Obituary: Alexander Poliakoff

Alexander Poliakoff was for more than 40 years chairman of Multitone Electronics, the pioneers of electronic "bleepers". He was also a designer of hearing aids for Winston Churchill.

He was born at his parents' country house at Losino- Ostrovskaya, near Moscow, in 1910, the only son of Joseph Poliakoff, a telephone and sound engineer and inventor. His mother, Flora Shabbat, was a granddaughter of a textile millionaire. The family lived in the heart of Moscow; Alexander's nursery window overlooked the golden domes of the Kremlin.

Gradually after the October 1917 coup the flat, then the car and his father's Telephone Construction Company were confiscated by Lenin's government. At the age of 14, in June 1924, Alexander left Moscow with his father for London with the help of a friend, Godfrey Issacks, the managing director of Marconi, who pretended that he needed Joseph Poliakoff's assistance to discuss building Marconi radio stations in the Soviet Union. The then Soviet ambassador, Khristian Rakovsky (later executed by Stalin), signed the paper.

Once in London an appropriate position for Joseph Poliakoff was found as Deputy Director of the Technical Department at the Soviet Trade Delegation, known as Arcos. The young Alexander, who obviously was not needed to instal radio stations, was taken under the excuse that he was dying in Russia and would not survive the forthcoming winter.

The British police closed Arcos's premises in 1929 after a well-documented raid which confirmed that it was being used for espionage activity. This also resulted in breaking diplomatic relations between the two countries. Alexander's father did not return to the Soviet Union, which in the eyes of the Soviet government made him a "traitor". In 1931, Alexander graduated in Physics from University College London, and joined Multitone Electric Company, founded a month earlier by his father, in White Lion Street in Islington, north London.

The company eventually employed 700 people with Alexander Poliakoff as its chairman. Among the items they made was a wireless set for the deaf. But their star client was Sir Winston Churchill, who purchased several hearing aids. Alexander and his father used to be invited to Downing Street to check they were working.

During the Second World War another device designed by Alexander Poliakoff - the Bomb Clock Detector - was launched on the order of the Ministry of Aircraft Production to equip air force disposal squads.

In 1946 Poliakoff married Ina Montagu, a granddaughter of the first Lord Swaythling, the banker (she died in 1991). His younger son, Stephen Poliakoff, is the distinguished British stage playwright.

In the post-war years Multitone, which became Multitone Electronics plc, became a pioneer in the development of bleepers. From the 1970s they were exported all over the world.

Poliakoff returned to Moscow for the first time in 1966 to take part in the British Exhibition held in Sokolniki Park. He stayed at the National Hotel, opposite his former flat. Among the special visitors at the Multitone stand was President Leonid Brezhnev. The KGB sealed off the huge pavilion from the public. One of his accompanying ministers liked a particular electronics gadget and complained to Brezhnev that it was expensive. "Nonsense," said Brezhnev. "Alexander Iosifovich would give me a big discount."

Poliakoff retired in 1977 and sold Multitone to a Hong Kong-based telepaging group, Champion Technology. With Deborah Sacks, he wrote a volume of memoirs, Femya Polyakovyx ("The Family of Poliakoff" - subtitled "The Silver Samovar"), published in Moscow last year.

Alexander Poliakoff, electronics engineer and designer: born Moscow 20 August 1910; chairman, Multitone Electronics 1931-77; married 1937 Ina Montagu (died 1991; two sons, two daughters); died London 26 July 1996.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits