Pye was founded by William George Pye in 1896. Under the chairmanship of Charles Stanley, the company was transformed from a small Cambridge instrument maker into a worldwide electronics giant, with over 30,000 employees. It was a pioneer producer in Britain of domestic radios in the early 1920s, televisions in the 1930s, and transistor radios in the 1950s.
From 1927, the speaker grilles of all Pye radios were cut in the shape of a rising sun, a motif that was extremely popular and reflected the contemporary taste for Art Deco. In 1938, the Pye name was incorporated into the design; with the letter ‘Y’ centred to echo the radiating sun rays. Soon after the end of World War II, Pye was forced to amend this fretwork motif, as it was deemed too similar to the flag of Imperial Japan. In 1947, a streamlined version, consisting of a solid black circle superimposed by angled white letter-forms was introduced. Uniquely, it doesn’t try to mean anything. The mark, a model of economy, simply fosters instant recognition, by utilising the inherent graphic dynamism and symmetry of the letter ‘Y’.
Throughout the 1960s, Pye was as ubiquitous in Britain as Sony is today. Besides domestic electronics, the roundel was synonymous with chart-topping records. The logo adorned the releases of The Kinks, The Searchers, Sandy Shaw and David Bowie – usually at the centre of a distinctive pattern of concentric circles. Together with emi and Decca, Pye was part of the triumvirate of great British labels in the 1960s heyday of pop music.
However, whilst Pye records was constantly delivering the hits, its parent company got into difficulties. Pye did not respond adequately to the increasing competition from Japan – which had flooded the market with cheap radios and cut-price televisions. By 1976, the Pye group of companies was bought outright by Philips; and their subsequent rationalisation of activities saw the slow phasing out and debasing of the Pye brand.
One of Pye’s last forays into consumer electronics was ‘The Pye Tube Cube’, in 1982: a device that combined a clock radio, cassette recorder and TV. However, it failed to catch the imagination of the public. After nearly a century at the heart of British households, Pye ceased trading in 1988. The once omnipresent brand was switched off for good.