The Story of Pye – 1896-2021

Stapleford History Society 13th January 2022

A talk by Roger Crabtree and Bob Bates

The talk began with the statement that Pye had been the premier employer for many years in this region with over 7,000 employees in its heyday, and it was interesting to see that, while only a handful of the audience had worked for Pye, everyone knew somebody who had.

The firm was founded by W G Pye who initially worked at the Cavendish Laboratory.

The Pye Galvanometer, equipment for schools, gun sights and detonators were all produced up to and during World War I. After 1918 the focus changed and the first Pye wireless was produced in 1922 with 40,000 wirelesses being produced by 1928.

The expansion of Pye was largely due to the foresightedness of a charming Irishman called C O Stanley who was the boss for over thirty-five years. Although not a technical man himself, he had the knack of anticipating market demands and was described by colleagues as ‘inspirational’, ‘captivating’ and ‘a visionary’.

In 1935 the Pye Component Company was set up to concentrate on the fledgling television sector. With the onset of war in 1939 the TV section was given over to the development of RADAR. Pye can be said to have had a very good war as a range of military equipment was also produced. A Village Industry Scheme was set up and 14,000 employees in East Anglia contributed to Pye’s explosive growth.

After the war, attention focussed again on television production along with radios, cameras, transmitters, studio equipment and a wide range of scientific instruments. C O Stanley was very keen on the idea of colour television and the first such set was produced in 1949. By the time of the Queen’s Coronation on 2nd June 1953, many families were able to buy black and white television sets and only days before, on 29th May, Edmund Hilary took Pye equipment to the top of Mount Everest.

The Pye company was also at its zenith. Pye produced records, the Pye Black Box, underwater cameras, outside broadcast vans, complete tv studios, the hostess trolley, transistor radios, mobile phones but the glory days came to an end. The Finance Directors changed quickly and by 1967 Philips accounting

system was imposed. Even the great Pye Telecom, started in 1978, was eventually sold on and 2014 saw the closure of the last Pye factory sites, which were then turned into housing estates.

Yet the feeling persists that Pye was a great firm and a great firm to work for. People still reminisce about the family Xmas parties, the trips to the seaside in the Pye train, the Sports and Social Activities, including netball as well as football. Workers’ Playtime came twice to Pye of Cambridge.

To learn more about Pye, it is possible to visit the Cambridge Museum of Technology, Riverside, The Old Pumping Station, Cheddars Lane, Cambridge, CB5 8LD where The Pye Trust has a range of displays and videos.

[report by Jane Steadman]