply a collection of what people were using and displaying in a domestic environment.
Pride of place in the museum goes to a huge display cabinet, which takes up a whole wall and houses over 250 examples of mainly post-war household radio receivers.
My only criticism is that the radios are not labelled in any way. Although some are easily recognisable, many do not have the brand name displayed on the front of the radio. If you grew up in the UK at any time over the last 70 years, I am sure you will be able to recognise radios that you and your family owned during that period.
Please note that no photography of any kind (including mobile phones) is permitted in the museum. All photographs featured in this article were kindly supplied by the Robert Opie Collection.
The museum also has a shop and café. The address is:
The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
111-117 Lancaster Rd
London W11 1QT
Tel: 020 7243 9611
The Design Museum, London
A visit to the award-winning Design Museum in Kensington High Street, London had been at the top of my ‘to do’ list since it opened in November 2016. The new museum has replaced the original Design Museum, which opened in 1989 and was located near Tower Bridge, London.
The new museum is housed in the renovated Commonwealth Institute building, which originally opened in 1962 and closed in 2002. The old building housed anthropological exhibits and displays from all countries of the Commonwealth. Many RadioUser readers will have visited this building while on school trips to London. The newly-refurbished building is very striking and has a vast concourse, rather like an airport terminal.
The displays are on three floors, two of which house exhibition galleries. The business plan of the museum enables free entry to the core collection on the second floor but one has to pay to visit the other exhibition galleries. There were some radio displays at the old design museum so I was interested to see how the new one celebrated all things radio.
The central collection is actually quite modest but radios are well represented here, in two major displays. The first one is a large wall showing the evolution of both radio and TV (Fig. 7).
The second display is a gallery sponsored by Sony and Braun which illustrates how those companies put design at the forefront of product development.
This is a very modern museum, which does not have display cases with every possible model of radio and TV put on show. The curators have chosen a rather ‘arty’ approach, by displaying radios and TVs on a wall.
Among the TV sets displayed are a Bush TV22A (1950) a very futuristic round Keracolor (1968) (Fig. 8) and a Saba Jim Nature in a fine wooden case (1994).
The focus here is on innovative design, rather than on the development of the TV. The display includes a Phillips Receiver and speaker (1928) a Murphy A8, an Ecko AD65 (both 1932) a Bush TR82 portable (1959) a B & O Beolit 400 (1970) a FreePlay windup radio (1994) and a Roberts Revival radio (2008).
I was particularly struck by the incredibly stylish Brionvega Radiograms from 1966 and 1970.
Brionvega is an Italian company, founded in 1945. They still make stylish Hi-fi systems but be prepared to pay nearly £6,000 if you would like their latest Radiogram model, the RR226.
There are also some record decks, CD players, iPods and headphones on display.
Moving on to the next gallery, visitors enter the Sony/Braun display area. Sony has always been associated with innovative TVs. Among their displays in this museum are a Sony Trinitron Colour TV (1988) (Fig. 9).
There is also a Sony TV 110 portable black and white TV (1972) and a very early example of an early CD player, the Sony CDP 101 (1982).
Sony was inaugurated in Japan in 1946 and is now a global media corporation. The firm is still a major manufacturer of televisions, mobile phones, cameras, PlayStations and other products.
Braun may not be one of the best-known names in radio in the UK but it was certainly among the most stylish ones. The firm was started in Germany in 1921 and was well-known for their audio and high-end Hi-Fi products, manufactured until 1990. The firm is now associated with shavers, coffee machines and other small domestic products.
In 1984, Braun was acquired by Gillette, who, in turn, was bought up by Proctor & Gamble in 2007.
The museum display includes a Braun RT20 table top radio (1961) a Braun Ski portable radio (1955), a Braun Regie 550 Stereo Hi-fi receiver (1976) and the incredible Braun T 1000 World Band radio (1962).
The T1000 is a very impressive piece of kit with eight short wave bands (1.6 to 30 MHz), two medium wave bands (0.47 to 1.6 MHz) two long wave bands (130 to 430 KHz) and FM (87.0 to 108 MHz).
