MULLARD IN THE EARLY 1950s - EXPANSIONS AND ENDOWMENTS

Well, the early to mid 1950s were an exciting time for Mullard – some would say, the ‘Golden Age’, 1950 dawned and Mullard was selling a nice range of TVs in the shape of MTS 521 & MTS 634 models to the hungry post war market as endorsed by Arthur Askey – a grateful public and Arthur said ‘ I thank you all!’ or was it ‘Where’s me washboard!’

Also in 1950 we first see the appearance of Sidney The Service Engineer whom you also see gracing the top of these pages – he was a jolly chap utilised in much Mullard advertising to exhort the consumer to replace valves in manky old sets. In conjunction with Auntie Beeb running an advertising campaign in Radio Times in November 1950, they both ensured that valve sales were healthy. After all, in 1950 there were 12 million radio sets within the UK utilising 60 million valves – if Mullard could snag just 10% of that replacement valve market, say 6 million devices per annum that would translate into 3 million pounds of wonga in sales!

But it wasn’t just radio valve sales that were in the ascendancy, in late 1950, official figures showed that TV licences had doubled from the 1947 level to 500,000 users. With the transmitter building programme meaning that Holme Moss were due to come on stream in October 1951 and Kirk O Shotts in February 1952, a potential swathe of new consumers that Philips TV and hence Mullard picture tubes could tap into was now available ooop t' Nooorth. In fact, following a board meeting and mindfull of the success of the Blackburn plant, Philips cottonned on to the market possibilities t' Nooorth represented and a high profile advertising campaign resulted using Gracie Fields advocating the purchase of Mullard equipped Philips TV sets - I wonder if she had one on Capri? Possibly the answer is YES as in April 1952 the first Italian television transmitters went live in Milan and Turin and maybe our Gracie's telly was one of a batch of 50000 exported from the UK to meet the demand from a jaded post-war Italian populace.

Overseas opportunities such as the Italian TV sales were something that Mullard was keen to capitalise on, so to help with this, Mullard Overseas Ltd was formed in December 1950.

Continuing the new product introduction with a theme of diversity, Mullard, in conjunction with Ilford Photographic heralded the era of electronic flash photography. 1/2000 of a second motion stopping photography was here with the Mullard LSD & LSD2 flash tubes were with us and soon found acclaim with photographers such as Ronald Perlman, Hans Haas and Walter Nurnburg – the celebrated industrial photographer whose Rolleiflex 2 ¼ square images were utilised in much of Mullard’s promotional materials throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Ilford are still with us today, one of the last bastions of Black & White Photography – why not look em up under the Harman Technology brand name.

Of course, this expansion in sales needed a consequent expansion in production which entailed the start up and operation of a number of new factories. Fleetwood, Warrenhurst Road came on stream in January 1950, Fleetwood, Radcliffe Road came on stream in May 1951, Waterfoot, Rawtenstall in October 1953, Lytham St Annes in February 1954 and Blowick Southport in October 1954. All of these factories made use of existing industrial premises which were converted to meet Mullard’s needs as feeder factories supplying necessary raw materials and sub assemblies to the main Mullard Blackburn Works. However, using Board of Trade funding, the massive Mullard TV Tube factory was built at Simonstone, Lancashire in May 1955 along with local feeder factory that came on stream in early 1956 at Padiham. Not wanting to leave Mitcham out of the equation – now a lesser valve and TV tube producting site but of no lesser importance- feeder factories were set up between 1949 – 1953 in Gillingham, Hove and Whyteleafe. Waddon served as a Service & Return department servicing the Blackburn, Mitcham & Simonstone sites as well as providing limited microwave and transmitting valve production that was of too low a scale to be economically viable at either Blackburn or Mitcham.

Economic viability played a part in the expansion by takeover of a competitor in 1952. Previously, Mullard had come to gentlemen’s arrangements with other valve manufacturers about product lines and intellectual property rights, however, they wanted to service the limited market that existed in the supply of American type valves within the UK. Despite BVA’s strenuous attempts to block imports of American type valves during the 1930s & 40s, they failed in that task abjectly – hardly surprising as in some cases, American equivalents were available for 40% of cost of indigenous ones!!!!!!!!! The trouble was, the market size for replacement American valve types was insufficient to make production viable at either Mitcham of Blackburn. As a consequence, Philips had their beady eye on British Tungsram, a British Subsidiary of the United Incandescent Company of Budapest which had been quietly manufacturing as well as building and sealing valves since 1933 as a relatively low key player. In 1952 Philips pounced and gained a controlling interest and started producing a range of American equivalents under the Mullard brand. Sadly though, due to poor efficiency, parlous quality and to prevent the sullying of Mullard’s good name, Philips pulled the plug and this plant closed in April 1956.

To put Mullard’s valves sales into perspective, it is estimated that the scale of Mullards valve manufacturing was 4x greater than their largest UK competitor manufacturer. Based on official figures for 1954, valves formed 80% of Mullard’s total sales. The valves sold by Mullard represented 60% of the total valve sales made within the UK and this equated to 34 million devices. Of these 34 million devices, some 7 million were imported either from Mulard Holland or from US manufacturers and distributed under the Mullard Amerty brand.

To put Mullard’s TV tube sales into perspective, it is estimated that the scale of Mullards TV tube manufacturing was 50% greater than their largest UK competitor manufacturer. Based on official figures for 1954, TV tubes, although a minor component of Mulard's total manufacturing output, they nevertheless formed some 56% of the total TV tube sales made within the UK which equalled 1 million devices. Of these 1 million devices, some 400,000 or 40% were imported. It is interesting to note that during the early days of TV tube manufacture, that Mullard regarded these devices very much as a loss leader. For example, during 1947 to 1948, Mullard sold 21,000 TV tubes at less than cost with a resultant loss of £81,000. It was the same story during 1948 to 1949 when the sales of 50,000 TV tubes resulted in a further loss of £140,000. The tide turned during 1951 – 1952 when Mullard not only passed break even but actually returned a slight profit on TV tube sales. Things improved even further as due to the enormous buying power of Simonstone, Mullard’s management convinced Pilkington Glass at nearby St Helens to produce pressed glass subassemblies to Simonstone which meant that not just production time and costs were slashed but also retail selling price. In January 1950, a 12 inch dia round TV tube cost £6 BUT by November 1957, the tube size had grown to 17 inches diagonal and cost just £5.

By the mid 1950s, SS Eriks, Mullard’s general Manager was pleased. The business was going well, Philip management thought he was great and on Queen Juliana's brithday on April 30th 1953, he was awarded, or should I use the correct term - endowed - with The Order of Orange Nassau - the Dutch equivalent to an OBE. This honour was endowed for his works at Mullard that helped liberate The Netherlands from Nazi occupation and for his special merits to society..

Whew, we’re only half way through the decade and already SS Eriks must have wondered what other successes and pitfalls lay in store for Mullard for the next five years. You'll have to wait for my next blog entry to find out...............