“Polar Radio Sets”
Basil Binyon, O.B.E. – Marine Communications, the BBC and Radio Communication Company, Limited
by Ian L. Sanders
in collaboration with Chris Simmonds
Basil Binyon was a radio pioneer. Even as a young boy in the late 1800s, school records reveal that he was “particularly fond of electrical work and natural science” and used his time in the school workshop “to make amateur wireless telegraphy sets.” Graduating from Cambridge University, he took up a series of senior positions with several leading wireless companies of the day, including the Lepel Wireless Syndicate and the Compagnie Général Radiotélégraphique, a French enterprise then making its name in marine wireless. In the years leading up to the Great War, he served as the General Manager of the Anglo-French Wireless Company. With outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Binyon joined the recently formed Royal Naval Air Service where, in May 1916, he took charge of the wireless school at the Royal Naval Air Service Training Establishment, Cranwell. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his wartime contribution to the services’ rapid progress in the art of wireless communication between aircraft and ground stations. After the war, a new enterprise, Radio Communication Company, was formed under the aegis of the Indo-European Company. The new Company was established to develop, manufacture and supply long-distance marine wireless equipment for the Royal Navy and merchant shipping lines, in a direct challenge to the Marconi Company. Binyon was appointed as Managing Director. In 1919, in order to ensure a reliable supply of thermionic valves and ensure that the Marconi Company did not exercise a stranglehold on the industry, Binyon was instrumental in the formation of the Mullard Radio Valve Company. For a short time in the early- to mid-1920s, Radio Communication Company, under Binyon’s direction, became involved in the production of domestic wireless sets for the home listener.
With the advent of a national broadcast service in 1922, Binyon was appointed as a Director of the nascent British Broadcasting Company. For four years, he played a prominent role in the development of the organisation where he was responsible for the hiring of key personnel, including the Company’s first Chief Engineer, Peter Eckersley. Not only concerned with technical matters, he was particularly vocal on programme content, where he favoured a “lighter” mix. In the latter, he ran afoul of the BBC’s autocratic Managing Director, (later Sir) J.C.C. Reith. Binyon vehemently opposed the decision to transition the Company to a public corporation, and completely severed his involvement with broadcasting matters at the end of 1926.
In 1926, the Marconi Marine Company acquired a majority share in Radio Communication Company; it subsequently assumed ownership. Ironically, Binyon joined the board of his erstwhile competitor. As well as a leader in the field of communications, the evidence suggests that he was also a man of deep moral conviction and integrity in an arena which, at the turn of the twentieth century, did not always attract individuals with an abundance of such characteristics. Noting that in his last entry in “Who’s Who,” Binyon chose not to refer to his contributions to either commercial marine wireless or to the early domestic radio business, rather electing to concentrate on his work for the Admiralty and his time as a Director of the British Broadcasting Company, the celebrated radio historian David Read – “reading between the lines” – described Binyon thus:
“This remarkable man from a Quaker school, who valued creativity and the development of people, had become disillusioned with the acquisitiveness and cutthroat behaviour of the people in the businesses with which he eventually became involved.”
This book sets out to chronicle both the founder and the products, commercial and domestic, behind the Radio Communication Company, drawing on primary source material, much of which has never been published.