The radio has no less than three telescopic aerials and sockets for external aerials. It has full SSB capability and can run on both battery or mains. It is housed in a very sturdy metal cabinet (the metal panel lifts up and locks in place to protect the front of the radio) and weighs in at a mighty 8.5kg.
The radio was very popular with West German diplomats for whom a special version (T1000 CD) was manufactured. The price for a new model, in 1964, was 1,500DM (£136 at 1964 conversion rates or about £2,000 in today’s money).
According to eBay, one such radio sold a couple of years ago in the USA for $639 (£515) There are also a number for sale on the German eBay site from 500 to 900 Euros ($430 to £770).
I wonder if any RadioUser readers have ever owned this fine radio?
If you are at all interested in radios and stylish design, it is well worthwhile visiting the Design Museum. It is a free attraction and definitely worth a detour if you are planning to visit London. The address is
224-238 Kensington High Street
London W8 6AG
Tel: 020 3862 5900
The Military Wireless Museum
The Military Wireless Museum finally opened its doors in 2011, after years of planning and waiting in the wings. The museum houses a large collection (over 900 or so items and still counting) of Army, Airforce and Navy sets from various periods and conflicts and from various countries around the world.
The first thing to say about the Military Wireless Museum is that it is an exceptional achievement. It is a space for commemorating and exploring the world of radio communications and the magic of human invention. It also affords an opportunity to celebrate the equipment that has shaped our lives and the skills and abilities of the armed forces that have used it.
A first glimpse at the museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions suggests some very intriguing displays. This is important, valuable, thrilling stuff, when you consider what role many of the sets played and what they have done for (and to) the world.
The project, in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, is the culmination of more than four decades of campaigning for a display arena for my collection. New ‘palaces of technology’ like this one do not happen often or all too easily, yet the new Military Wireless Museum has come into being in the recent, recessionary, years and without any outside support.
It took more than six years to build and to arrange by myself and my partner, Gloria Roberts.
A prevalent theme here is what might be called a ‘respect for content’. This refers not primarily to the exhibits themselves but to their power to provoke, unsettle, inspire and carry a political or emotional charge. This is an issue the museum itself is aware of.
The exhibition calls on the feelings stimulated by new technologies throughout the years. Displays explore such subjects as the industrial uses of technology, through radio, radar and the like and against a historical backdrop of war-bombed towns and darker days.
There are also some gems in the permanent collection. We have, for example, many German and Japanese wartime sets, both reflecting and foreshadowing the modern-day impact German and Japanese technology has had on today's world.
Furthermore, the museum houses many other objects that reveal the many stages of the evolution of radio engineering, from valves to transistors and from analogue to digital.
In one part of the museum, the ‘spy-set radio room’ features sets from the likes of the British SOE and the American OSS, the German Abwehr and the Russian side of the Cold War era. Moreover, there are sets used by various special forces and in unusual situations. For instance, the French made set hidden in outlying farmsteads in Algeria in the early 1960s and called upon to send automated distress signals, when activated.
An additional room is dedicated to a British icon, the Eddystone receivers, made in Birmingham over a prolonged period but now sadly in demise.
Examples from the 1920s to the 1980s are on show and several of them are available to use and tune around the bands, making visitors feel the magic these sets can still evoke.
New sets and other military artefacts continue to arrive at a steady pace. Therefore, the displays are in a state of constant flux. The museum’s floor space has already been extended and plans are in hand to expand it even further. All this activity – as well as new items, displays and pop-up exhibitions – make planning a return visit to the Military Wireless Museum very worthwhile indeed.
The museum is open to the public but an appointment is needed. Entry is free and donations towards the site’s upkeep are welcome from individuals. There is a small charge for group bookings. There is plenty of on-site parking. Contact can be made via the museum’s website
E-mail: [email protected]
This article was featured in the July 2018 issue of Radio User