The Symphony Gramophone and Radio Company Limited

In the summer of 1928,  radio production at A.J.S. ended, and the Stewart Street factory was put up for sale. It was purchased by a new business venture, the Symphony Gramophone and Radio Company Limited, registered on 5th October, 1928, with a registered office at 1 Cornhill, London. The factory was acquired for £15,375, and taken over on 30th October.

When the Symphony Gramophone and Radio Company Limited was formed, a successful share issue raised £200,000, which was used to buy and set-up the Stewart Street factory, and another factory in Abergavenny, purchased from the Gilwern Manufacturing Company. Gramophones, radios, and loudspeakers were built in Wolverhampton, and gramophone motors were made at Abergavenny.


A plan of the works.

The new company not only purchased the Stewart Street factory, but also the contents, including the machinery and radio components. About 100 people were employed in the works, presumably most of them were ex-A.J.S. employees.

Symphony's product range included a battery-powered radiogram, with a wind-up turntable, a transportable receiver, a five-valve portable receiver, a deluxe mains-powered radiogram and high quality loudspeakers in cabinets.

All of the cabinets and loudspeakers were made in-house. The bought-in Plessey circuit board used an advanced technique, a little like a modern printed circuit board, for connecting the electronic components. Brass pressings were riveted onto a sheet of bakelite and special hollow rivets were used instead of valve holders.

Some of the components such as switches, knobs, and valves appear to be obsolete A.J.S. stock.

Another advanced technique involved a special finish that was given to the cabinets on some of the models. The cabinets appeared to be veneered in burr-walnut, but in fact it was plain wood.

The realistic walnut finish involved a secret photographic process, possibly originally developed by A.J.S. It was used on some A.J.S. metal horn loudspeakers.

Only photographic staff were allowed into the photographic area, which was out of bounds for everyone else.


The factory, as it is today.

The company also used elliptical loudspeakers, which give a good all-round frequency response. Symphony must have been one of the first manufacturers, if not actually the first to produce elliptical cones.

Mel Price ran the company and later worked in Lichfield Street Co-op. The radiograms and radios were designed by a gentleman who lived at Cannock, using a standard circuit board that was purchased from Plessey.

Loudspeakers were produced in a building at the back of the yard, known as "the boat house", because a ramp led up to the entrance. About 50 young girls were employed on the assembly of reed-type, and moving coil units. The loudspeakers were produced for inclusion in the radiograms and radios, and also as stand alone units. The cases were assembled in the cabinet making department.

Background to the Circuit Board

The Plessey Company Limited was formed in December 1917, with a nominal capital of £3,000, including £1,000 made up of shares issued by subscription. The shareholders were Bill Heyme, Hurst-Hodgson and two brothers, Raymond and Plessey Parker. Plessey started life making jigs and tools in an old musical instrument factory. Soon after the company’s formation, Hurst-Hodgson and the Parker brothers were bought out. The directors were then Bill Heyme and Mr. Davieson.

In 1921, American B. G. Clark gave Plessey an order for tools to make tags and eyelets for his shoe business. He was extremely impressed with Plessey, and immediately acquired a large number of shares in the company, in the name of his son Allen, as a way of launching him into a new career. In September 1921 Allen became Company Secretary, to form a partnership with Managing Director Bill Heyme.

Early in 1922, just before the formation of the BBC, Marconi began to look for manufacturers to produce Marconi receivers under contract. B. G. Clark heard about this, and quickly realised the potential for domestic radio receiver production. Along with his son Allen, and a mutual friend, he formed the British Radio Phone Company to tender for radio orders, which would be sub-contracted to Plessey. The company soon received an order from Marconi for 500 'Junior' Crystal sets, 5,000 'A' crystal sets, and 5,000 'V2' receivers. As a result Plessey moved to a larger factory in 1923. Around the same time, Marconi founded a subsidiary company, Marconiphone to handle the distribution of its receivers.

By 1924, 80% of Plessey's turnover came from work for Marconiphone, and so Plessey had to agree when Marconiphone decided to buy shares in the company, and nominate two directors. The following year saw the formation of Plessey (1925) Limited.

In 1926 Marconiphone acquired its own manufacturing company, Sterling Telephone and Electric, at Dagenham. As a result it sold its Plessey shares, and its two nominees left the board. The contracts with Plessey soon ended, and so Plessey had to quickly find alternative orders. As a stop-gap, Plessey designed the 'National' five valve portable receiver, which would be sold as a kit to the Symphony Gramophone and Radio Company, and the Columbia Graphophone Company.

