No, its not Peter Sellers….it’s the man who recorded Rolling Stones, The Who & The Eagles

This is Dick Swettenham and, unlikely as it perhaps appears, he contributed to the sound of many of the greatest rock and pop recordings ever made.

He also helped invent the recording equipment industry. Until the late 1960’s studios largely made their own core equipment; it was only in that decade that the number of studios in the market reached sufficient numbers to warrant manufacturers entering the market to supply desks etc. to the market in general.

As Dick himself wrote on the Helios website: “Up until the 1960s the studios of major record companies and broadcasters designed and built their own sound mixing consoles in-house, with full-time staff in design labs and workshops. Only a few companies such as Marconi in the UK, RCA in America, Philips and Telefunken in Europe offered standard product, mostly very conservative in design and aimed mainly at radio stations. Development work at Olympic Sound Studios in London – where I was technical director, having come from Abbey Road – advanced on the same do-it-yourself lines as other big studios, with its own workshop, catering for the increasingly sophisticated requirements of popular music recording and effects processing.”

Dick built desks that worked in Olympic Studios during it’s glory years from the mid-1960’s to the late-1970’s and recorded some of the high water marks of the rock genre including key records by The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Eagles. Here is one of the desks from 1965.

He then set up a company to manufacture desks and sell to other recording studios. He called the company and the desks “Helios” (the ancient Greek god of the sun). Helios were sold around the world and particularly to Chris Blackwell’s Island company (one pictured below) for whom Dick also worked. He also made a Helios desk for The Beatles short-lived Apple studios. One of the beatiful Island desks is here:

Here is another picture of Dick from the 1960’s:

Although Dick has sadly passed away, you can still buy Helios products here, and the desks remain used and coveted around the world.

You can see Dick Swettenham in action in Olympic Studios in 1966. He is working the tape machine at 4 minutes 53 seconds. (the section of the film featuring the then recently opened Olympic Studios begins at 4:48)

Art Deco loveliness: The Marconiphone

The Marconiphone was a brand of radios that were originally developed by the Marconi Company in the UK from 1923. The brand was sold to the Gramophone Company in 1929 as that company diversified into wireless technology. The Gramophone Company became EMI in 1931 and continued to make Marconiphone Radios until 1956.

This blog entry is an excuse to highlight some of the beautiful marketing images of the Marconiphone brand. They have been shared with us by the EMI Archive Trust, who have many more similar images in their vaults. If you are interested in learning more about Marconiphone and seeing more images you can organise a visit to the Archives by contacting them here.

The first two images come from the Memoranda of Sale of the Marconiphone brand in 1929. Heavily influenced by Art Deco, the brochure is Alfred Clark (the Managing Director of the Gramophone Company)’s personal copy. You can see his name in the bottom right hand corner.

It contains a personal message from Marconi himself:

This is a trade advertisement ecouraging dealers to stock Marconiphones from around 1930:

This wonderful consumer advert places the Marconiphone as a premium luxury item as is clear by the sophistication of the image and the 52 guineas price tag (about £3,000 at today’s prices):

Another consumer advert frome the early 1930’s which again has an art deco feel:

Finally here is a print advert from around 1933:

(Another) Welshman invents electromechanical device that converts sound into an electrical signal & calls it mic not dave.

He doesn’t look very happy in this picture, but this is David E. Hughes, former child prodigy harpist turned inventor who was a very successful and significant man. He was born 180 years ago yesterday.

Hughes was a contemporary of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell and paddled in the same new technology waters as them. He made significant contributions to radio (he transmitted electromagnetic waves in 1879; 16 years before Marconi but put it to one side in the face of peer scepticism) and telegraph technology (he invented a printing add on that made his fortune).

Hughes also invented the early microphone and in doing so helped set the modern recording industry on it’s way.

There is a Hughes Medal that was named after him and is still awarded each year by the Royal Society “in recognition of an original discovery in the physical sciences, particularly electricity and magnetism or their applications”. You can hear a strange computer lady talk about it here.

A biography of David E. Hughes, “Before We Went Wireless” was published this year. You can find out more about it here or watch the promotional video:

More royal microphones

Following on from our first blog item below about the microphone used in the new film The Kings Speech and in response to the huge correspondence that the blog item stirred up (well I had one email about it), here are some more of the royal microphones held by the EMI Group Archive Trust. Two of them were also used in the film. Here are the royal beauties one by one (and I must thank world famous microphone meister Lester Smith for writing the technical descriptions of these pieces):

This is the HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother microphone (1936) which is the same as the KGVI one in the original blog item, apart from the silver gilt front with the Silver Marks of G.& S.Co.Ltd. and the Lion and Leopard’s Head but no date letter. On the top is also the Royal Coat of Arms. This was used in the film.

The above microphone is the HM King George V piece. Its is a 1925 Marconi-Reisz carbon microphone with marble body made by the Marconi company (a company taken over by the Gramophone Company in 1928). and was used at Silver Jubilee Celebrations in Westminster Hall, May 9th, 1935. This was the third and final microphone owned by the EMI Group Archive Trust that was used in recording the soundtrack of The Kings Speech.

This microphone was built for George VI’s father, HM King George V  in 1923 and is a Marconi-Sykes design – very heavy and impressive with marble body

The final royal microphone in this part of the collection is the HM Queen Mary microphone which is a 1925 Marconi-Reisz carbon microphone.

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