Pye M78F thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

Pye M78F

Radio
1948 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Pye Ltd. were a leading British manufacturer of portable radio sets after the end of the Second World War. The famous 'rising sun' motif the company used to cover their radios' speaker grilles had been in use since the late 1920s, usually with thin clouds over some of the sun's rays. However, the appearance of the cloudless symbol on this attractive portable set of 1948 caused controversy. Consumers noted its resemblance to the national flag of Japan, a country that Britain had been at war with only three years previously. 800 from the original production run of 1000 sets were not sold. Pye, realising their poor-timing, recalled the remainder from stockists and allegedly burned the entire batch at their factory in Chesterton, Cambridge. The Pye model M78F was the last Pye product to feature the rising sun design.

Object details

Categories
Object type
TitlePye M78F (manufacturer's title)
Materials and techniques
Acrylic, PVC
Brief description
model M78F; British 1948 man. Pye
Physical description
Four valve battery-powered portable radio, made from acrylic coloured in mint green and cream. At the centre-front is a cut-out motif of a stylised sun rising over water, the speaker beneath is covered with woven fabric. On the top of the set is the tuning scale, made from a black plastic. Either side of the scale are black, toothed wheels for tuning and volume control. Spanning the top is a clear (now yellowed) PVC handle.
Dimensions
  • Height: 24cm
  • Width: 58cm
  • Depth: 29cm
dimensions taken for 'Cold War Modern' (summer 2008)
Production typeMass produced
Gallery label
[20th century gallery] PYE PORTABLE BATTERY MODEL M78F Designed and made by Pye Ltd., Cambridge, Great Britain, 1948 4 valves; acrylic case W.15-1992 Pye's well-known sunrise grille motif appears on this model without the clouds. Many people objected strongly to the resulting resemblance to the Japanese national flag and Pye withdrew the set. It is said that 800 of the 1,000 made were unsold and were destroyed on their return to the factory.
Object history
Purchased by the V&A from Rupert's of Ealing, in 1992 [92/1377].
Historical context
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.

Pye Ltd. was founded in Cambridge in 1896 by William George Pye, an employee of the Cavendish Laboratory - the physics department of the University of Cambridge. In its early days, the company specialised in making optical scientific equipment, this expertise being exploited during the First World War when Pye were contracted to manufacture gun sights. Pye also manufactured thermionic valves during the war years, placing them in a favourable market position once peace dawned. Domestic wireless receivers begun to be manufactured shortly after the war’s end. The company expanded significantly after it was acquired in 1928 by Charles Orr Stanley, who directed Pye to begin producing its first television sets. Pye would later make a significant contribution to the Second World War effort, producing radar receivers. Post-war, Pye became the leading British manufacturer of portable radio receivers.
Subject depicted
Summary
Pye Ltd. were a leading British manufacturer of portable radio sets after the end of the Second World War. The famous 'rising sun' motif the company used to cover their radios' speaker grilles had been in use since the late 1920s, usually with thin clouds over some of the sun's rays. However, the appearance of the cloudless symbol on this attractive portable set of 1948 caused controversy. Consumers noted its resemblance to the national flag of Japan, a country that Britain had been at war with only three years previously. 800 from the original production run of 1000 sets were not sold. Pye, realising their poor-timing, recalled the remainder from stockists and allegedly burned the entire batch at their factory in Chesterton, Cambridge. The Pye model M78F was the last Pye product to feature the rising sun design.
Bibliographic references
  • p.106 Hawes, Robert and Sassower, Gad. Bakelite Radios (Edison, New Jersey, 1996)
  • p.107 Hawes, Robert, Radio Art (London, 1991)
Collection
Accession number
W.15-1992

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Record createdJune 24, 2009
Record URL
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