Marconi also produced an almost identical receiver, the Marconiphone '55' using Plessey components and a similar circuit board.

The Products

The Symphony battery- powered radiogram.
Battery Powered Radiogram

The battery powered radiogram uses a Plessey circuit board, with the components mounted onto a bakelite board and connected by shaped brass pieces, which are riveted in place.

This may well have been the first type of modern circuit board used in this country. The only other manufacturer I have so far found who adopted this technique was Blaupunkt in Germany.

It has a large internal frame aerial, which fills half of the cabinet, and can be rotated by a large knob on the front panel. The aerial has two coils, one for Long Wave and one for Medium Wave, with the aerial rotating knob acting as the wavechange switch. For half of its rotation the radio is switched to Long Wave, and for the other half it is switched to Medium Wave.

The receiver is very sensitive and performs extremely well for a T.R.F. design from the 1920s. The radiogram has a large elliptical reed-type loudspeaker and sounds very good indeed. It has an oak cabinet, uses a B.T.H. tone arm and pickup head, and a wind-up Collaro turntable.

The top view of the radiogram. The panel on the left covers the valves, the large knob in the centre rotates the internal frame aerial and also acts as a wavechange switch.

The pick-up and tone arm are made by B.T.H. and the wind-up turntable is a Collaro type A28.

The underside of the circuit board showing the brass strips and rivets.
The circuit board showing the compact form of construction, for the time.


The circuit diagram of the battery powered radiogram.

V1 T.R.F. receiver with a balanced frame aerial.
V2 Radio frequency amplifier.
V3 Detector and first audio amplifier for the radio.
V4 Audio pre-amplifier.
V5 Audio output stage.
    
The radiogram was available in oak, mahogany, or burr walnut, and could also be purchased without the lower record storage cabinet. Prices were as follows:
     
Oak 35 guineas
Mahogany 37 guineas
Burr Walnut  48 guineas
Without the record cabinet From 32 guineas
        
 

Two photographs of a Symphony radiogram that is in Belgium. Kindly sent in by Marijke Moysons.


Another photograph of Marijke Moysons' Symphony radiogram.


The view inside Marijke Moysons' Symphony radiogram.


The manufacturers' plate on the inside of Marijke Moysons' Symphony radiogram.


The Symphony Transportable Receiver.

The Transportable Receiver

This receiver uses an almost identical circuit board to the battery-powered radiogram and performs equally well.

Unlike the radiogram it has two separate frame aerials and a turntable on the bottom, so that the case can be freely rotated to obtain the strongest signal. The receivers were solidly built and produced in large numbers

The two handles are identical to those used on A.J.S. Type 'F' pedestal models and so were presumably made in-house.

The receiver has two wavebands, Long Wave and Short Wave. The short waveband doesn't cover what we think of as short wave today, it actually covers about two thirds of the medium waveband.

The moving-iron loudspeaker uses an A.J.S. patented mechanism that was originally used in the A.J.S. 'Symphony' portable receiver.


The inside of the receiver.


The circuit diagram of the Transportable Receiver.

V1 T.R.F. receiver with a balanced frame aerial.
V2 Radio frequency amplifier.
V3 Detector and first audio amplifier.
V4 Second audio amplifier.
V5 Audio output stage.
    

The two photographs above show the tuning capacitor, which was made in-house. The design is almost identical to the later A.J.S. types, except that brass is used for the plates instead of aluminium.
The reaction capacitor and adjusting knob. On the control panel it is called "volume".
The loudspeaker mechanism with the cone removed. The mechanism is identical to what was used in the A.J.S. Symphony portable receiver, and is an A.J.S. design.

The elliptical cone is made from varnished card, and uses a strip of felt for the suspension.

The loudspeaker performs extremely well for such a simple design and is presumably helped by the rigid and lightweight elliptical construction.

 
Two views of the simple A.J.S. patented moving-iron loudspeaker mechanism used by the Symphony.Gramophone and Radio Company. It .consists of an iron reed, mounted between the pole pieces of a magnet, one end being fixed, the other allowed to move between an end-stop, and one of the pole pieces. At this end is the coil which varies the magnetic field. The screw on the front positions the reed via a return spring. 
The underside of the circuit board showing the shaped brass strips. At first glance it looks very similar to a modern printed circuit board.
A view of the top of the circuit board, which is very similar to the one used in the radiogram.
The receiver removed from the case.

The two frame aerials can be clearly seen around the outside of the wooden frame. The one at the front is for Short Wave and the Long Wave coil is at the rear.

A close-up view of the circuit board.
The serial number is 285, which suggests that it was made fairly early on.
 
