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The Secret History Of: The Russell Hobbs K2 kettle

Think of a kettle and the chances are that something chrome and curved springs to mind. Probably with a red button sticking out of its black plastic handle. This is the Russell Hobbs K2. The world's second (the first was their K1) fully automatic kettle. A item which has achieved iconic design status and which celebrates its 50 anniversary this month.

The chances are that at least one generation of your family will have had the K2. During the 1960s and 1970s it was the best selling kettle in Britain and at around £7, when the weekly average wage was £14, it was top of many wedding present lists. They were built to last. Russell Hobbs has reports of K2s still going strong after 30 years, and although they are now extremely rare, collectors will pay up to £200 for a K2 in mint condition.

Cast your mind back to the 1950s. The British were a nation of tea drinkers, but for the most part, they were sticking a kettle on the gas hob and waiting for the whistle. There were a few electric kettles around, but they weren't automatic so you still had to remember to turn them off before they boiled dry or caused a fire. Then, in 1956, Bill Russell and Peter Hobbs, a salesman and an inventor, who had already designed the automatic coffee percolator, came up with the K1. They used a controlled jet of steam from the boiling water to knock the switch and turn the kettle off. It was a huge success and K2 was launched in 1960.

"It was the same technology but it was just updated for style reasons," says Jason Steer, head of marketing at Russell Hobbs. "The K2 was around for 20 years and it very quickly became the best-selling kettle of the next two decades. Couples put it on their wedding lists and they lasted for years."

One couple recently wrote to Russell Hobbs to announce the retirement of Reg, their K2, after 30 years service. "He was bought by my wife as she prepared to go to university in 1979 and we guess he has boiled some 50,000 times. He has comforted us and our kids with countless cups of tea at the important times of our lives; exam results, engagement, weddings, births and deaths.

No longer retired, Russell Hobbs is about to launch its Heritage range inspired by that original kettle. This one costs £40 and will be available in August. Sadly the iconic red button has gone, but there is now a red light to indicate on and off so it hasn't disappeared completely. Alternatively, the fifth generation K5 costs around £32.