Whilst recently cataloguing some internal IEE papers from the 1980s we came across, amongst the files, an envelope containing 6 audio cassette tapes, one tape for each of six interviews. The envelope was marked ‘Mullard interviews 1999 – Maria Watkins’. This was particularly exciting as by coincidence we had been made aware of the existence of these Mullard oral histories earlier this year.
We have just completed the cataloguing of the material and digitising the cassettes. This process revealed that the oral histories were all connected with the Mullard Research Laboratories (MRL), Redhill, Surrey, and that the majority of the interviewees were particularly significant to the history of MRL. The interviews, with former staff who had worked at the laboratory at varying times between the 1940s and 1980s, were conducted by Maria Watkins (1918-2010). Maria was made a Fellow of the IEE in 2003 (joined as a Student member in 1940), and was also the wife of former Mullard Research Laboratories employee, Dr Tom Watkins. The interviews were undertaken in June 1999.
History of the Mullard Research Laboratories
Mullard, the British manufacturer of electronic components and domestic appliances, was founded in London in 1920, but by 1927 its entire shareholding was in the hands of the Dutch firm Philips. Philips bought 50% of the company from Stanley Mullard in 1926 and bought the remaining shares it did not own in 1927. For some reason the purchase by Philips was kept secret and the link with Philips was only admitted shortly before the Second World War. The image below shows Mullard’s ‘new’ duodiode-triode EBC3 as featured in its September 1938 technical bulletin.
In November 1946 Philips, which had its main research facility at Eindhoven in the Netherlands, set up an English laboratory, the Mullard Electronic Research Laboratory (MERL), in Redhill, Surrey, under Dr Christopher Bareford. Then in 1948 an addition was made by adding an existing Mullard laboratory based at Mitcham, called the Vacuum Physics Laboratory (VPL), which was then moved down to Redhill and was linked with Dr Bareford’s laboratory. The two laboratories operated under a joint management structure comprising Bareford and VPL’s George Knott.
The two laboratories were run separately until 1955 when their management was unified and George Knott departed. The Vacuum Physics Laboratory effectively came to an end around this time as Mullard’s Southampton factory was set up in 1956 specifically to produce semiconductor devices (under its first Director Mr Jenkins – ex group leader at VPL). What remained of VPL was incorporated into the Mullard Electronic Research Laboratory which then became known as the Mullard Research Laboratories (MRL).
The Directors of Research at MERL/MRL were;
- Dr Christopher Bareford – Director from 1946 to 1953.
- Peter Trier – Director from 1953 to 1969.
- Kurt Hoselitz – Director from 1969 to 1976.
- Norman Goddard – Director from 1976 to 1984.
Although Philips continued to use the brand name ‘Mullard’ in the UK until 1988, the Mullard Research Laboratories name was changed to the Philips Research Laboratories on 1 June 1977 during Norman Goddard’s time as Director.
For those interested in reading more about the laboratories, a book titled, ‘The Mullard/Philips Research Laboratories, Redhill: a Short History 1946-2002’, by John Walling, was published by Philips Electronics UK Ltd in 2005 and is available via the IET Library (cover of book shown below).
The six individuals interviewed were;
- Peter Trier (1920-2005). Director of MRL from 1953 to 1969. Peter joined Mullard Electronic Research laboratory (MERL) in 1950. An image of Peter Trier, who was Vice President of the IEE from 1974 to 1977, is shown below.
- Kurt Hoselitz (1916-2010). Director of MRL from 1969 to 1976. Kurt joined MERL in 1952.
- Norman Goddard. Director of MRL from 1976 to 1984 (during the latter part of Norman’s directorship the laboratories became known as the Philips Research Laboratories). Norman joined MERL as one of its founder members in 1946.
- Sir Ivor Cohen, Managing Director of Mullard, 1979 to 1987, when Mullard was the largest manufacturer of electronic components in Britain.
- Arthur Hawkins. Technical Manager based at Mullard from 1967 to 1990.
In addition, to discussing the people with whom they worked, the history of Mullard Research Laboratories, and the projects undertaken at the laboratories, the interviewees were also asked to provide anecdotes from their time spent working at Mullard. This has given rise to a variety of more unusual stories peppering the recordings.
One such story, from Kurt Hoselitz’s tape mentioned the case of the theft of gold from the laboratories – gold wire was used widely in semiconductor technology. The thief was caught because MRL’s gold was ‘pure gold’ (24 karat). The gold was taken to a shop to sell and when it was tested by the shop it was found to be 24 karats. The shop immediately phoned the company Johnson Matthey who told the shop that this was MRL’s gold as that was the only place that used ‘pure gold’ – the shopkeeper then informed MRL.
Other Mullard material held in the IET Archives collections
Sir Ivor Cohen, one of the interviewees mentioned above, donated a collection of Mullard material to the IET Archives in 2012 (reference NAEST 224). The material had been amassed by John Fichter, an engineer who joined Mullard in 1930. John became the ‘right hand man’ of Sierd Sint Eriks who had taken over from Stanley Mullard and ran Mullard Limited until 1962. John was also Mullard’s representative on the British Valve Makers’ Association (BVA) and John, in the mid-1950s, ‘masterminded’ Mullard’s response to the Monopolies’ Commission investigation into the valve industry. Sir Ivor had worked with John Fichter in his early career, and following his death, the ‘Mullard papers’ were passed to Sir Ivor.
This collection of papers is split into four groups. The first group covers the takeover by Philips and consists of an exchange of information between Fichter and Gerald Garrett who was writing a history of the company. The second group of papers gives information about Eriks. The third group of papers covers the BVA, including a summary of BVA events from 1923 to 1935, a history of the BVA, and the final Monopolies Commission report on the valve industry issued in 1956. The fourth group of papers covers historical and technical information about receiving valves.
One final item donated by Sir Ivor was a book, authored by himself and Gerald Crowther (privately published circa 2012), called, ‘The Mullard and Philips Contribution to the Evolution of Teletext and Viewdata’. A copy of this book isn’t held in the IET Library collections and can only be viewed at the Archives Centre. A copy of the cover is shown below.
The collection of Mullard Research Laboratory oral histories (archive reference NAEST 242) and the Sir Ivor Cohen donation of Mullard material (NAEST 224) are available to consult at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, by appointment.
June 1, 2016 at 9:57 am
An interesting and valuable insight into the history and developments of Mullard components. Unfortunately now all the business and UK locations are no longer, just memories of the pensioners.
June 3, 2016 at 5:44 pm
Great news ! I worked under John Walling on the Goonhilly project
May 8, 2023 at 12:41 pm
Just found this. Do you remember Donald Stevenson? I am married to his daughter – Penny.
February 13, 2020 at 7:11 pm
I have a lot of film and vhs tapes relating to the work on MADGE and its subsequent promotion
February 17, 2020 at 2:44 pm
Thank you for your comment.
If you wish to discuss donating the material to the IET Archives, please email us at Archives@theiet.org
February 17, 2020 at 2:22 pm
All the papers, documents and journals which were posted on http://WWW.EPEPNET.co.uk have been passed to the IET. They are cataloging them for archiving. Anything that you or other Mullard/Philips people have should be added to that archive.
November 25, 2020 at 3:17 pm
I’m very late to the party, but this is a wonderful resource! I’m researching the oral history of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (named after Mullard Ltd., who gave some space science researchers a bunch of money to purchase a country house and turn it into a lab), and some of the people I interviewed mentioned their collaborations with Mullard Research Laboratories. It’s so wonderful to see more Mullard-related oral history – thank you so much for posting this!