A final view of the transportable receiver showing its handsome appearance.


A Symphony portable receiver. Courtesy of Colin Fisher.

The Battery Portable Receiver.

The Symphony portable receivers were built by three men who worked on the ground floor of the main Stewart Street building, just to the right of the entrance.

The receiver used the standard type of Plessey circuit board and had two frame aerials, one for Medium Wave inside the front of the case, and one for Long Wave in the opening back. It used the company's standard elliptical loudspeaker and sold for £17.17s.6d.


The control panel. Courtesy of Colin Fisher.

A 'National' portable receiver.

Symphony also made a version of the portable receiver, carrying the 'National' name.

They are identical to Symphony's own portable, as seen above, except for the case.

An inside view of the National receiver showing the light-weight construction.
Another view of the same receiver.
The control panel on the National receiver.
The underside of the circuit board.
A top view of the circuit board.


A National portable receiver. Courtesy of Steve Harris of On the Air Limited.

What is possibly an earlier version of the National receiver. The controls are not as refined as in the later version.

A view of the inside of the earlier National portable. Courtesy of Steve Harris of On the Air Limited.


The circuit diagram of the portable receiver.


The Symphony "Oval" loudspeaker.

The company had a stand at the Radio Show at Olympia in September, 1929. On display were the "Oval" loudspeaker and two types of radiogram; the battery powered model and the Symphony "De luxe".

The elliptical loudspeaker was mounted in a novel, oval-shaped wooden cabinet with a woven cane grill. The loudspeaker had a reed-type movement that drove a cone diaphragm and sold for £3.10s.0d.

The Symphony "De luxe" radiogram was housed in a high quality cabinet and mains powered.

The turntable was driven by an electric motor, and in the cabinet was a large moving coil loudspeaker with a special form of suspension.

Unlike the battery powered radiogram, the "De luxe" model featured an all metal chassis.

Indirectly heated valves were used and the audio amplifier was powerful enough to provide dance music for a small hall.

The radio had an internal frame aerial and featured a screen grid R.F. amplifier for high sensitivity.

It sold for £125.


The Symphony "De luxe" radiogram.

Very high quality, one-off radiograms, with large audio push-pull output stages were also produced. Each one costing several hundred pounds. Some of the radiograms featured the burr-walnut finish, which was produced using the special photographic technique.


An advert from the Illustrated London News, 27th April, 1929.


From the Illustrated London News, 14th December, 1929.
 
From the Illustrated London News, 5th October, 1929.


Another advert from October 1929.

Symphony also produced the Symphony All-Mains Unit, a mains-powered battery eliminator. The AC version sold for £20 and the DC version sold for £15.
A Sad End

Unfortunately the company was not successful. The battery-powered radiogram appears to have sold in large numbers, but suffered from a serious problem. The bakelite sheet onto which the components were mounted was very thin, and would frequently warp and bend, under the weight of the components. The added stress that this placed on the thin brass rivets, which secured the brass connecting strips, would often lead to failure. The rivets would either break or stretch, leading to a poor connection. If a thicker piece of bakelite had been used, or if the board had been better supported, this would not have happened. Hundreds of the radiograms were returned, which eventually led to the company's demise.

The Symphony Gramophone and Radio Company Limited went into liquidation on 17th March, 1930. Henry Morgan of 54 New Broad Street, London was appointed as liquidator. The company had clearly been in financial difficulties for some time.

On January 2nd, 1930 the Plessey Company Limited of Vicarage Lane, Ilford, Symphony's main creditor, handed a petition to the Chancery Division of the Companies Court in an attempt to obtain money that was owing to it. The petition was also signed by the Igranic Electric Company Limited, Saxton Chatterton & Company Limited, James Relle Morris, D. M. Davies (Woodwork) Limited, and 123 of Symphony's other creditors.

The Court ordered that the Symphony Gramophone and Radio Company Limited should be wound up under the provisions of the Companies Act of 1929.

The company's assets were duly sold including the factory, which was purchased by Birmingham estate agents Thomas Foden Flint and Alfred Edward Jones. It sold for £1,175.

Apart from the problem with the circuit board, the radiograms worked extremely well. At least one working model still survives, and is extremely sensitive for a T.R.F. receiver of that period. The company produced high quality products, which when working, could compete favourably with anything else on the market at the time. If a thicker piece of bakelite had been used for the circuit board in the battery-powered radiograms, it could all have ended very differently.


I would like to thank ex-Symphony employee, the late Charles Weight, for his help in producing this brief company history.

If anyone has any information about the company, or knows of any surviving products, please email me. I will be delighted to hear from you.

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