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Murphy U144

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Welwyn Garden City (manufactured)

  • Date:

    1950 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thwaites, A.F. (designer)
    Murphy Radio Ltd. (manufacturers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Compression-moulded phenol formaldehyde ('Bakelite'), spray-painted

  • Credit Line:

    Given by P.E.M. Sharp

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This radio was shown at the Festival of Britain, a summer-long celebration of contemporary British design and post-war economic recovery. Murphy had a strong reputation before the Festival for producing well-designed radios. In the 1930s, the company was one of the first British radio manufacturers to work with furniture designers, to create objects which fitted into cohesive interiors. This tabletop set is made from Bakelite, spray-painted to make it an off-white colour. The front and back halves of its case are identical, meaning it would present a pleasing view from either side if placed in the centre of a room. Importantly for the company, it also would have meant reduced manufacturing costs, as only one mould would have to have been designed for both halves.

This radio would have cost £14 1s 1d when brand new.

Physical description

Tabletop radio made from compression-moulded Bakelite, spray-painted in an off-white colour. The radio is the same front and back, being a rounded rectangle with integral handle, feet and loudspeaker grille. Recessed into uprights of the handle are the control dials, made from blue plastic. The tuning scale is placed under the handle, its horizontal needle is visible from either side.

Place of Origin

Welwyn Garden City (manufactured)


1950 (designed)


Thwaites, A.F. (designer)
Murphy Radio Ltd. (manufacturers)

Materials and Techniques

Compression-moulded phenol formaldehyde ('Bakelite'), spray-painted


Width: 26.7 cm, Height: 22.9 cm, Depth: 12.1 cm

Object history note

This radio was shown at the 1951 'Festival of Britain'. It was given to the V&A by P.E.M. Sharp, in 1975 [RF 75/2755]. Mr Sharp had worked for the festival as an electrical engineer, in 1975 he donated several objects associated with it.

Historical context note

The first successful radio transmission was made by David Edward Hughes (1831-1900) in 1879. Some years later, in 1896, Gugliemo Marconi (1874-1937) patented a system of electromagnetic radio wave communication which, unlike the already-established telegraph system, was ‘wireless’, meaning signals could be heard by anyone with a radio receiver in range of the broadcast. Marconi established the world’s first radio factory in Chelmsford in 1898, where sets were hand-built to high specifications for mostly scientific, governmental and military customers. Another early customer was Queen Victoria who in 1898 had a set installed at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, so she could communicate with the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, as he convalesced aboard his yacht at Cowes.

Military applications meant that radio technology advanced rapidly during the First World War, and in the 1920s regular civilian broadcasting began, changing the domestic experience forever. The previously diverse parts of the radio; the valves, controls, wires and speakers, began in the mid-1920s to be enclosed inside a single cabinet. In this early period, radios were seen essentially as furniture and some companies employed cabinet-makers and well-known furniture designers. As radios were new to the domestic interior, their design had no precedent, which allowed manufacturers to design them creatively. This struck a chord in the late-1920s and 1930s with the expanding synthetic plastics industry; oil-based plastics were also a recent innovation, the first, Bakelite (phenol-formaldehyde), having been successfully synthesised in 1907. The collaboration between industrial designers and manufacturers gave rise to many very modern radio designs, particularly in America. Tastes in Britain remained, in general, more conservative, favouring wooden cabinets or Bakelite cabinets imitating wood. During the Second World War the manufacture of civilian radios essentially ceased in the United Kingdom, with the exception of the ‘Utility’ radio (see V&A CIRC.678-1975) produced under government directive by 42 companies.

After the war, domestic radios became smaller and lighter, incorporating wartime technologies such as miniature valves and polystyrene, and later transistors and printed circuit boards. As the components became smaller, radios became less important in their own right and were incorporated as a single function of more complex audio systems.

Murphy Radio Ltd was established in 1929 in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, by Frank Murphy and E.J. Power. Murphy was one of the first companies to work with furniture designers, entering into partnership with Gordon Russell early in their history, and producing highly modern cabinet designs. Initially it was insisted that their radios be made from wood. This design dates from 1946, nine years after Frank Murphy had departed the company to found FM Radios.

Descriptive line

Radio, model U144; designed by A.F. Thwaites, manufactured by Murphy Radio Ltd., Welwyn Garden City, 1950

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Hawes, Robert, Radio Art (London, 1991)
Hogben, Carol, The Wireless Show!: 130 classic radio receivers, 1920s to 1950s, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1977

Production Note

The front and back halves of this radio's case are identical. This would have made it cheaper to manufacture, as only one mould would have had to have been made. Tooling the moulds was often the most expensive part of making objects from thermosetting plastics (such as Bakelite).


Bakelite; Phenolic


Compression moulding; Spray painting


Product design; Audio equipment; Plastic; Entertainment & Leisure; Household objects

Production Type

Mass produced


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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