W.S. (Billy) Verrells,  Founding member of the famous Ekco Radio Company.

 

The main display in the Museum this year (2015)was based on the ‘Round’ Bakelite Ekco radio which we recently received, and which featured in our previous bulletins.   Little did I think that it would become of such significance to one of our visitors this Summer.

That visitor was Dr Sally Bell who was up in Orkney from London as part of her job as Chief Medical Advisor to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

After Sally noticed the ‘Round’ Ekco in our display she mentioned to Liz Gilmore and Pete Stokes our volunteers, that her Grandfather W.S. (Billy) Verrells had been the first Chairman and Managing Director of Ekco when the company was formed in 1926!

When Liz informed me of this, I obtained a contact address for Sally and asked her if she could give us information about her Grandfather.  Sally responded, giving me much of the information which makes up the following articles.                     

 

 

W.S. (Billy) Verrells

Sally sent me the following E-mail - ‘I don’t know a great deal more than what I have already given you – which is that my grandfather saw the commercial potential in Ekco, and went into partnership with Eric Cole, founding Ekco in 1926’. ‘ I believe the funding came from his demob money’ (the internet says he had TB, but he was also gassed in the trenches).  ‘My Grandfather was Chairman and MD, while Eric stayed on the technical side’.  ‘While having a look to verify the other bits and pieces that I know from memory, I found this really useful page, http://www.pepnet.org.uk/links/LinksPDF/EKCO%20Dp1.pdf which confirms what I thought, in that they were involved in the development of radar during the war’ (in a secret factory set up in a cottage in Malmesbury).  ‘My Grandfather did not retire until just after the War in 1945.

 

 The following two articles start with a short history of Ekco, followed by the story of how Billy Verrells came to be involved with the Company.

 

A SHORT HISTORY OF EKCO

Eric Kirkham Cole was born in Rochford on 14th July 1901 and completed his education at Southend High School for boys. Eric became interested in radios and started a small business in 1922 manufacturing wireless sets.  In 1926, E.K. Cole limited was formed and the brand name EKCO was launched.

Ekco became pioneers in radio technology and in 1932 brought out one of the first sets which had the actual names of the stations printed on the dial. They also introduced a car radio in 1934.

 EKCO was one of the first radio manufacturers to exploit Bakelite’s fine moulding properties.  As a plastic material it possessed the unique property of being able to be formed into any desired shape, something that could not be done with wood.  It was then that EKCO went on to produce their ‘Round’ Bakelite sets, an example of which can be seen inside the Wireless Museum.

During the war years EKCO was a leader in the development of radar, which was manufactured at its premises in Malmesbury , Wiltshire.  The Southend factory continued to produce plastics and lamps and also prefabricated Bomber wiring, radar valves and plastic practice bombs.

Peacetime production began again in 1945 with domestic radio and television and in 1955 the Southend factory was expanded in order to cope with the increasing demand for EKCO radio and television receivers.

 

 

BILLY VERRELLS AND EKCO

One-day in 1924 Eric Cole was approached by a chap called WS (Billy) Verrells who was a School teacher (at that time recovering after having a lung removed due to tuberculosis) who came into the shop one day for a freshly charged battery. 

 

 Verrells exasperated by the accumulator letting him down in the middle of an interesting program, complained to Eric Cole that as an electrician, he (Eric) should be able to make his wireless work from the lighting mains, which at that time was on Direct Current.

 

Eric replied that 230 volts was too powerful to run a 6-volt set and apart from the danger of fire, the reception would be drowned by interference. Nevertheless, later that evening in his workshop Eric thinking about Verrells comments, rigged up a series of lamps between the set and the mains, which reduced the voltage to the required 6 volts and while the set worked, the hum was awful. After reading up textbooks, he inserted a high capacity condenser to smooth out the hum and took this contraption around to Verrells, who was delighted even though he still needed his high-tension battery and the glare and heat from the electric lamps was pretty bad.  Determined to improve on this, Eric substituted a resistance for the electric lamps, which got very hot however and needed a metal case to avoid the fire risk.  Eric in fact later told one of his managers that it was so hot you could have fried eggs on it!  Persevering, Eric improved the apparatus and sold a few to his friends locally. 

 

 Later, he succeeded in incorporating into his brainchild, a device, which also supplied the high-tension current hitherto needing a HT battery.  Verrells persuaded him to advertise his contraption in the radio journals with the result that while the device was still crude and not in accordance with the regulations of the Institute of Electrical Engineers covering mains devices, there was a rapid rise in sales with the result that Verrells, in spite of his illness, went into partnership with Eric Cole using Eric Cole's initials as a trade mark becoming the E.K. Company or EKCO for short.

 

 

   

Billy Verrells with Queen Mary when she visited the factory in 1941

 

 

My grateful thanks to Sally for her assistance with this article.   Ed.