The EKCO Company of Southend on Sea - A Brief Introduction

The story of the EKCO company is covered in great detail elsewhere (see the links and recommended reading references on this site). However it had such a significant impact on the Pye story that reference to it here is both important and interesting.

The EKCO company was founded by Eric Kirkham Cole (1901 - 1966) following a challenge to power a wireless set by mains electricity rather than batteries. This challenge came from a schoolmaster, William Streatfield Verrells. Upon demonstrating his solution to the challenge, Cole was joined by Verrells in starting a business venture manufacturing battery eliminators. With Cole in the technical role and Verrells as the marketing person E.K.Cole Ltd was formed as a private company in 1926. Eventually in 1930, after some success and with Verrells as chairman and Cole as vice-chairman, they moved to a new factory in Southend as a public limited company. By this time they had identified their true product line of mains powered wireless sets for the general public.

There followed a considerable number of wireless set variants, similar to the progress made in Cambridge by the Pye company. During the 1930s their sets became readily identifiable by their use of bakelite cabinets. This technology, imported from AEG in Germany, allowed them to open their own bakelite moulding shop in Southend. It also enabled quite adventurous industrial styling, involving curved casework, to differentiate their products from competitors.

Following the end of the war approximately 8,000 people were employed by EKCO. Because of the numbers of their factories and their electrical and plastics technology they diversified into many different product lines. These included televisions, radios and audio equipment, but also electric heaters and blankets, plastic kitchen and bathroom items and even small baths and toilet seats.

No attempt is made here to chart the large number of products from the EKCO company as many sites are available that have already achieved this admirably (see Links page).

They also continued with some military equipment and various radar systems for civilian aircraft, even supplying systems for the Anglo-French Concorde project.

However, they remained a household name more for their consumer based product catalogue.

The synergy and common trajectory of the Pye and EKCO businesses to this point is very obvious and it seems almost inevitable that interest one with the other would become apparent.

In 1960 a merger between Pye and EKCO occurred, forming a new holding company - British Electronic Industries Ltd, with CO Stanley as Chairman and EK Cole as Vice Chairman. This situation lasted for almost a year until Cole resigned and retired to the Bahamas.

EKCO TV set from 1939

EKCO radio from 1945

EKCO radio set from 1957

EKCOVision TV Range

Again, mirroring Pye's progress, they moved into car radios and were investigating, and investing in, television prior to the second World War.

Along with Pye and many other technology companies, EKCO threw their resources into the war effort. Unlike Pye, they chose to re-locate this work - in their case to Cowbridge House in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. Other work was relocated elsewhere in the UK but at Malmesbury they concentrated on the development and manufacture of the new radar technology. At other factories they manufactured various wartime communications systems for aircraft, tanks and so on, including some of the Pye developed Wireless Set No 19 tank radio.

Effectively the merger became a takeover by Pye, thus keeping the EKCO company from the hands of Pye's competitors. Eventually Pye itself succumbed to the inevitable when Philips eventually acquired the Pye company, as discussed elsewhere on this site.

Along with several other problems within the Pye group of companies, it has long been speculated that poor due diligence by Pye during the merger, and problems inherent in the EKCO business, triggered the eventual demise of Pye itself. Certainly holdings of finished stock by the Southend company were at best an unhealthy business burden to be carrying.

Ironically the main EKCO building in Southend was sold to the new credit card company Access, and then, like so many Pye sites, demolished to make way for housing.

EKCO Plastics trade-stand after the Pye takeover

Sidney Grimes compares the management styles of CO Stanley and EK Cole

New EKCO factory site in Southend around 1934

EKCO factory frontage around 1940

EKCO Southend factory by the 1970s, showing the various additions

Read the personal description of the technology, the company and the people of the EKCO Company as told by Chris Poole ...

Article Copyright © Chris Poole (2008)