The Secret History Of: The Roberts RT1 transistor radio
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Friday 15 October 2010
My grandmother had one and so, possibly did yours. The Roberts transistor radio, with its leather case, was the classic radio of the Sixties. Designed by Leslie Bidmead, who went into a business partnership with Harry Roberts in 1932, the RT1 was, according to company lore, probably based on the shape of Bidmead's handbag.
Leslie Burrage, the CEO of the company today, says: "It was always quite a niche product, because Roberts was a small company and it was competing against the big brands. But Bidmead came up with this iconic design and it was a significant product for the company. It was quite unlike any other transistor radios of the period."
In the Seventies the radio was phased out, as its design no longer seemed to fit the requirements of the times. "People wanted things to look more technologically advanced, and they were movingon from the more traditional designs," says Burrage.
Then, in 1989, Martini ran an advertising campaign which featured an original red Roberts radio. Suddenly people started ringing up and demanding to know where they could buy one.
"Dick Roberts, the son of the founder Harry, decided to make a limited run of 500 and they were snapped up. So he did another run of 1,000 and called it the Revival, and they sold really fast too," says Burrage.
"Sadly he died in 1991, but there was a momentum by that stage and so we carried on. We did 10,000 and introduced new colours – windsor green and royal blue. Then Jaguar and Mulberry and Paul Smith all contacted us and wanted to produce limited editions in their signature colours and fabrics. And then we came up with the Revival DAB, and so it went on."
Now for every one analogue Revival that Roberts sells, it sells 33 Revival DABs. And that's in Britain alone.
"The Americans and the Japanese love them. They just ooze Britishness, I suppose. The company has a royal warrant and we made one in sky-blue suede for the Queen Mother. She used to give them as presents to visiting foreign dignitaries," adds Burrage.
It now comes in 12 colours and Roberts is about to launch the Revival iStream. This is internet radio which means you can listen via DAB, FM or the internet – so you need never miss The Archers again, no matter where you are in the world.
"It's perfect for anyone who lives overseas," says Burrage, who admits, with good humour: "If you had asked me back in 1994 how long the Revival would last I would have said it was good for a couple of years at most. We had no idea that it would prove to be so popular."
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